Approximately 4 million in population and comprising more than 45 different tribes, the Nagas are a transnational indigenous people inhabiting parts of north-east India (in the federal states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur) and north-west Burma (parts of Kachin state and Sagaing division). The Nagas were divided between the two countries with the colonial transfer of power from Great Britain to India in 1947. Nagalim is the name coined to refer to the Naga homeland transcending the present state boundaries, and is an expression of their assertion of their political identity and aspirations as a nation. The Naga people’s struggle for the right to self-determination dates back to the colonial transfer of power from Great Britain to India. Armed conflict between the Indian state and the Nagas’ armed opposition forces began in the early 1950s and it is one of the longest armed struggles in Asia. A violent history has marred the Naga areas since the beginning of the 20th century, and undemocratic laws and regulations have governed the Nagas for more than half a century. In 1997, the Indian government and the largest of the armed groups, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland Isaac-Muivah faction (NSCN-IM), agreed on a cease-fire and since then have held regular peace talks. However, a final peace agreement has not yet been reached. Largely as a result of India’s divide-and-rule tactics, the armed movement was split into several factions fighting each other. In 2010, the reconciliation process among the Nagas of the past years resulted, however, in the formation of a Joint Working Group of the three main armed factions, the NSCN-IM, the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland/National Socialist Council of Nagaland (GPRN/NSCN) and the Naga National Council (NNC).
The peace talks
In late 2010, with the promise of a “comprehensive political package”, the Government of India (GoI) submitted a proposal to the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM). No public comment was made by the NSCN-IM on the proposal but the Joint Working Group (JWG) of the Naga underground factions made it clear that any form of conditional package offered by the GoI would not be acceptable. In 2011, several rounds of political talks took place and one wondered whether any connections would be made to the GoI’s 2010 proposal. The Union Home Secretary, GK Pillai, toured the Naga areas more intensively than before, particularly in Manipur, and kept assuring the people that talks were progressing well. In his tour, he also kept talking of the central government’s many development schemes that were in the pipeline and the funds that were ready to be made available from central government. He also continued to insist that the political solution had to be a consensus among all sections of Naga society and not just an agreement signed between the NSCN-IM and the GoI. This was tricky as it appeared as though the NSCN-IM’s legitimacy to represent the Naga people was being questioned by the GoI. Both the GoI and the NSCN-IM have, from time to time, made diplomatic gestures to the public without disclosing much on the actual substance and progress of the talks. However, in November, a Guwahati-based newspaper, the “Seven Sisters Post” (SSP) carried an article entitled “‘Supra State Body’ likely Christmas gift for Nagas!” This news item was reproduced by many newspapers across North-east India and provoked opposition in some of the states bordering or including Naga territories, especially in Manipur.
The proposal for a supra-state Body
A “Supra-State Body” as the GoI’s final proposal for a settlement of the political conflict came as a surprise when it was published in the Seven Sisters Post (SSP). The SSP reported in early November that the negotiations between the Indian Government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) were now in their final stages and that the final settlement envisaged a “special federal relationship” between India and Nagaland and the creation of a “Supra-state Body” for the Nagas to preserve, protect and promote their cultural, social and customary practices.1 The paper further stated that the merger of Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh with the State of Nagaland was likely to provoke huge resistance among the first three states, so Delhi was offering to create the “Supra-State Body”, to which the legal authority and decision-making power of the Naga-populated areas of the above states would be formally transferred. The newspaper outlined the following as the content of the proposal:
- The basis of the proposal recognizes the “distinct identity” of the Nagas and ensures that nobody will interfere with the lifestyle and dignity of the Naga people.
- The proposed Supra-State Body will oversee the cultural, traditional and other aspects of Naga life inside Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
- The Supra-state Body will advise the state agencies concerned on the implementation of different development projects in the Naga areas.
- The Inner Line Regulation2 will be strictly enforced. Power to oversee law and order, including police and the security aspect of the Naga inhabited areas will rest entirely with the states concerned and central government.
