THE SAGA OF MANIPUR NAGAS

by: D. Neli Koso, General Secretary, Mao Union, Kohima

To cut a long story short, during the 1940s, the Nagas in Manipur endeared themselves to leaders like the Late Mr. A. Daiho Mao, the then President of the Naga National League (NNL), which was the then umbrella organization of the Nagas in the south. The NNL stood for non-violence like its counterpart, the NNC in Nagaland.

The Late Mr. A.Z. Phizo and the Late Mr. A. Daiho Mao worked closely together, and both of them strongly advocated for an independent Naga – land. The Late Mr. A. Z. Phizo, staunchly opposed the Crown colony scheme, and spread this message in no uncertain terms, to whichever villages he passed by in the Naga areas of Manipur. Under the aegis of the NNL, one of the first flag hoisting ceremony of an independent Nagaland was held at the Inspection Bungalow (IB) at Mao- gate on the 14th August 1947.

The NNL and its leaders sought to integrate the south Naga areas with the erstwhile Naga Hills District of Assam. In this connection, the NNL boycotted the preparation of the electoral rolls in the Naga areas of Manipur, and the election to the first Legislative Assembly of Manipur in 1948.

The NNL decided, that no house tax would be paid to the government of Manipur, but would pay house tax to the then Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills in Assam. The Manipur government’s reaction was swift and in a premeditated attack at Mao gate on 27th August 1948, the Assam Rifles killed three persons besides injuring many, and in the process, the president of NNL, the Late Mr. A. Daiho Mao was arrested and jailed by the Manipuri Government. In the year 1949, the Naga Students’ Union Imphal held a large protest rally in Imphal , calling for the release of Messrs Late A. Daiho Mao and Late A. Z. Phizo respectively, who were both lodged at Dum Dum jail in Calcutta at that time. The Naga National League (NNL) in a significant move, then merged, with the NNC to strengthen its hands. My father remembers moving around the area, collecting thumb impressions from the rural folks, in deference to the famous Naga plebiscite, conducted by the NNC.

Therefore, should any person dismiss the South Nagas as non- participants in the Naga National Movement; would that not tantamount to heaping of insults upon both the dead and the living? I pen this emotion today, because some writer has in the recent past, been constantly carping and making light of the South Nagas’s participation in the Naga freedom movement. I feel that their participation however modest should be acknowledged by any right thinking person.

The Manipur Nagas still carry the cross, together with other fellow Nagas towards an unfinished mission, started by our leaders many moons ago! In retrospect, were the South Nagas to deem statehood to be of some value vis-à-vis Naga sovereignty; they would have accepted statehood a long, long time ago, but those were not the most propitious of times to be entertaining such thoughts. A signed document can be used to suppress us if the Indian government so wishes; I am talking about the 16- Points Agreement. Did it not bring about bitterness, division, suspicion and bloodshed? Was consensus for statehood reached amongst the Nagas then? Would it not have been better to be later than never? Temporal things were accepted in lieu of permanency, and a false sense of security was created; but at what cost? They, the Naga Peoples Convention (NPC) didn’t have a clue as to how deep the abyss would go. India successfully created a deep divide amongst the Nagas. This may rankle some, but this is the bitter truth.

Yes, extreme hardships faced by our people over the years, have sapped energies and resources. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the fact, that the South Nagas do not have the luxury of indulging in merrymaking and chasing rainbows. “The way to peace is not through weakness; nothing is worthwhile unless it is strong, neither goodness nor evil” Romain Rolland French philosopher.

Hypothetically, just imagine if the South Nagas were to be granted statehood by the Government of India (GOI); the Naga movement for sovereignty could be weakened considerably, as it did some 49 years ago, when the 16th Indian state of Nagaland was formed in 1963.The South Nagas still bear the brunt of the movement today, along with other fellow Nagas – yes, they continue to endure the long march to freedom in stoic silence!

“It is for the people to determine the destiny of the territory and not the territory the destiny of the people” Judge Dillard, International court of Justice in Western Sahara Case. MExN

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