Naga Political struggle with British India

By Rev Dr VK Nuh

What the Indian Government later did was to ensnare the third group of the NNC with military protection, economic prosperity and political power. As already outlined in the first chapter, along with this small minority, the Indian Government even succeeded in superimposing an Indian state of Nagaland against the wishes of the 99.99% who refused to be a part of India. For the past 52 years, India has been trying to portray this minority as the true representatives of the Naga Nation.

At various stages of the struggle for Independence, this group of the NNC also created a lot of confusion in Delhi by sending contradictory memorandums and letters to the political leaders of India. Later on, many Indian politicians and writers used these documents to substantiate their claim that Nagas themselves had asked to be part of India.

When the British Cabinet Mission came to India, the NNC sent a delegation to Delhi and gave them a memorandum. The Cabinet Mission was sent to study the political situation in the Indian sub-continent in the light of the impending transfer of power that was to take place soon. In the memorandum the NNC declared that the future of the Nagas would not be bound by any arbitrary decision of the departing British Government if such decisions were taken without the prior information and approval of the Naga people. The memorandum was submitted to them on 9th April 1946.

Following this memorandum to the Cabinet Mission, the NNC also published a book where the Naga desire for full independence was clearly outlined. Orient Press of India published this book on 23rd December 1946. In a subsequent interview with a correspondent of the Azad, Messrs, A. Z. Phizo and T. Sakhrie clearly told the Indian Press that the Naga stand was for complete independence from India. This event was later discussed in the Indian Legislative Assembly where Nehru replied in the affirmative but later brushed the issue aside saying that the statement had no particular importance nor was supported by a substantial opinion.

Following these declarations another memorandum was submitted to the departing British Government and the incoming Indian Government on 27th March 1947. The memorandum was entitled Memorandum of the case of the Naga people for self-determination and an appeal to the H.M.G and the government of India.

This memorandum after outlining the historical, political and cultural background of the Nagas requested the two Governments for granting an interim Government for the Nagas for ten years after which the Nagas would be free to decide their own political future. The purpose of the memorandum was stated thus:
The memorandum seeks to present the case of the Naga people for self-determination for the realization of which an appeal is made to HMG and the Government of India to set up for the Naga people an interim Government for a period of ten years, at the end of which the Naga people will be led to choose any form of Government under which they will live.

Copies of this memorandum along with personal letters were also sent to Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister of England, Lord Simon, Member, House of Lords and Winston Churchill. A part of the letter to the House of the Lords read:
No argument is needed to show that the Nagas are a separate people with their own customs, traditions and culture; and to say that British Government has decided to hand over to the Indian hands complete authority for governing of even Nagaland, in complete inconsistence with the policy of administration hitherto followed in the hills and in violation of implied but clear pledges on the past years, without even asking the opinion of the Nagas is not only unjust but immoral.

When no favorable response was forthcoming from the British Government, A. Z. Phizo led another delegation of the NNC to meet Lord Mountbatten, the then Governor General of India with a suggestion that the new Indian Government should act as the Guardian power for ten years after which the Nagas would be free to determine their own political future. Part of the suggestion submitted to Lord Mountbatten read thus:
1. The interim Government of the Naga people will be a government by the Naga people over all the people of Nagaland, having full powers in respect of legislation, executive and judiciary.
2. Nagaland belongs to the Naga people and will be inalienable.
3. The interim Government of the Naga people will have full powers in the matter of raising revenue and expenditure, an annual subvention to cover the deficit being given by the guardian power.
4. For defence and for aiding the civil power in case of an emergency, a force considered necessary by the NNC will be maintained in Nagaland by the guardian power. That force will be responsible to the NNC who will in turn be responsible to the Guardian power.

To this second proposal too, the British Government did not take any serious notice. The NNC was advised to refer their proposals to the Advisory Committee on the Aboriginal tribes that would visit Kohima on 29th May 1947.

One possible reason for this apathy to the pleas of the Nagas might be because of the NNC’s refusal to accept the coupled plan of setting up a North-Eastern Agency on the pattern of a Coupled colony comprising of all people of the North-Eastern region who were neither Burmese nor Indian. This plan, if it materialized could have become a Crown colony, with people more devoted to the British than their own citizens. It would have compromised most of eastern people like the Nagas, Karens, Chins, Mons, etc. and perhaps even people like Mizos, Khasis and perhaps even the Assamese people. The petroleum, tin, jade, lead, gold, etc.

