Sunday, November 11, 2012

Naga Integration Movement: Redefining Irredentism

Media reports are now abuzz with a possible solution to the Indo-Naga political dialogue which remains elusive for the last 15 years.  As declared at the very beginning of the peace talk, the Government of India has ruled out possibility of carving out any imagined or proposed independent Naga nation. Over the years, NSCN-IM’s main demands have been considerably trimmed down and diluted. As reflected in media reports, the crux of the negotiation has been shifted to Naga integration or integration of all Naga inhabited areas under a special arrangement within the constitution of India by which the so-called Naga inhabited areas would be detached from the present States of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to form a greater Nagaland. Whereas the Government of India has assured repeatedly to preserve sanctity of the territorial boundary of Manipur, the 15 year old ‘peace process’ is still kept a closely guarded secret till today and the Government of Manipur has never been taken into confidence despite the huge stakes Manipur and her people have in the peace talk and its possible solutions. What is significant and perhaps determinant is NSCN-IM General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah’s assertion that no solution is possible without Naga integration. But as of now, we do not have the slightest idea how the Government of India would respond or negotiate with the demand for Naga integration which is being pursued most passionately by the NSCN-IM leadership. Nonetheless, we can certainly make an academic analysis of the very nature and objectives of this particular demand.
Irredentism as a modern expression of expansionism
By demanding integration of Naga inhabited areas in the North East region, NSCN-IM and their supporters are openly advocating an ethno-nationalist policy driven by irredentism, and aimed at carving out a greater and exclusive State for Nagas at the expense of neighbouring States. The term irredentism, derived from the Italian "terra irredenta" (unredeemed land), was first used to refer to the Italian-speaking areas under Austrian rule during the second half of the 19th Century. Italy, after achieving unification, fought Austria repeatedly in order to annex those territories.
Donald Horowitz, Professor of Law and Political Science at  Duke Law School and Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, United States, defined irredentism in a broader sense. He has argued that irredentism contains two subtypes: 
"The attempt to detach land and people from one state in order to incorporate them in another (...)
and the attempt to detach land and people divided among more than one state in order to incorporate them in a single new state - a 'Kurdistan,' for example, composed of Kurds now living in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey". Viewed from this perspective, Naga integration is another perfect case of irredentism.
Irredentism, as it has been formulated and pursued since the 19th Century, seems to be strongly connected with the aggressive aspects of nationalism. Irredentism is just the modern expression of expansionism, an age-old phenomenon. In addition, it is based on "atavistic feelings for territory and for kith and kin" (Ben-Israel, Hedva 1991 "Irredentism: Nationalism Reexamined, Chapter 2, in N. Chazan (ed.) Irredentism and International Politics. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publ.: 23-35.) Indeed, even before the emergence of nationalist ideologies, many states, or groups of states, attempted to justify expansionist policies by employing the argument of redeeming territory or liberating their brethren. For instance, the justification for the Crusades was to redeem the Holy Land and to liberate fellow Christians from the dominance of Muslims.
One could assert, therefore, that irredentism is based on two basic, primal drives: (1) The drive to expand, to maximize power and wealth (i.e., expansionism); and (2) affinity for kith and kin, dislike, fear, and contempt toward the different who is also considered either an enemy or potential enemy. These are exactly the same drives that engender and reinforce nation-states and nationalisms, especially ethnic ones. The two phenomena, therefore, have the same psychological roots, which are another indication of how tightly they are connected, and all these elements are glaringly visible in the movement for Naga integration.
David Carment (Carment, David 1993 "The International Dimensions of Ethnic Conflict: Concepts, Indicators, and Theory," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 30, No. 2 May: 137-150.) and Patrick James (Carment, David & Patrick James 1995 "Internal Constraints and Interstate Ethnic Conflict: Toward a Crisis-based Assessment of Irredentism," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 39, No. 1, March: 82-109), based on their research in which they used the International Crisis Behavior Project database (which includes all the international crises, major and minor) from 1945 to 1988, have concluded that irredentist conflicts tend to be the most violent ones, and the most likely to escalate into full-scale war. Midlarsky (Midlarsky, Manus I. 1992 "Communal Strife and the Origins of World War I," in Manus I. Midlarsky (ed.) The Internationalization of Communal Strife. London, UK: Routledge: 173-188.), through his historical analysis on the origins of the First World War reaches a similar conclusion. But he goes one step further and suggests that irredentist conflicts have the potential to affect the whole region where they break out, that they can spill over, resulting in a large-scale regional or even global war.
A very significant characteristic of many conflicts between ethnic majorities and minorities, or between the minority and the government which often is under the control of the majority, is what Heraclides (Heraclides, Alexis 1990 "Secessionist Minorities and External Involvement,"International Organization, Vol. 44, No. 3: 341-378) calls 'external involvement:' Another state, usually a neighboring state, gets involved in the conflict, declaring that it aims to support and protect the rights and interests of the minority. It does so, because the ethnic group that happens to be the minority in the country where the conflict is taking place, is the majority in the country that decides to get involved. There is, then, an ethnic connection, hence a strong emotional bond, between the former and the latter. In many cases, the neighbouring country's objective (explicit, implied, or suspected) is more radical than just protecting the rights and interests of the minority: its objective is to 'liberate,' or to 'redeem' that minority and the territory in which it lives. This goal and the set of policies to achieve it constitute the core of 'irredentism.'
