Waiting for the Peace Never Comes

by: M. Horam

 Twenty-Seven years is a long time to be agitating for independence and apparently getting nowhere though there have been longer-standing cases of frustrated nationalism. If all attempts to reach a satisfactory solution of the Naga problem have so far failed it is not for want of trying. Despite blunders on both the Indian and the Naga sides it must be stated in fairness to New Delhi that there was a time when a negotiated settlement through political dialogue was not ruled out by it. But this was not to be and the problem remains as intractable as ever. While all political goings-on is on record what has never been fully gauged is the sum-total of human suffering during these 27 long years. And there has been suffering, plenty of it. It must be so until a settlement is reached. When the September 1972 ban was announced declaring illegal the three wings of the Federal Government of Nagaland, it was hoped by many that a fatal blow was thus struck to the activities of these underground bodies. Again when the Revolutionary Government of Nagaland, a splinter underground organisation, decided to surrender on August 16, 1973, it began to look as though the Naga underground movement was, at last, petering out and indeed this idea was conveyed in most press reports at that time. Today, almost two years after invoking the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, and despite all reports and statements to the contrary, the situation remains unchanged for the Naga villagers. Military operations continue and villagers live in suspense and fear. Thus things are not what they seem in these troubled hills. The true picture is either kept deliberately hidden or it is possible that at the official level it is genuinely believed that the hack of the problem has been broken and that given time it must fizzle out. If prob- lems couild evaporate in this fashion theni many administrative headaches cotuld be avoi(led lbimt in this case onie must reckoi xvith the Naga psyche anid the present set-up in Nagaland. The decade long rule of the Naga Nationalist Organisation ended when early this year the United Democratic Front, the erstwhile opposition party, came to power. The UDF has been fairly consistent in its avowals, aims and political colour. While the NNO has always been associated in the Naga mind as leaning towards New Delhi, the UDF has been openly spoken of as being a pro-underground body. The UDF victory, after years of patient waiting, was hailed by the underground Nagas as their own victory. Indeed it is openly voiced that the fortunes of the UDF are dependent to a great extent on the support extended to it by the underground Nagas. In the cabinet now are formerly active NNO men. Underground traffic to China continues unabated and small batches of China-trained guerillas return to the country at regular intervals. There are agreements recently arrived at between the Naga underground of Kachin, Mon and Chin insurgents in Burma. Though all this may pose little or no threat to the nation, the fact remains that this goings-on gives the lie to the claim that the north-eastern region is silent or silenced.

 A single visit to the five states and two union territories constituting the north-east mosaic and a few interviews with the youth of the region will apprise one of the general discontents that prevails in these states. The deep-seated suspicion, distrust and bitterness will be disconcerting to anyone who may have been given to understand that all this was a thing of the past and that any anti-government activity here is blown out of all proportion and is, in fact, a non-happening. Granting of state- hood and union territory status notwith- standing, there is seething mass unrest. The people of Assam resent the dis- membering of their state and besides Assam has its own problem of the Ahoms demanding a separate homeland. Miri and Garo tribals in the plains want, respectively, a separate state and merger with Meghalaya. Anti-Indian feeling rides high among the youth in Meghalaya and provides the main topic of conversation even bet- ween strangers. The Mizo hostile activity has reached a crescendo and an independent Mizoram is still the cherish- ed goal of the guerillas and the secret dream of many Mizos. Mizo rebels continue to use China and Pakistan as allies. Youth in Arunachal fear the swamping of their culture and identity by Indian ways and influence and often organisations founded ostensibly to safe- guard culture become centres of feverish political activity.  Manipur takes the cake for political instability and chaos and here matters are further worsened l)y a pan-Mongoloid movement and the Kangla League stridently demanding an independent Manipur. Meanwhile responsible leadership in the Naga 1lills region of Manipur continues to carry a sizeable population with it in the demand for Greater Nagaland by integrating all contiguous Naga areas. The Kukis and Lushais in Manipur wish to merge with Mizoram. With so many groups pulling in as many directions, it is little wonder that peace cannot even find a perching place in this region. 

 While political opportunism is bound to thrive in situations such as these, another puzzling fact is the total indifference of a fairly large section of Nagas all of whom have one common aspect – they are among the more educated and better qualified among their people. They seem to be dispassionate onlookers. Their apathy may be construed as being either the cynical aloofness of the modern educated man or a deliberate and appalling disregard of their responsibility to society and the nation. They could do a great deal to inject sanity and moderation in a situation like this where opposing parties, argu- ing from different premises, have taken all of 27 years to reach nowhere. The underground Nagas continue to be “patriots” in the eyes of all Naga nationalists and “rebels” in the eyes of India. A curious fact often overlooked is that this educated section of Nagas so indifferent to the Naga milieu, are the very persons who have benefited most as it were from all the happenings.