This scheme, however, could not materialize without the consent of the Naga leaders and hence most of the time of the NNC leaders ware taken up by the discussion on this plan.

The NNC leaders refused this offer on the grounds that the Nagas had no right to obstruct the Eastern people from becoming free of the British yoke. They were also for sovereignty and independence rather than continuance for another 50 years or even a hundred years under British dominion.

Many of the British administrators in the Naga Hills were angry with the Naga leaders for refusing this scheme and started acting very adversely towards the Naga demand for sovereignty Thus while Pakistan, Nepal, Burma and Sri Lanka besides India were all given their independence on the eve of the transfer of power, the British continued to ignore the wishes of the Nagas in spite of the two memorandum submitted to them.

Meanwhile during the partition of India and Pakistan, an option was in principle, given to the adjoining border people to join either Pakistan or India. The Nagas however could not join either of them because they were neither Muslim Pakistanis nor Hindu Indians.

In 1946, the Indian Constituent Assembly constituted a sub-committee for the North-East region with the following persons as its members: Gopinath Bordoloi (Chairman), N.V. Thakar, B.N. Rao, Ramdayani (Secretary), Rev. Nichols Roy, T. Aliba Imti and two co-opted members, Pu Khawtinkhuma and Pu Saprawnga. When this sub-committee met in Shillong over the issue of joining India, while all the other members, on behalf of their people, signed to join the Indian Union, T. Aliba Imti who was then the President of NNC refused to sign and walked away. He said, We the Nagas cannot sign our names to be under India
We do not agree with it and we resign.

He also told the Committee: I cannot return to my people as a traitor.

The constituent Assembly sub-committee again visited Kohima in May 1947 but the NNC still refused to join the Indian Union and stated that it was willing to co-operate with India only under the 10 year interim period with the freedom to secede after ten years; the NNC maintained that they had their own constitution and that they would not subscribe or surrender to the constitution of any other country.

An attempt was made to resolve this deadlock with the coming of Sir Akbar Hydari, the Governor of Assam to Kohima on June 27, 1949. During his three day stay at Kohima a nine-point agreement was signed between the NNC and the Government of India.

The Preamble to the agreement read:
“The right of the Nagas to develop themselves according to their freely expressed wishes is recognized”. Due recognition and power was also given to the NNC with regard to Judicial, executive and legislative powers. The agreement ended with the 9th clause that read:

Period agreement:
The Governor of Assam as the agent of the government of Indian Union will have a secular responsibility for a period of ten years to ensure the due observance of this agreement; at the end of this period the Naga National Council will be asked whether they require the above agreement to be extended for a further period, or a new agreement regarding the future of the Naga people arrived at.

On the basis of this ninth point, most of the NNC members felt that their right to become independent after the 10 years was safeguarded. There were, however many in the meeting who felt that the agreement had been rushed through without proper consultation with the masses of the Naga people. This group pleaded for more time to be given so that a thorough discussion could be held before agreeing to sign it. However, under pressure from the administration the decision was put to vote and was won by a marginal majority, A. Z. Phizo, writing about his event in his letter to Rajagopalachari, the first Governor General of India write thus:
At that time fourth fifth of the members of the NNC were Government servants. It was in June 1947 under duress of official high pressure that NNC was divided. Sir Pawsey, the last British D.C was there then. As most of the NNC members were government servants, it was made to be considered as accepted. During the division of the agreement Sir Akbar Hydari threatened the Nagas with a military power in the presence of Sir Pawsey and others. Within three days the Naga public rejected Sir Akbar Hydari.s agreement. His threat was considered as a challenge and it enraged the people. On his return from Imphal, Manipur State, the people in writing informed him.

(This letter was written by Phizo from the Presidency Jail, Calcutta on 22nd November 1948 where he was prisoner arrested six months ago on Sir Akbar Hydari’s orders.)

A lot of controversy arose over the 9th clause with Nagas claiming that their right to secede after 10 years and form their own government was guaranteed while the Indian government insisted that no such provision was granted under the clause. Some of the NNC members would pursue this agreement for a long time until the Indian government finally discarded it in 1951.

Markot Ramuny in his book, The World Nagas wrote:
At this stage (1951) the Government of India decided that nothing would be done in future which might in any way be regarded as official recognition of the nine-point agreement in question. This was four years after the Governor has signed the agreement. The Nagas had been let down and the credibility of the Government went down almost beyond redemption for many years.

Abandoned by the British Government on the one hand and having failed to elicit any response from the Indian Government for their political rights, the Nagas next turned to Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation with their plea.

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