Thursday, July 1, 2010

Naga Problem: A Backgrounder

Naga Problem: A Backgrounder

In 2002, the first visit in more than three decades by leaders of the once banned outfit, National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), chairman Isak Chisi Swu and general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, to hold parleys with the Indian political leadership, sent positive signals and ignited the hope for a peaceful settlement of the Naga problem. While the last meeting in India, with an Indian Prime Minister was held in 1967, the informal talks had been on with the successive Prime Ministers during their visits abroad.

There is no doubt that the road to peace is fraught with many problems and the talks still remain inconclusive. While the Indian government will not let the State separate from the country, it is hard for the separatist group to come to terms with being a part of the Indian Union. Not only this, rest of the States adjoining Nagaland, with large Naga inhabited areas, are not willing to compromise on the issue of territorial division. Manipur had witnessed large-scale riots in 2001. In May 2010 trouble again erupted in Manipur over the visit of Mr Muivah to his village which lies in the State. Assam has also often voiced its displeasure about the ceasefire extending to areas out side the territory of Nagaland.

Why a Greater Nagaland?
The main reasons for the Swu-Muivah group letting loose an incessant insurgency in Nagaland and adjoining areas is: (i) its demand for “Greater Nagaland”, i.e. the establishment of a singular administrative unit embracing the entire Naga-dominated areas in the North-East; and (ii) grant of greater autonomy which matches and harmonises with the “unique” Naga entity in the national spectrum.

The spread-over of the Naga population is the reason why the Nagas in Nagaland are calling for a Greater Nagaland or ‘Nagalim’ as they prefer to call it. The Konyak Nagas are split up in such a way that they are found in Mon in Nagaland, in Tirap in Arunachal and in Eastern Nagaland, the Khianmungan and Pochury Nagas are in both Nagaland and Burma, the Rengma and Lotha Nagas are both in Nagaland and Assam, the Tangkhuls are both in Manipur and Somra Tract in Burma and so on.

Today, in Manipur, the Nagas occupy extensive areas in the five hill districts, with the exception of Churachandpur district, which is inhabited by Mizos and Kukis. The Tangkhuls occupy the entire East district. The northern district is the home of Mao, Maram, Koireng, Tarao, Thangal, Chiru and Paomei Nagas. The west district is the home of Zemei, Liangmei and Rongmei or Zeliangrong or Kabui Nagas, and Chandel district is occupied by Anal, Lamkang, Hajon, Moushang, Maring and Chothe Nagas, interspersed by the Thadous (Kukis). A section of the Kabui, Tangkhul Nagas are settled in the Imphal valley too.

Parallel activities by other Naga groups have, over the years, resulted in Nagaland and Manipur continually remaining “disturbed areas”, with most serious consequences for the growth and socio-economic development of this entire region.

For the Nagas, the talks promise an entirely new phase in their lives. Ever since 1954, when A.Z. Phizo announced the formation of the Federal Government of Nagaland, the people have had to live with an often draconian military presence in the State. The NSCN, particularly the NSCN (I-M) faction, held out till the mid-nineties. As for the Indian government, this is the best chance it has had in a long while to end insurgency in various pockets of the North-east.

Naga History
The total Naga population is scattered from the Brahmaputra valley in Assam in the west to the Chindurn in North West Burma in the East, most of Manipur in the South and Tirap and Changlang districts in Arunachal Pradesh to the north. In the 19th Century, the British dissected parts of the Naga territory. The need for the British to dissect Naga territories arose in an effort to create a link with the Kingdom of Manipur, to consolidate their hold over Assam, in order to exploit vast economic potential of the Brahmaputra valley. In the process, large parts of this land were offered to neighbouring Maharajas like Gumbheer Singh, Purunder Singh, Tularam, etc. of Manipur, Cachar and Assam. It is believed that many of these Maharajas raided the Naga inhabited areas with the backing of the British, and with the help of the sturdy Kukis, a tribe that is believed to have migrated with British help into Manipur from the Chin Hills of Burma (Myanmar).

In 1866, the British created the Naga Hills district for administrative convenience. In 1873, under the Chin Hills regulations and the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations, the Inner Line Regulation was enforced, prohibiting British India subjects from entering the Naga Hills without prior permission. The Naga were exposed to the outside world for the first time in 1917 when 2000 Nagas were sent as labour corps by the British India government. They formed the “Naga Club” in October 1918, to foster unity among the Naga tribes. The Naga club submitted the historic memorandum to the Simon Commission for Constitutional reformed schemes when the latter visited Kohima in 1929, demanding that the Nagas should be left alone to decide their own future.

In 1941, Sir Robert Reid, the Governor of Assam, recommended a scheme to carve out a trust territory comprising the Naga Hills area of Assam and the upper part of Burma inhabited by tribal people, to form a Crown colony. However, this plan didn’t materialise due to Britain’s engagement in the World War II. At the end of the war, C.R. Pawsey, the then Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills District, established a Naga Hills District Tribal Council (NHDTC) in April 1945, which was converted into the Naga National Council (NNC) in 1946.

In 1946 itself, Sir Reginald Coupland, a British Constitutional expert, revived the proposal of Robert Reid, known as Coupland Plan. The plan envisaged that the government of India and Burma might have a treaty with the British and each should take a share of responsibility for the area as “Trust Territory”. However, this plan also could never be implemented due to the change of government in Britain. In June 1946, A.Z. Phizo entered the NNC and brought a new dimension to the movement with his radical views and methods.

It may be interesting to note that a day before the declaration of national independence on August 14, 1947, the Nagas led by the NNC declared their independence. This declaration was even sent to the UN. The NNC under Phizo conducted a plebiscite on May 16, 1951 and its results in 1952 showed 99 per cent vote in favour for a sovereign Naga State. In March 1956, the NNC established the underground Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) with its armed wing as the federal Army. An NNC delegation led by Phizo had a stormy meeting with Nehru in 1952. Nehru labelled the wish of the Nagas to gain independence as “absurd demand” and that “which can ruin them”. It was then the turn of Phizo to give the movement a new dimension. He went abroad and from there controlled the movement which became an underground armed movement.
While the NNC was taking a militant turn on one side, on the other the Assam government set up the Naga People’s Convention (NPC) in August 1954, comprising various tribal leaders of Nagaland. The NPC proposed the formation of a separate administrative unit by merging the Tuensang division of NEFA with Naga Hills District. The Centre agreed to the proposal and on December 1957 the new administrative unit, known as the Naga Hills and Tuensang Area (NHTA), was inaugurated. In July, 1960, a delegation of the NPC met the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and a 16-point agreement was arrived at, which, inter alia, provided for the formation of a separate State for the Nagas within the Indian Union, to be known as ‘Nagaland’.

On February 18, 1961 an interim body of 42 members was constituted to function as the de facto legislature. P. Shilu Ao was appointed the Chief Executive Councillor and eventually became the first Chief Minister of Nagaland. On August 21, 1962, Jawaharlal Nehru introduced a Bill in the Parliament for the formation of Nagaland as a full-fledged State. On December 1, 1963, President S. Radhakrishnan inaugurated the State of Nagaland.

However, peace could not prevail and the State came under President’s rule in March 1975.

It is also to be noted that the other faction of the NSCN, the Khaplang group, is categorically opposed to the talks; the Hoho (the supreme tribal council) is openly divided on the wisdom of any negotiations being held only with one of the dominant factions of the Naga movement and the Naga National Council (Phizo group) is also patently aggrieved on being left out. In any case, the talks have resulted in the leaders declaring an end to the fight between the Nagas and the Indians. This could lead to the separatists elsewhere to consider favourably the dialogue process.