The news report immediately generated critical responses in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, states which border the Nagaland state and which also have substantial Naga populations. Opposition to the alleged “Supra-State Body” was particularly strong in Manipur on account of the fear that it might affect the territorial integrity of the state, and clarifications were demanded from the central government on the factual accuracy of the report. Central government did not deny the report explicitly until the Chief Minister of Manipur flew to New Delhi seeking clarification. On 19 November, the Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram, finally denied the SSP’s report. However, the editor of the SSP insisted that they were in possession of the twelve-page status report on the peace talks that was submitted by the interlocutor R.S. Pandey to the Prime Minister, and which contained reference to the Supra-State Body, and that the paper had also spoken to a top official in the Home Ministry regarding the matter. The NSCN-IM did not confirm or deny the report but scepticism regarding the proposal was expressed when the leaders of the NSCN-IM, NNC and the GPRN/NSCN met during the summit of the Naga Reconciliation on December 3, 2011. The Eastern Mirror reported that: “The signatories said they are… appalled by the so-called ‘Christmas Gift’ in the form of a “Naga Supra State,”… It sought to place on record that Nagas are not seeking or demanding any ‘gift’ from India”.3 The Naga public and civil society were almost silent on the news and showed little sign of excitement. It was obvious that such a proposal would require in-depth examination, plus it had become a habit of the GoI’s authorities and officials to make a statement one day and then deny it the very next. The result is that nobody knows for sure whether the proposal did provide a glimpse of what India was actually going to propose as a solution to the Indo-Naga conflict.
Formation of the High-Level Commission
The Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) continued to organize its reconciliation meetings both within and outside Naga areas. Although it was progressing well, it was taken by surprise when the NSCN Kaplang faction (NSCN-K) split in two in June 2011, one faction led by N Kitovi Zhimomi, General Secretary, and the other by SS Khaplang, Chairman. This meant adding more splinters to the reconciliation efforts. The number of factional conflicts was still high in 2011 but, in what may be considered as the greatest achievement of the reconciliation process so far, the three Naga political groups—the NSCN-IM, NNC and GPRN/NSCN— signed the “Naga Concordant” on August 26, 2011. One of the agreements in the Naga Concordant is to expedite the process of eventually forming one Naga National Government for all. And for this process to follow soon, a High-Level Commission of the three groups was formed comprising the signatories and headed either by the Chairman/President or the General Secretary/Vice President. Further, there will be no less than four competent members at the rank of Kilonser (Minister)/Major General and above, as deemed fit by the respective governments. The other major decision taken was that any interim arrangement of the political rights of the Nagas would be outside of the purview of the Indian Constitution. The meeting also agreed to work for the territorial integration of all Nagas. Through the facilitation of the FNR, the High-Level Commission of the three groups continued to meet to take forward the decisions taken collectively and to affirm their commitment for the unity of the Nagas. It is expected that some bold steps will be taken in early 2012.
The demand for an alternative political arrangement
In 2010, the Nagas inhabiting four hill districts of Manipur termed the Government of Manipur (GoM) a “communal government” and demanded an alternative political arrangement for the Nagas in Manipur until a long-term solution is found to the Indo-Naga political problem (see The Indigenous World 2011). This demand is being led by the United Naga Council (UNC), the apex body of the Nagas in Manipur or Southern Nagalim. In 2011, the UNC made several efforts to realize this 373demand and also made trips to Delhi to meet the central government. However, there is no tangible result as yet and the relationship between the Nagas in Manipur and the GoM remains sour. Manipur’s majority Meitei people and the GoM continue to react negatively whenever the issue of the rights of the Nagas receives some limelight. The situation continues to deteriorate, with endless debates in the media.
Notes and references
1 The Sangai Express, 14 November 2011. http://www.thesangaiexpress.com/sangai-expressnews.php?newsid=10650
2 The Inner Line Regulation was passed during the British colonial rule and continued after independence. Among other things, it restricts the movement of outsiders into tribal areas and prohibits the acquisition of land by non-tribals in these restricted areas.
3 Eastern Mirror, 4 December 2011. Gam A. Shimray is a member of the Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights and is currently working as Assistant to the Secretary General for the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP).
Gam A. Shimray is a member of the Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights and is currently working as Assistant to the Secretary General for the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP).