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The United States of Nagalim

Naga nationalists should reconsider their articulation from the perspectives of unique history, which often borders on the absurd


Nagalim

STATUS: Occupied Territory
POPULATION: Three millions
AREAS: Between China, India and Burma (120.000 sq km)
LANGUAGE: Tibeto-Chinese family and Tibeto-Burman subfamily, also Nagamese
RELIGION: Christian
TRIBAL GROUPS: Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Khemungan, Konyak, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sema, Yimchunger and Zeliang

—Source: Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO)

Breaking news: Isak Chisi Swu passed away at the Fortis Hospital, New Delhi on 28 June 2016. He was 87. A couple of days later, RN Ravi, the Government of India’s interlocutor said the peace deal between the GoI and NSCN IM ‘will not take long to complete the journey left by Isak’. Meanwhile, the Sangai Express published in its 1 July editorial: ‘There is [still] no meeting point between the demand for Naga integration and keeping the territorial integrity of the neighbouring States intact’.

War is so last century

I

Religion and history are inseparable as much as these are from politics. Though it is not the sole determiner, religion—with its elements of myths, customs, rituals, faith and value systems—explains the narratives of a people and the explanation is both spiritual and political. It also explains the history of a ‘people’ in a more practical sense and even clearer than written documents that tend to be partial and erroneous. But religion can be the most lethal destroyer if we are attempting to narrate our tales from the foundation of an adopted religion.

If we go by popular beliefs, from the perspective of religion and a unique history, the Nagas are 110 years old; add a five-year grace period and make it 115. But this is just the introduction of the story. For centuries, there were no Naga people—for certain there were several ethnic groups which we know by their ethnonyms like, amongst others in present-day Manipur, Tangkhul, Mao, Maram people, etc.

To make it clear, there is nothing to insinuate here that a group is better or lesser than another or that of the power struggle between the Meiteis and the Nagas. There is the least interest in comparing the two groups. Instead the effort is on to put some of the issues into their context for deeper understanding with the belief that understanding paves the way for negotiation and reconciliation amongst conflict parties.

Different people and communities across the world have their share of political ‘realisation’ in different parts of modern history. To cite one of the recent cases, there was a series of decolonisation processes, particularly in Asia and Africa, in the post WWII days. For us, we can say the groundwork for political emancipation in the contemporary world order was laid decades earlier, even preceding the independence of India as evident from the Naga movement and the Nagas’ aspiration for self-determination emerged collectively in the late 1920s. However, we have been still experiencing the deepest impact in this new millennium—not in terms of casualty or brutality but on the basis of the over-extended timeline of our ongoing collective narratives that are further punctuated with never-ending crises and social unrest.

It is an irony that for most of us, we cannot help, but refer to the colonial narratives to tell our own stories. The case is no different today because as recent as 19th century, the history of Nagas cannot be found anywhere except in the credible yet often prejudiced accounts of the British anthropologists, ethnologists and cultural scholars of those days. So, it is recommendable that the Naga nationalists should emphasise on the ‘new realisation’ rather than declaring about unique history or that they were a nation, which is again a very recent concept that originated in Europe.


The present emphasis of ‘history’ and ‘nation’ only reminds us of the proverbial monkey with a coconut. History is a witness to the fact that modern Nagas used to live in autonomous village republics and their issues have always been their effort to come up to the challenges of modernity that were forced upon them without their consent—much like many of the ethnic groups have been facing in this hinterland called the Northeast.

In addition to the relentless political mobilisation, accepting this kind of truth will help other people including non-Nagas offer more lessons from the Naga saga.

The stress on a unique history reeks of political propaganda and self-deception. The Naga movement is more unique rather on the fact that its origin goes back all the way to early 20th century, in 1918 to be precise when the Naga Club was formed. After the formation of the Naga Hills district in 1866 under the province of Assam, it was only in 1963 that it became a full-fledged state. From such a comparatively frail political foundation, it is remarkable how its leaders under different banners have been confronting such a gigantic union as India.

