By- Charles Chasie
The Home Ministry’s announcement that Government of India would give its response on the Naga Issue by November and suggesting all Naga stakeholder groups to come together seems to have sent all Naga political groups, Overground and Underground, into individual sub-rosa confabulations even if their actual coming together is still far off. Various responses, muted and loud, individual or group, are beginning to emerge although still unclear. What is evident is a sense of imminence in the air! Government of India’s recent announcement as a response to “Indo-Naga Talks”, after so many years, has been long overdue. The thought that GoI was either indecisive or unwilling to solve the Naga Issue was beginning to creep into people’s minds both within and outside the country. What perhaps, many people did not expect was the sudden spurt in seeming decisiveness on the part of the Government of India (GoI). The Home Ministry’s announcement gave a time line of its own commitment and did away with the office of “Interlocutor”, thereby giving the message that GoI wants to have direct talks. Its suggestion that all Nagas come together and speak with one voice may sound patronizing but also a necessary condition for permanent settlement in present context of various opposing groups. All these indicated a new sense of purpose and determination, something Nagas had not seen in GoI’s attitude in decades. This sudden promise by GoI to throw the ball onto the Naga side of the Court, without actually doing so, has come as a bit of a surprise to many. It seems to show the kind of confidence GoI has now acquired in dealing with the Naga Issue! Naga division had become a major hurdle to finding an adequate solution notwithstanding the allegations that GoI agents/agencies have manipulated and exploited such divisions. At the same time, the exploitative methods of GoI could only Contain and Control the Naga Situation without finding an adequate solution to the Naga Issue. If the present initiative is sincere enough and goes far enough, the Nagas may find that it may no longer be enough to blame GoI for non-solution of the Naga Issue! Much will depend on Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh. Both are respected for wh o they are. The Prime Minister also enjoys emotional attachment as an MP from the region. Both sides know that the search for an adequate settlement of the Naga Issue has gone on for too long. One-upmanship and attempts to place oneself in a more advantageous position by force, at the cost of others, may not only lead to a lose-lose situation but also risk the possibility of leaders being cursed by future generations! The need is for win-win initiatives, if only for the sake of those they represent. WIN-WIN SITUATION It would seem that two main things and a lot of home-works are required for both sides before a win-win agreement could emerge. i) Government of India needs to carry further the recognition of Naga History and remove it from the shadow of “secession” or even “insurgency” simply because these are not true. GoI, for example, after many decades of denial, and military action, is coming back to recognizing, if silently, the existence of the 9-Points Agreement, or Hydari Agreement, of June 1947. Moreover, it is not possible to tal k about the 9-Points Agreement without also remembering August 14, 1947, and keeping at the back of one’s mind the Naga Memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929. Equating and comparing the Naga Issue with other militant groups in NE, in the name of “insurgency”, make `India’ look small! (Personally, I have never been comfortable with the term “insurgency” in NE context because I don’t think any of these groups, certainly not the Nagas, give much store to whether the Congress or BJP or any other party is ruling in Delhi) . The history of any people, however seemingly insignificant, cannot be belittled. We are all aware of the few examples where history was attempted to be re-written. No one can really do harm to another without suffering some destruction oneself! ii) On the Naga side, the Nagas should gratefully accept the History God gave them as a people, conscious of other ethnic groups of similar size, including in their own neighbourhood! This should help them, in Christian humility, to admit to faults that have been committed along the way. This is where the need for reconciliation, and moving on, comes in especially in matters intra-Naga. With healing, the Naga people would then have the needed space, even enlightenment, to envision the future of their people and how they could contribute. Without reconciliation and healing, there is real chance of the worst sides of Naga history repeating itself and also encouraging the emergence of the bad traits in others! No one wants these. Further, Nagas will need the goodwill and active cooperation of all their neighbours. From above, it is quite clear that both GoI and the Naga side will have to do a lot of “homework” before an adequate final political settlement of the Naga Issue may happen. FUTURE ROUTE Both sides