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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 34 August 15, 2015

Milestone in History of Indo-Naga Relations: Naga Perspective of the Peace Accord

Saturday 15 August 2015, by Nandita Haksar

On August 3, 2015 the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim or the NSCN (IM) signed an agreement. Although the contents of the Accord have not been made public, it is being hailed as an important milestone in the history of Indo-Naga relations.

The Accord was signed by R.N. Ravi, senior Intelligence officer, on behalf of the Government of India and by Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muiva on behalf of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN). So, is this Accord going to be, as Prime Minister Modi promised, “a shining example of what we can achieve when we deal with each other in a spirit of equality and respect, trust and confidence; when we seek to understand concerns and try to address aspirations; when we leave the path of dispute and take the high road of dialogue. It is a lesson and an inspiration in our troubled world”?

Thuingaleng Muivah was much more subdued in his speech. He reminded the Indians of the promise made to the Naga delegation by Mahatma Gandhi when they met him on July 19, 1947 to express their aspirations. And the Indian leader assured them:

“Nagas have every right to be independent. We do not want to live under the domination of the British and they are now leaving us. I want you to feel that the Naga Hills are mine just as much as they are yours, but if you say, ‘it is not mine’ then the matter must stop there. I believe in the brotherhood of man, but I do not believe in force or forced unions. If you do not wish to join the Union of India nobody will force you to do that.”

Muivah also remembered the number of people, both Nagas and Indians, who had died in the course of the six-decade-long insurgency. It was a long journey that had brought him to the negotiation table in 1997. He had spent 27 years in the jungles of Myanmar as a revolutionary, a guerilla fighter who had successfully led several groups of Nagas to China, through thick jungles of Burma and on many occasions he had to face the Burmese Army and the Indian Army. There were times they had marched with torn clothes and not eaten for days. He had kept up the spirit of the younger men and become a legend in his own lifetime.

Every year the Naga nationalists celebrate August 14 as their Independence Day. This was the day in 1947 the Naga National Council had declared themselves to be an independent country. By 1952 Angami Zapu Phizo had formed the Naga Federal Government and the Naga Federal Army. Muivah had been active in the NNC from the beginning but in 1975 had felt betrayed when senior members had signed an Accord with the Government of India in Shillong during the Emergency. The Shillong Accord had caused deep divisions within the Naga society and now as he stood to sign the new Accord Muivah must have prayed that the history of this Accord would be different.

This was the question in the minds of many Nagas. Had the Indians taken advantage of the fact that Isak Swu was critically ill and in hospital to put pressure on the NSCN? Both the Nagas and the Indians knew that these were the two leaders who commanded respect among the Nagas. If they did not reach an Accord there would be no one who had their stature. It was the intelligence agencies who had been responsible for creating so many divisions within the Naga underground and now they had realised the need to have one representative organisation with whom they could negotiate.

The NSCN (IM) had made great efforts to understand the legal and constitutional implications of the provisions of the Accord. They had even got a team of international legal experts to help them understand the consequences of each word. But ultimately the problem is political; much will depend on the political vision that informs the final Accord.

The strength of the Naga national movement is its celebration of pluralism and democracy. Each Naga tribe, however small or big, had equal representation in the major Naga organisations, such as the all-powerful Naga Students Federation, Naga Hoho, the body representing the Naga elders, the United Naga Council and the traditional organisations.

Muivah mentioned the fact that the Accord is based on the recognition of the uniqueness of the Nagas. What is the basis of this uniqueness? It is the very rich cultural diversity and also the bio-diversity and abundance of natural resources. Any Accord will have to deal with these two major issues.

The Indian Prime Minister said: “My relationship with the North-East has been deep. I have travelled to Nagaland on many occasions. I have been deeply impressed by the rich and diverse culture and the unique way of life of the Naga people. It makes not only our nation, but also the world a more beautiful place.”

It seemed rather ironic that a Prime Minister, ideologically committed to the promotion of a culturally homogeneous India, was talking of inclusive democracy and hailing the unique culture of the Nagas.

Much of the Naga culture has been destroyed by the evangelising Baptist missionaries who came to the Naga areas during British rule. They destroyed the old institutions and the administrators, anthropologists stole Naga cultural property which can be seen in museums in Western countries.

The Indian education system further helped to erode the Naga culture and destroy the languages; with no place for Naga history in the school textbooks. The effect of this erosion of Naga cultural identity was brought out in a play recently staged at the National School of Drama by a student from Nagaland, Temjenzungba. It was staged on July 11, 2015. The play was called “Land Where Life is Good”. If the play is judged on merits it may not qualify as an exceptional one; it had significance which went far beyond the mere aesthetics.

The small black brochure published for the occasion gives the synopsis of the play:

“The play talks about the various identities that are covered up in the blanket of a single identity called ‘Indian’. It tries to look at the confusion that this exercise of assimilation for nationhood has created in the minds of the present generation, especially in the context of Nagaland. Does there exist a solo identity of a person or are we today the product of many identities? What is authentic—the old or the new? What are the bits of identity that we choose to hold on to and why do we let go of other bits?”

Both the Indian and Nagas have to be equally committed to a vision of society which celebrates cultural diversity and looks upon it as a resource for development, not an obstacle to be destroyed. Modi’s vision of development, which is reflected in the debates around the Land Bill, would spell disaster for the future of the Naga society. However, the growing religious funda-mentalism among the Nagas and the rise of a middle class which has benefited from the globalised world would become an ally in Modi’s plans for corporatising development.

Isak Swu and Muivah have provided an opportunity for the Nagas and Indians to think deeply about these issues. It is up to us to seize it or let the moment pass...

The author, as a lawyer, has represented Nagas in courts in India and abroad. She has written extensively about the Indo-Naga conflict and been involved in the Indo-Naga peace process.