By Z. K. Pahrü Pou, Mission Colony, Pfutsero.
Naga freedom movement is considered to be one of the longest people’s movements not only in Asia but also in the whole world. This movement is also one of the strongest movements that had survived the onslaught of mighty Indian armed forces as well as violent conflict among the various Naga groups. It has secured a revered place in the hearts of many indigenous people. Nature (type) of settlement that is going to arrive at will not only decide the destiny of the Nagas but also the fate of many other indigenous people’s movement both in India and abroad because the powerful empires are likely to use the same yardstick in dealing with the colonized people. For this reason, many indigenous people are looking with curiosity at the final result of Indo-Naga talk. However, the talk that begins (in 1997) with much hype and hope has been mired with confusion and ambiguity after more than 20 years and nearly 100 rounds of talk.
Is the GOI playing various cards to confuse the Nagas? The present Indo-Naga talk begins with three conditions: that it will be held in the third country, at the highest level and without any pre-condition. Whether the Government of India (GOI) is faithful to the promise they made to the Nagas is opened for all to see. But that cannot be considered a surprise as GOI has been doing the same thing again and again even in the past’s agreements/accords with the Nagas. In more than two decades of talk, the GOI has been playing with various cards and trying her best to downgrade Indo-Naga talk from sovereignty (as two separate entities) to ethnicity to a tribe and to factional level. This has created lots of chaos resulting in fear and suspicion of each other within the Naga family. In the name of inclusivism (stakeholders), the GOI has put various NPGs and civil organisations to compete and fight with each other.
This has been done intentionally so as to turn Naga political issue into internal ‘law and order’ problem and make the unique history of the Nagas meaningless. Today, respected interlocutor and Governor of Nagaland continuously talks about ‘corruption’ as the main problem of the state.
Few Nagas sincerely believe this ‘deceptive sermon’ without realizing that it is just a ploy to divert people’s attention from pursuing political freedom. During these many years of political lesson given by the GOI, many Nagas including some intellectuals were convinced that according to ‘contemporary reality’ the only way for the Nagas to survive is through total submission to Indian Union. This ‘reality’ says that ‘either you accept monetary assistance and be quiet or face bullets, bombs and death fighting for your rights.’ As a response to this threat, many Nagas have probably approved that India has the legitimate right to continue colonizing Nagas while the Nagas should surrender her right to exist as a free nation.
Is Article 371-A qualifies to be the crux of Indo-Naga political settlement? We were told that the Nagas have been denied of sovereignty. We heard that the Nagas were denied of physical integration of all Naga inhabited areas to live under a single administration. However, we were told that there could be the formation of the Naga Regional Territorial Council (NRTC) in Naga inhabited areas. It is likely that NRTC will be empowered by extending Article 371-A which at present the state of Nagaland is enjoying. Although this is purely under the purview of the Indian Constitution, it gives certain powers to the state/people especially in regards to customary laws and practices as well as ownership of land and its resources. If Art. 371-A is to come as part of settling Indo-Naga talk, it needs serious deliberation to correct the flaws and also make more powerful than now.
Art. 371-A with its main clause ‘customary laws and practices,’ has been used to discriminate women in the decision making bodies. Because of this Article, 33% reservation for women in the decision making bodies was denied in the state. Naga patriarchal society has made this Article to protect men’s interest at the expense of women’s right. It should be amended or interpreted so as to make inclusive and people’s friendly Act where no one is discriminated on the basis of sex difference.
Art. 371-A needs to get strengthened with autonomous power. In its present form, it has no power to protect its citizen from cruellest and draconian laws especially AFSPA & NSA. This means even after the final agreement, Nagas will be completely under the control of Indian armed forces and will face arrest, torture, frisking and detention without any warrant and on mere suspicion.
It is also true that Art. 371-A does not give full freedom to the Nagas to explore and extract oil and mineral resources in their own land. Oil and mineral resources are crucial towards developing one’s economy and Nagas should get 100% ownership right.
It is equally important to analyze to what extent Art.371-A can protect us from CAA as it might automatically pave the way to the introduction of UCC in the near future. Some Naga political leaders, instead of strengthening Art. 371-A, think that it is a stumbling block to development in the state. Hence, the signs of the time predict that Art. 371-A will gradually lose its strength and completely vanish in due course of time unless it is back up by a strong Naga Constitution.
Pan Naga Hoho as the apex authority body. In the absence of full independence or sovereignty, Nagas need to have a strong common political body. All Naga Political Groups (NPGs) seems to have understood that the present settlement is not going to be the final agreement. It is also understood that the right to self-determination will be pursued through ‘democratic means.’ However, after inking the present peace accord, all the members/cadres of various NPGs will be rehabilitated by the GOI and placed in their respective state where they belong. Majority of them will be absorbed into Indian armed forces. With this development, Nagas will be kept in pieces and a huge vacuum will come into existence in the Naga freedom movement. This is where the Nagas need a strong common political body to continue the dialogue with the GOI to recognise and grant the full rights of the Nagas. In this context, PNH is necessary. It should be properly established before signing the present deal and empowered to inculcate and foster the spirit of oneness and unity of all Nagas. It can be endowed with full power to oversee the administration of all the Naga inhabited areas as well as act as the custodian of Art. 371-A. Even NTRC will have its strength and will be effective only when there is a binding mechanism such as PNH. In the set up of PNH, there should be fair representation from all NPGs and various tribes of all Naga inhabited areas. It should become a brainstorming platform for Naga intellectuals where not only the welfare and development of the Nagas will be taken care of but also that of neighbouring communities and India as well. It is a layman’s fear that without having a strong PNH as a common platform, Nagas will be broken into pieces after the present Indo-Naga talk is over.
Conclusion: It is expected that GOI recognises and respect the unique history of the Nagas despite disunity among the Nagas. Trying to downgrade Naga political issue to economic issue or to solve from of ethnic perspective (e.g. Bodo Accord), will not bring a lasting solution. GOI of India should stop dealing with Naga’s issue solely from her security and international trade perspective.
It may be difficult for GOI to digest the idea of establishing PNH with full power but it is the only way forward for the Nagas in attaining their aspiration of living together under one administrative umbrella. Whatever accord/agreement is going to be inked this time; every party should honour and abide by it in letter and in spirit. It is hoped that India will not cheat again the Nagas as in the past. On the part of Nagas, we must transcend geographical division and tribalism, come together and stand in unity as one nation for there’s nothing to lose in unity but gain abundant life in freedom.