must recognize the following facts:- a) Regardless of whether a Naga is a Member of Indian Parliament, Minister in a State Government, senior GoI or State bureaucrat or employee, contractor, supplier, educationist, media person, ordinary villager etc. all Nagas recognize and accept the happenings of recent Naga political history such as Naga Memorandum to Simon Commission in 1929, Hydari Agreement of June 1947, Naga declaration of independence on August 14, 1947, Naga Plebiscite of 1951, etc. There is no dispute among Nagas where these above events are concerned. b) Despite its military and economic strengths/powers, and exercising these through various channels, GoI has only been able to exploit and manipulate Naga divisions through Control and Containment policies. The central issue (because of such policies?) could still not be addressed and, instead, created more room for divisions/exploitation while removing possible solutions further afield. What the costs to Naga Society are of such policies have yet to be assessed. c) Nagas must know and accept that it is now in their best interest to work out something tangible and honourable with the GoI. Nagas must accept, however painful, that they have missed several opportunities and there is a limit to how far they can blame others for these. Take two examples. (i) The Crown Colony concept, proposed by some British Colonial administrators, which was not far from sentiments expressed by Naga leaders. (ii) The historic visit to Kohima of Nehru with U Nu, his Burmese counterpart, was a great opportunity. Nagas may claim it was not their fault. The fact remains that Nagas were willing to jeopardize the future of their people because of the attitude of the then Deputy Commissioner, one individual! d) The biggest hurdle to an adequate political settlement has always been the “political”. Economic issues, where most Nagas are concerned, will only be the icing on the proverbial cake! Without some face-saving concession on the political side the Nagas may not see any forthcoming settlement as “honourable”. This is the Catch-22 of the Naga Issue. The positive element, today, is that both sides agree that solution must come through “talks” and not military action. e) Overwhelming majority of Nagas want solution. Three things are material here. (i) All Nagas want an “honourable settlement”. Much will depend on how far GoI is prepared to go to accommodate Naga aspirations and history. (ii) Any Naga leader/s or group/party playing spoilsport and standing in the way of an adequate settlement may, one day, regretfully discover that History is no servant to anyone and that it is best to pay healthy respect to it! Whether Overground or Underground, individual and groups interests must sub-serve the interests of the Naga people as a whole. (iii) The goodwill and active cooperation of all, especially those concerned and affected, third parties. Nagas must reach out and interact with neighbours. Nagas cannot expect satisfaction of their aspirations without also respecting the aspirations and sentiments of neighbours to the extent possible. FORUM FOR NAGA RECONCILIATION I had, on earlier occasions, written in support of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation, headed by Dr Wati Aier because I believe he knows about healing and reconciliation. In December 2001, the orphan choir he brought to Kohima to sing “Healing in Our Nation” is still imprinted in the minds of Naga people. The FNR has also made much headway. Any positives must be appreciated and supported. Healing and Reconciliation will lay the foundations for the rebirth of the Naga people. They will also ensure that any future political agreement will have a chance to work/succeed. But has the time come for the FNR to expand its base at home and grow to the stature it will need for next stage/s? A natural extension would be to sufficiently include, even make core partners, the Nagaland Christian Forum or at least the Nagaland Baptist Church Council. Such inclusion will not only provide the FNR with the needed pillars but will also be fitting in the light of peace movement history in Nagaland. A unified Naga Church will also inspire and give confidence to all Nagas. CONCLUSION It is said that nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. Equally true is that when the time has not come, it is of no use banging one’s head to force it to happen! Take an example. Just a few years ago, the idea of healing and reconciliation failed to make headway despite all the emotional as well as rational and objective explanations given out. Today, most Nagas, thank God, are going out full-throated for these same objectives! This gives hope for Naga healing and restoration, the only adequate basis from which something new and better may emerge for the Naga people! For the above to fully happen, magnanimity and largeness of heart on the part of the Government and people of India will be required as well. Such magnanimity, one thinks, will also help Spiritual India to re-find her Soul which, in turn, could lead to India finding her true destiny?