Irredentism frequently contributes to a process of self-fulfilling prophesy for both the (discriminated against) minority and the nation-state in whose territory that minority lives: When the nation-state realizes that another state (almost invariably a neighbouring state) has initiated an irredentist policy aiming at that ethnic minority, the government of that nation-state starts perceiving it as a threat to the national security and integrity. What is central in many irredentist movements is territory and not population, despite the irredentist state's assertions to the contrary. In these cases the expansionist component prevails over the affinity component. There are several cases of irredentism that involve territories without even the existence of an ethnic minority related to the irredentist nation (e.g. Argentina's claim to the Falklands).
Irredentism in the garb of Naga integration project
As pointed out above, the Naga integration project has all the elements of aggressive expansionism through irredentist claims. Earlier, it was Naga militant groups who advocated a pan-Naga nation by integrating all Naga inhabited areas in the North East region of India. Discrimination and exploitation by majority communities in the parent States were the catchwords they used to justify their irredentist claims. Over the years, the project of Naga integration was passed on and actively pursued by Naga frontal organisations, particularly the United Naga Council, obviously at the call of NSCN-IM. Even at this stage, no external State power was involved. But by the time, the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) came to power in Nagaland, the neighbouring State of Nagaland started openly supporting the irredentist claims. Since then, the Government of Nagaland and NSCN-IM have been working in perfect sync on the Naga Integration Project. Of the many strategies adopted by the DAN Government and NSCN-IM, setting up of a political outfit namely Naga People’s Front (NPF), its subsequent expansion to Manipur and the vociferous demand for alternative arrangement outside the ambit of Manipur Government constitute the highest crescendo of Naga irredentism so far. NPF leader and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio donned the role of main protagonist (of Naga irredentism) when he visited Senapati despite objection from the Government of Manipur and formally opened NPF Manipur unit on May 28, 2011.  Yes, Neiphiu Rio did visit Manipur uninvited and open NPF Manipur unit because it was permissible and nothing wrong according to Indian laws. But it is worth pondering how the Government of Manipur would have reacted to such undue interference from a neighbouring State had Manipur been an independent country like it was before the controversial Merger Agreement of 1949.
Like all other irredentist movements, Naga irredentism is not free from violence. The boycott and violent resistance against holding Autonomous District Council elections was one aggressive aspect of Naga irredentism. In fact, bandhs and blockades which usually go on for months are the hallmark of Naga irredentism. During bandhs and blockades, the UNC and the likes which are acting as the cat’s paw unleash all kinds of violence, setting ablaze vehicles and terrorizing helpless transporters. Every year, the Government of Manipur is compelled to send big convoys of security forces for several months to guard trucks plying on highways. It is everybody’s knowledge that the so called minority community has the capability and often put the Government of Manipur on ransom by imposing highway blockades for months. Herein lies the uniqueness of Naga irredentism. As for the uniqueness of Naga history we are not sure.    
Irredentist claims defy international laws
International treaties, and, hence, international law, have virtually outlawed any irredentist policy. The more recent the international documents the more explicit they are in condemning and banning irredentist actions and aspirations. For example, the UN Charter emphasizes respect for borders and national integrity; the Cairo Resolution of 1964, sponsored by the Organization of African States, declares that "the borders of the African states on the day of independence constitute a tangible reality" and that "the member states pledge themselves to respect the borders existing on their achievement of independence". The Helsinki Final Act (signed in 1975) stresses the inviolability of borders in Europe. This principle is repeated in other Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) / Organisation on Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) documents, as well. Respect for the borders and the national integrity of the participating states is a principle that is mentioned in nearly every regional treaty. And one might even argue, as Heraclides does, that "international regime favors the territorial integrity of states at any cost;" because almost every state has within it disaffected groups, and, therefore, it fears that support given to an ethnic group within another country would only encourage similar claims within its own borders. The present state of Nagaland too has its own disaffected groups and it is evident enough from the demand of Eastern Naga People’s Organisation (ENPO) for a separate frontier Nagaland. If Nagas can make irredentist claims, others cannot be denied the same privilege.
Response not reaction
Yes, irredentist claims are always difficult to tackle as is being witnessed today in Manipur. The Government of Manipur, and for that matter the majority community should not react but respond to the situation most tactfully. We are of the firm belief that intensity of irredentist conflicts can be reduced by adhering to some fundamental concepts of pluralism and respect for minority rights. However, it must also be accepted that unless ethnic nationalism is superseded by civic nationalism, irredentist predispositions can never be fully done away with.
Here, the Government of India must not commit any fait accompli. The resolution to seek pre-merger status should not be treated as mere rhetoric or an argument just for the sake of argument. Manipur is a very ancient kingdom, much older than the Indian Union and the present State of Nagaland. Just like today, Nagas were there in the ancient independent kingdom of Manipur as well as in the Ahom kingdom of present day Assam but Naga irredentism was a very recent origin which took birth only with the creation of Nagaland State within the Indian Union. ‘Pre-merger status’ assumes great significance because Naga irredentism might not be there at all or the situation could have been dealt with quite differently had Manipur enjoyed the same status till day. And one should not overlook that the Government of India has been indirectly supporting the Naga irredentism wittingly or unwittingly in order to appease the Naga militant groups and save its own territorial integrity. This is reflected glaringly when NSCN-IM scaled down its core demand from Naga sovereignty to Naga integration which the Government of India responded quite positively. But the Government of India must first answer how many irredentist claims it can fulfil within its own political boundary.         

This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, November 11, 2012

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