 This needs some enlargement. The underground movement precipitated the formation of the state of Nagaland. The Government of India since then has poured aid into Nagaland. Even the semi-educated, not to mention those with adequate qualifications, b)benefited job-wise when Nagaland came into existence. Then with aid from New Delhi, a new generation of Nagas received the very best education and training without incurring practically any expense of their own. Having thug been educated and finding their future ready-made most of them have not felt it necessary to exert themselves in any way. They have steered clear of controversy and have slid into lucrative careers. Instead of being a sound middle-of-the-road body, working for peace and understanding, many of them are guilty of sitting on the fence or deliberately turning their faces away from the needs of the people. Some have indeed done worse; with all their learning and knowledge, they have not hesitated to use their brains in misleading their innocent brethren thus wounding where they should have brought the balm of healing. They talk to please and act only after carefully observing which way the cat will jump. When with representatives of the government one may hear them conveniently run down the “hostiles”. When back in their own villages or face to face with underground men or sympathisers they execute a volte-face and speak movingly of independence for the Nagas. There are hardly any who will speak out boldly against New Delhi’s shortcomings and then unequivocally point out the blunders which the Naga underground has made and go on to suggest how the present impasse can be removed. This is a time for truth, not smooth platitudes. When this is realised by the hitherto indifferent intelligentsia a reliable way will be paved for peace to come to Naga- land. For in spite of all claims to the contrary there is no peace in Nagaland.

 It is becoming a matter of course to cite India’s new-found superiority in the subcontinent as effective match against any foolhardy rising on the part of a handful of Nagas. The recent nuclear device acquired by the nation may further enhance that feeling of euphoria. True India is not the India of 1962 and it has come a long way since then as a military power in its own right. But the increase in India’s military strength has not in any way decreased the political aspirations of the underground Nagas. The problem therefore remains. But what is hearten- ing is that even among the Phizoites there are people who will settle for less than independence. This in itself is a step in the right direction and towards peace. What is required is tactful handling, concessions and magnanimity on the part of the Government of India and rational thinking, practicality and graciousness on the part of the underground leaders. Church leaders alone cannot do much. For a lasting solution to the problem, public involvement is required. Public leaders must be more forthright than they have been. Politicians will have to stop thinking of themselves and of staying in power but must utilise their office in resolving the problem which has clogged the footsteps of their suffering people for so long.

 This will entail sacrifices all round as well as some hard and level-headed thinking. New Delhi and the Federal Government of Nagaland have been at cross purposes too long and the stalemate can easily continue with no one suffering too much except of course the poor Naga villager whose disenchantment with all parties and governments is by now complete. This is not the time to stand on national prestige or worry about the loss of face for this is a matter involving human lives and much tragedy. If extreme views and demands are modified and if an accommodating spirit is shown then there is no reason why the Naga question cannot be settled within a fairly short time. Failing this the long-suffering Naga public will have to make its presence felt and come up with an answer and solution which will only hold up more glaringly the diminishing credibility of both the Government of India and the so-called representatives of the Naga people.

 There is yet another aspect of the problem which needs consideration and requires farsighted action. India’s relations with China continue to remain cool and China’s abetment of hostile activity in the north-east has not endeared that country to India. Again, if India has become a nuclear power, China’s nuclear arsenal is also well equipped. International relations and actions are no longer predictable in a world taut with tension. The territory of the north-east areas of India is not to be scoffed at. Wars have been fought for lesser prizes. Of course, in such an event, the hill areas will have played directly into China’s hands but by then it would be too late.

 Perhaps, the greatest weakness on the Naga side is the fact of tribal rivalry which may be said to have been transcended in, the wake of Naga nationalism inspired by Phizo way back in 1947. Recent happenings, however, have repeatedly shown that this unity is often only an illusion. The only binding factor among the tribes is the fact that they are ‘different’ from the Indians. It is this theory which is the focus of Naga nationalism. As Barclay has said, “A Nationalist needs a theory. But it is no more than the truth to assert that any theory will do. What is really important is not an intellectual argument, but a physical fact of difference … Race obviously provides the most satisfactory rallying call for the new Nationalism.” So, as long as the Underground groups pursue this theory – and many among them confidently speak of holding out indefinitely, having held out for 27 years – and as long as the Government of India takes up the issue piecemeal or hopes to solve it by ignoring it, in short as long as the two sides continue to behave in impractical and uncertain ways, peace in the Naga hills will remain a myth.

Disclaimer: The Arek do not claim ownership of the article .

For the reference : Horam.M. (1974). Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 9, No. 31 (Aug. 3, 1974), pp. 1226-1227.

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