by: SC Jamir
Nagaland has gone through a painful and traumatic period. The wounds are yet to be healed. Expression of popular opinion and the free flow of ideas has been a casualty in our land. For more than a decade or so, public opinion had been suppressed through what can best be described as ‘gun-culture’. The essence of democracy is freedom of speech and expression and this right was brutally suppressed by threats and intimidation.
Unless there is free speech, other democratic rights cannot be defended. Due to this terrifying ‘gun-culture’, the people of Nagaland remained mute spectators and helplessly watched all the negative developments taking place before their eyes in their own land. The psychosis of fear hung like a Damocles’ sword over the head of the Nagas. Nobody can deny that democracy was negated in Nagaland for a long period and the people’s lips were sealed due to fear.
There has been a marginal change since those darkest days. In the changed political scenario, different shades of opinion are gradually and tentatively being expressed, although in a guarded and round-about manner since the fear psychosis has still not disappeared. What needs to be emphasized is that enough time has been lost and it is now imperative that people should come out boldly to highlight the reality of the Naga political problem and fearlessly express their opinions and views. Silence is not a virtue when democratic rights are trampled upon. In a true democracy, the people are sovereign and any imposition of decisions on the people without their mandate would be a negation of democracy. This is the line that divides democracy from dictatorship. As the proverb says “No one was ever ruined by speaking the truth” and the Bible says “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”.
At such an important and critical stage of the Naga political process, the people of Nagaland who are the real stakeholders of the entire process cannot afford to remain si1ent any more. They should now express their thoughts and opinions fearlessly and honestly:” on their political future. The most distressing and perhaps the most disappointing feature of Naga society has been, and continues to be, that no one dares to speak out their minds for the fear of violent reprisal. For over a decade, anti-social elements through their ruthless and brutal methods have sown the seeds of fear so deep in the minds of the Naga public that it has made them completely vulnerable and subservient to these elements. The innocent Naga public have become like bonded labour who are at the beck and call of their masters. Even religious leaders are no exception to this sheer helplessness. When that is the case, can anything different be expected from the soulless masses?
At the same time, can any honourable political solution be expected without the active participation and consent of the Naga people? It appears as if the people of Nagaland are being taken for granted and their silence, born out of fear, is being taken as assent for whatever is to be decided between the Government of India and the Naga underground. This is a most dangerous situation and is fraught with serious consequences. The people must speak and they must be heard, if an acceptable and lasting solution is to be found. It must be clear to both parties in the talks that silence is not assent. This myth needs to be broken.
The current political trend
It is evident that the Nagas are badly stuck in the political quagmire of their own creation. Except for indulging in blame games and recrimination, none of the Underground factions nor the Naga leaders have been able to extract themselves from this terrible mess. As a cover up, many of the leaders are trying to take shelter under high sounding English words and phrases which in fact do not carry any political significance. Uniqueness of Naga history, reconciliation, honorable solution and the like have become the buzzwords in Naga society today. All recognized organizations, as well as the underground, are singing the same tune without realising its content and implications. Various articles on the Naga problem from different sources continue to appear in our dailies, explaining the historical perspective from different points of view. These are no doubt useful academic contributions to help enlighten the general public on various aspects of Naga politics. However, they do not offer concrete solutions for the present. The time to hide behind consoling words and phrases is over.
The tragedy is that all attempts appear to be beating about the bush and everyone shies away from the real and basic issues. It will be prudent, especially for the Naga leaders, to be honest and truthful in their political commitments. Before the surgeon applies his sharp knife for a major operation, the disease has to be thoroughly diagnosed. Similarly, a major operation is necessary to treat the Naga political process and we must discover and diagnose some of the most important issues involved in the Naga political movement for a quick and successful solution.
Like the Israelites, the Nagas also started their political movement for a promised land. Instead of forty days because of their disobedience to Jehovah, the Israelites struggled for forty years in the wilderness and ultimately occupied their promised land. The Nagas were not to struggle in the wilderness because their promised land was already in their possession. But even after 60 years, the Nagas could not really appreciate their promised land. The tragedy of the Naga political pilgrimage is that these six decades have resulted in the complete destruction of all the cherished Naga values, traditions and polity. Naga society is mortally wounded and crying out from its unbearable pains without any hope of consolation. Except bitter tears, Nagas do not see even a tiny semblance of light to bring solace to them.
What then are the ugly features that plague Nagaland today? Do the people feel secure about their lives and properties? The common citizen in towns and villages is not secure and safe even in their own homes. Is there transparency, accountability, justice and equality in Naga society under the present dispensation? The fact is that we are being devastated by the monster of naked corruption, abuse of power, opaqueness in decision making and maladministration at all levels. Merit and fair-play have taken a back seat while nepotism, favoritism and discrimination have become the bywords of governance in Nagaland. The common people have been reduced to second class citizens without any voice.