II
Oh milung kathi kalaida thui thoilo? / Oh whence cometh thou originally?
Oh Samsok marak leida thui thoi / Oh we originate from Samsok (Thaungdut) in Burma
Sokvao leida shongavao / We call and gather all our Kindred at Shakvao.
Maichai lungli mei shok ngayar / We make fire at Maichailung
Lungatak leida mi wungngayar. / We distributed at Rungatak.

Samsok (Thaungdut) Theory of the TangkhulSource: Tracing the origin of Tangkhul Nagas through oral tradition/folksongs by Dr Ningreishim Kashung Shimray. A passage from E-pao.

It is sketchily mentioned that one of the proponents of the unique-history groups, the Tangkhuls believe their origin lies in Kangkhui cave or Makhel during the Paleolithic Era (that extends from 2.6 million years ago to around 10,000 BP). In the essay, by Dr Ningreishim Kashung Shimray, it is also mentioned that:

On the basis of language, GA Grierson assigns [the] origin of the Naga to that of the Tibeto-Burmans who came with the second wave of migration from the north-western area of Hwangho river. . . .The origin of the Tibeto-Burman speaker which is trace[d] to the upper course of Yangtse and Hwangho rivers in China and several references to [the] Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers in the folksong of the ethnos (who speak Tibeto-Burman), undoubtedly indicate the southern movement of the Tibeto-Burman speakers from China to different parts of Southeast Asian region following the rivers as the probable migrational route in pre-historical times. (Source: Dr NK Shimray. See link above)

But, nowadays, it should be noted that the Tangkhuls—with the Shimrays and the Raishings and the Phungtings—are in a majority in NSCN IM (or NSCN M?) and unsurprisingly, several other Nagas from Nagaland are not happy with such this unbalanced representation. With the recent demise of Isak Chisi Swu, a Sema Naga from Nagaland, the disproportion is even more glaring now.

On another level, there are apprehensions about a bleak period once Muivah is also gone because his group has a history of factionalism at every turning point albeit which had never been successful. Moreover, in the group, there are also alleged contests for leadership among the second- and third-rung commanders.   
  
We can say that there are, howsoever scantily, theories of evolution that cover not only the present Northeast India but also the entire Southeast Asia and parts of Southern China. Overall if more facts are laid bare, it might as well clarify a substantial part of the entire human evolution. For instance, there are claims about Southeast Asia, particularly Burma, as the birthplace of human beings in contrast to the more dominant Out-of-Africa theory. This is quite unique in itself, and different from the prehistory of other regions on the other side of the globe.

Once again, the Nagas should stop talking about the unique history, because it is ridiculous; and never even mention the then ‘existing’ independent nation of the Nagas, because there was never one. It would be impressive while they are fighting for a national movement, if it is based on future goals, instead of unconvincing articulation of ‘history’ and ‘nation’.

Here it will be worthwhile to compare the concept of Greater Nagaland and the United States of America, the US for short. To start with, the Nagas firebrands have a few propaganda terms that have quite caught the imagination of the people: the ‘unique history’. Comparatively the US has two: ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, two terms that this soon-to-be-expired superpower has been using to plunder GOD—which stands for gold, oil and drugs—from energy- and mineral-rich countries.

The Nagas are charming in this context. They are not invading resource-rich Burma or any part of the world but are simply asking for a piece of land or the formation of a United States of Nagaland. For that matter, none of us are going to be in that narrative of conquest, for reasons good or bad, because we have been too busy with our own mess in our respective towns and territories for decades.

We live in a strange world. If you are talking about Nagas, you cannot ignore the Meiteis and vice versa. The same is true when we are talking about any particular group, whether it is the Naga, the Meitei or the Kuki (which comprises sub-ethnic groups that do not want to be called a Kuki). This is the reason that made some people sceptical and observe that ‘there is [still] no meeting point . . .’

Think outside the bomb

III

It is no more not only a political issue but related to every single element of our entire collective lives. Further, the strangeness can be explained from two conspicuous issues. One: The Nagas and Kukis are worried about sharing the freebies. Today, a section of Manipuris in the general category are demanding for constitutional benefits and we can see their frustration over alleged encroachment upon their bastion just as the Meiteis also have about themselves.

Two:  The Meiteis will never compromise with the existing territorial boundary just like the Kukis will never allow the ‘anti-tribal’ bills to be passed as laws and the Nagas will do everything to form a Greater Nagalim while the Meiteis will do anything, consciously or subconsciously, to keep up with the historical Meitei-hegemonic narratives.

Just like the Nagas’ claim for Greater Nagalim, the Meiteis are still not over with Kabo Valley in Burma, which historically it had been part of the erstwhile Manipur kingdom but which was ‘donated’ by Nehru to Burma in the 1950s, as always in the union style: without consent of or consultation with the natives.

Theoretically, these irredentist issues are global in nature. No part of the world is free of this problem. By geographical proximity, we can refer to the Cambodian assertion for some regions in the Mekong Delta, which is currently inside the territory of Vietnam. Ethnic Khmer Kroms, numbering about a million, similar in number to that of the Meiteis in Manipur, lives in that South Vietnam region—known as Kampuchea Krom or Lower Cambodia. The reason: colonial French apathy.

Closer home, a section of Nagas also blame the colonial British Raj, who carved up the land for the latter’s administrative purposes but which has then become a matter of life and death. The solution is still a chimera but if this is any suggestion, one can refer to Thach Ngoc Thach, president of the Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation. A report in the VOA Cambodia mentions: ‘[Thach Ngoc Thach] does not expect the Cambodian government to solve the problem. “Khmer Krom around the world still have the ability to solve it,” he said.’

In this situation there is a question pertinent to all the stakeholders. For years and decades, the issue was always about Indo-Naga conflict, Indo-Manipur disagreement and so on. Alternatively, India was a party to the conflict. Now in the last few years, however, from such a contending party it has now become an arbitrator of the conflicts!  We should be thankful for this transformation to the elites of the three main groups of the Nagas, Kukis and the Meiteis and above all, to the mainland Indian ringmasters—consisting of army heads, intelligence officers and what not—who are refining and polishing the Indian statecraft and nation-building process.

The change has been quite obvious in one of the favourite lines of the Nagas, as repeated by a few Naga leaders. Regarding this issue, we can quote Along Longkumer who addressed the issues recently under Framework for a Shared Future: A Way Forward on Democracy, Integration and Peace in the 11th Arambam Somorendra Memorial Lecture on June 10 2016:

The Government of India’s acknowledgement of the unique history and situation of the Nagas is according to me, an affirmation of Naga integration. The land that belongs to the Naga people will belong to them wherever they are and under whatever administrative setup they may come under.  [Read the full text of the lecture on the Imphal Times]

The same sentiment was shared by a high official of the NSCN IM in a public consultative meeting recently (in June ’16) on Indo-Naga peace talk at Phungreitang, Nagaland. According to another report on the Sangai Express: ‘After the signing of peace accord between NSCN-IM and Government of India which is considered as a landmark achievement for the Nagas, the unique political identity for Naga is being rationally recognized by the Government of India for logical conclusion of the ongoing Indo-Naga peace dialogue, stated RH Raising, Kilo Kilonser, NSCN-IM.’ (Naga unique identity recognized: RH Raising 18 June 2016, source: The Sangai Express)

It makes sense from a political viewpoint—after all the existing nation-state, howsoever contested, occupies the top position of the power hierarchy. But here’s the catch. Several groups in Manipur have been questioning the very legitimacy of the Government of India of its merger into the Union. So it is unclear how these people would view the ‘acknowledgement’.  Besides this extra-constitutional articulation, there are also juridico-legal reasons. For instance in Why India Cannot Disturb Manipur Boundary of 1947, Dr N Sanajaoba wrote:

. . .[the second instrument is] the republican constitution of India, which provides in Article 3, parliamentary power to alter areas, boundaries of existing states after hearing ‘views’ of the state legislature concerned which will not bind the President at all. This article applies to India’s existing states and not to Manipur, which has been ‘a pre-existing state’ before the adoption of India’s Constitution. Rather, it has been an illegally annexed state to which Article 3 has no contextual bearing at all. [Source: A souvenir of the All Manipur Students’ Union [Imphal, 1999]

Then it is a given that we have to untangle the mess even before we talk about a solution and apparently one’s problem cannot be solved on its own. One’s integration is another’s destruction. We can only hope that the issues do not create more overlapping demands.  Mr Longkumer remarked on the Naga Regional Council that India has ‘suggested to the NSCN-IM as ‘a possible solution’ to the question of Naga integration’ It is crucial to note here that India has learnt perfectly well the concept of divide-and-rule, which it inherited from the erstwhile colonial masters and has been finished with certain Kautilyan touches.