The situation and the conditions which the Naga people face today is no better than the kind of life described by Thomas Hobbes, “Every man is a natural enemy of every other man as a result of which life in the state of nature was, selfish, nasty, poor, brutish and short.” Fratricide is the chosen method of settling scores by the so-called nationalists who are professed Christians. Killing a brother is publicly acclaimed, as if a resounding victory has been won against an arch enemy. Looting, extortion and cheating have become a flourishing and profitable industry in Nagaland. Are all these illegal and criminal activities the attributes of Naga nationalism and patriotism? This is perhaps one of the most crucial and critical political imperatives before the Naga people.
Realities of Naga Politics
Where do we go from here? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? As I said, we have to diagnose the disease properly, before applying the surgeon’s scalpel, so that the malignancy is fully removed. We have to lose our fear and express our thoughts boldly. We must have the courage to face the realities and not shy away from the truth as we have done so often in the past. Let us have a look at the realities of Naga politics and the way forward.
1. Six decades of Naga political movement continues to carry the sanctity of the Naga Plebiscite of 1951 which was conducted by the Naga National Council under the leadership of Late AZ Phizo. Each and every Naga must understand and acknowledge that this is the only mandate articulated solemnly by the Nagas and as such that no other authority or individuals except the Nagas as a whole can claim legitimacy over it.
2. In a democratic country like ours, the political future of the people can be decided only with their knowledge and consent. Unless specifically, publicly and legally authorized by the Naga people themselves, no authority or individuals can decide the political future of the people of Nagaland.
3. Even after years of talks, why does the Naga political solution remain as elusive as ever? The Nagas themselves have created innumerable road blocks for an honourable solution of the problem. They have to blame themselves for the present political mess from which they are unable to escape. As far as the Government of India is concerned, all possible avenues were provided to bring the problem to a logical conclusion. Ironically, on our part, for the same people and for the same cause there was a mushroom growth of Naga factions fighting only among themselves. The naked struggle for power superseded the struggle for an honourable political solution. This factionalism leading, to a fracture of Naga society is the main obstacle for the Government of India in finding a final solution of the Naga political problem.
4. There are several Naga underground organizations which are espousing the cause of Naga sovereignty. Some of them have signed the ceasefire with the Government of India in 1997 and 2001 and the others maintained that they continue to uphold the ceasefire of 1964 between the Government of India and the Naga Federal underground. The Government of India is fully aware of the ugly dissensions within the underground.
5. It was openly and officially declared by the Government of India and also by the Naga underground that sovereignty and integration are no longer on the political agenda. If this is the present status of the political negotiation, the underground organizations are expected to tell the people without any inhibition the real status of the on-going political process. The statements that are made regarding the process have no clarity or transparency; indeed, they conceal more than they reveal. They cannot and should not hide the political reality from the public any longer as the people have the right to know the truth. The Naga people are fully aware of the contemporary political scenario in the world, in the country and in Nagaland. It will not be possible to impose any decision made by any group on the Naga public, unless it is done with their knowledge and consent. The people are supreme in a democracy. This political imperative needs to be recognized both by the GoI and the underground Nagas.
6. If we are attempting an honourable and final solution of the Naga problem, the Government of India should keep the door open for all the underground groups to participate. NNC, NSCN (IM), GPNR/NSCN (K) and all other smaller groups should necessarily be involved in the political process. Otherwise any ‘solution’ will be short lived.
7. Government of India should tell the Naga public, the real status and complexion of the ongoing political dialogue. It should also make the parameters and constitutional boundaries clear to the underground, so that there is no confusion. In the absence of the demands for sovereignty and integration, the type of political framework to meet the demand of the Nagas should be made known to them. The discussion behind closed doors has to end and there should be openness on all sides, so that the people are made aware of the ground realities.
8. The Naga people have waited long enough and any further delay in resolving the problem may lead to serious and unforeseen complications. This uncertainty and drift may give rise to new factions emerging under young and educated leadership with the help of anti-Indian elements. The economic growth of Nagaland, which has hitherto been stunted due to the uncertain political conditions, cannot be delayed any longer. Unless there is economic growth, fuelled by investment, technology and entrepreneurship, the rising levels of unemployment and lack of income generation will have very negative consequences, especially among the youth. Today, Nagaland is like a dwarf in its economic status, even among the other Indian states. A clear and settled political condition that guarantees safety, security and peace is essential to attract investment in the State. There has to be finality to the political process without loss of time. Having come so far, we cannot afford to slide back to the dark days once again.