A graphic representation based on an idea by Subir Bhaumik in his lecture on The Northeast: A Thousand Assertive Ethnicities


As a state suffering from similar predicaments the Nagas’ assertion is laudable to the Manipuris but, there is always a ‘but’, everybody seems reluctant to take a step back. In the mess, we have failed miserably to see the larger context in which we are living and are going to live in the future. The Union’s policies like the rechristened Act East is going to affect us with results good or bad but we are too myopic to see the development in the horizon. It could have been a spiritual capability that we can concentrate too much and occupied with the present, as in the ‘now’ for an individual; yet when this fixation on the ‘now’ comes to politics it is no different from a mass suicide initiative.

Last August the NSCN IM had signed the Framework Agreement with the union government. This organisation has come a long way from absolute sovereignty to unification of the Naga-inhabited areas. However, in addition to the questions, which have been raised over its still-hidden resolutions, the steps of solving the Naga issue are yet to be ascended and each stride is riddled with countless questions on nationality and territory. An honest and mutual approach—and not the typical union government’s tomfoolery on solving the insurgency in one of its frontiers—from the stakeholders can be a good start.

From another perspective, Bano Haralu, a Naga journalist, once put it succinctly that if the sole result from the 18 years of peace talk is a Framework Agreement, then nobody knows how much longer the Nagas and India would have to wait for one final settlement. Ten years ago, in an interview to The Irrawaddy, Muivah had said: ‘We have come down from our demand of absolute sovereignty, but the Indian government seems to be playing for time. It is time for them to take a definite decision. Our patience has been taxed to the limit.’

The condition has apparently not changed much in the last decade except in a couple of areas like the growing hostility between the ethnic groups. What’s worse, as noted above, the government of India has also become an arbitrator to the same conflict in which it was once a party to. Today, NSCN IM can be best described as one of the most formidable factions but that does not bring a hint of conclusion to any problem. In fact, this ‘formidable’ aspect is just a result of India’s desperate attempt to contain the insurgency issue, well knowing that a talk with a faction in this land of 1,000 armed organisations can be best described as a moral victory, which means nothing to the people.

Conclusion

Mainland political observers have maintained that NSCN IM’s peace agreement with the Government of India is not much more than a frantic attempt to end the movement; else Muivah & Co would not have compromise on their demand for sovereignty. After all it started when their arms and ammunitions were seized, Khaplang was in his own world and the former associates turning into the union while India—blissfully ‘aware’ of the Kautilyan statecraft—lost no time to bring in whoever it can get for negotiation. This statement does not intend to demean the efforts made by several Naga civil societies which have now understood that nothing good will come out of a peace agreement between the Government of India and a rebel organisation’s faction.

Countless Naga leaders have sacrificed their lives for a Naga nation. That’s amazing to say the least, if not unique. It is also quite exceptional that a few of the leadership, starting from Phizo, had successfully garnered the support for the Naga cause from several parts of the world. Besides, no Meitei or Kuki organisation but the Naga’s is at the Unrepresented Nations People’s Organisation (UNPO) at the Hague. This is quite an achievement from the political tactics of the visionary Naga leaders. However, for the sake of clarification, any leader would know that problems are to be solved and not complicated. If only the present Naga representatives know this fact, apart from the futility of highly partial peace talks as a means to an end. It will also do us a world of good if we reconsider that it was never a Naga–Meitei fight but a two-fold contest of Indo-Naga and Indo-Manipuri politics.

Concluded.


Browse on the Internet Archive for Books on Nagas and Manipuris by Colonial Writers
   


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