Naga Movement In Manipur: Its Genesis And Impact On State Politics

Over the decades, the Naga integration movement has predictably served to catalyze and consolidate oppositional democratic politics along ethnic lines and furthering hill-valley divide in Manipur. This trend has exacerbated in the last decade as NSCN-IM seems to seek a negotiating leverage from the deepening hill-valley divide.

Naga integration (or South Nagalim) movement which captured public discourse after the June Uprising in 2001 in Manipur has a long genesis. In a manner of speaking, its roots can be traced as far back as 1929, whereby the Simon Commission responded to a memorandum signed by Nihu Angami and 19 other members of Kohima Club (a forum for interaction with British officials that was established in 1881), granted “Excluded Area” tag to some areas of Naga Hill District. In 1945, Kohima Club metamorphosed into the Naga Hill District Council (NHDC) and, later in 1946, into the Naga National Council under the initiative of Angami Zapu Phizo. These events in Nagaland impressed upon the contiguous tribal areas of Manipur, particularly Mao sub-division of Manipur North District. The gradual influence from the neighboring state of Nagaland was witnessed among the Mao Nagas. Athiko Daiho1 was the pioneer of this Naga integration movement in Manipur.

Seed of Restlessness in Manipur

During 1945–46, Manipur witnessed a political turning point when many leaders of different political parties came to know of a British plan to give freedom to the princely kingdoms. Many leaders wanted Manipur to form a democratic country, while some wanted constitutional monarchy. Political parties like Praja Samelini, Praja Mandal, and Manipur State Congress pressed the demand for establishing a legislative assembly. On November 20, 1946, the then king of Manipur, Maharaja Bodhachandra, declared the formation of a constitution-making committee with 21 representative members of the hills and the valley people. Later, Manipur State Durbar was dissolved on July 1, 1947, and Manipur State Council was established on the same day.2

By 1946, there were some voices from the Mao area of Manipur for secession of Naga-inhabited areas from the state, though not from India. A memorandum was submitted to the Governor of Assam by the khullakpas (village chiefs) and elders of the Mao Nagas, mentioning that their “people would be humiliated if the British officers make them to step in Manipur state and their administration is put directly under the Manipur State Durbar.” They also asserted that except for “occasional inroads of the Manipuris in very limited hill villages, the Manipuri Maharaja had never subjugated the hill villages in pre-British days” and that they “were quite independent.” So they requested the Governor “to make their hills a directly British controlled territory as the other neighboring hill districts with whom they share common customs, traditions, social organizations, etc.”3 In 1947, under the leadership of Phizo, Naga National Council (NNC) had emerged and demanded independent Nagaland for Naga-inhabited areas of Tuensang from Arunachal Pradesh and Mao from Manipur. Phizo might have believed that his demands could strengthen with the involvement of Naga people of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. He was later joined by Athiko Daiho.4

During the drafting of Manipur Constitution, Daiho strongly argued that the hill tribes should have the right to secede from the state after five years. His proposal was rejected.5 Another major step towards Naga unification was circulation of a document by Daiho in September 1948 “to a select circle of influential leaders” who dealt with future Naga situation in view of the approaching British departure. He explained his contention from many points of view. Historically, Manipur hills had probably been taken under state administration immediately after 1891, and that though “there might be irregular and occasional inroads of the Manipuri kings’ forces in the hills on its way to Dimapur, Silchar or Burma and might possibly have taken spoils from the surrounding villages of the paths,” the hills were “not formally conquered and no regular levy or tribute was paid by the Hills to the then king of Manipur.”6 About the then Hill administration he said, “Hills cadre is separate from that of the state proper, Valley. The Hill administration is run by the President of Manipur State Durbar. So, Hills matters do not come under the State Durbar as a whole.” From a political point of view, he said that though the hills comprised 7/8th of the total area of the state, its inhabitants will always be a minority in Manipur as their population comprised roughly 2/5th of the whole population. This problem, he insisted, was “created” by accidental political distribution of boundaries at the advent of the British.”7 He further expressed his fear that if the hills of the Manipur forms a part of Manipur state, the inhabitants of the hills would be in a socially inferior position amongst the “more educated and civilized” Hindus.

Therefore, he wanted the “British officers of the Hills who are acquainted with Hill opinions” to decide the hills’ future or that a “plebiscite of Hill men be summoned on elected or nominated representative basis of one man in every 1000 people and decide.”8 Thus what he desired was either (i) a federal Hills formed by “Lushai Hill, Somra Tract, Chin HillsNaga Hills, etc.,” or (ii) that the hills of Manipur “be formed into a separate district by itself directly under the provincial control,” or (iii) that the different parts of the hills may be disintegrated and joined with Naga Hills, North-Cachar HillsLushai Hills, Chin Hills and Somra Tract according to convenience.9

Simultaneously with the demand for secession of Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur, two different and contesting political trends were also noticeable amongst the Nagas. One was represented by the Naga chiefs and their allies who had not changed their traditional values and outlook. The other trend was represented by the educated Christian Nagas who had distanced themselves from their root/past and were quite conscious of the then changing situation all around.

The educated Christian Nagas decided not to join the Interim Council of Manipur. This stand followed the removal of the clause “‘Right to Freedom of Action’ after five years” from the final draft of the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947. The said provision was seen by these Christian Nagas as “right to secession” from Manipur as well as from India.10 When this clause was ultimately removed, they began toying with the idea of secession of Naga areas of Manipur from the state as well as from India. On August 14, 1947 some Nagas in Kohima had declared independence for the Nagas of Manipur hills and Cachar, and that they were “negotiating to join Pakistan Dominion on suitable terms.”11

A meeting of Manipur Hills Special Conference, held at Imphal on August 14, 1947, demanded that since India is going to be free, all parts of it and the people thereof must be allowed to run the government. But it did not mention secession either from Manipur or India.12 Meanwhile, the NNC at Kohima tried to interfere in the Naga problem in Manipur. Having closely observed the situation in Manipur, the President of NNC wrote to the Maharaja of Manipur:

The political upheaval of the hill people in your state has attracted the keenest interest and close attention of the Naga National Council. Surely the National Council attaches very great importance to the fact that, through no fault of ours, that “upheaval” has directly touched the root of our National Council. As hill men we have interest in them; as neighbor, we are equally interested in your people and your state. Naturally, as a freedom fighting organization the NNC observes, with great sympathy, all the freedom fighting forces.13

Hailing the development as “a natural corollary of national consciousness” and their right to secession as a “reasonable demand,” the President of NNC expressed his belief that Maharaja would lose no time in granting the demand thereby paving the way of good will between the hills and the valley and also the state and the NNC as a whole.”14 Maharaja asked the Chief Minister to take urgent action, but the Chief Minister replied that “the Council has not been recognized by the state and is not of the state. No action need be taken.”15 This indifference of the authority made Daiho retrace his stand of secession from India. In a resolution of Naga National League (NNL) under his president-ship, Daiho stated that the organization shall primarily speak on behalf of the Nagas of Manipur but pledged itself to stand together with other hill tribes in the state as well as outside it in order to demand self-determination of the hill peoples in general without in any way injuring the general interests of Assam or India.16 The main idea of the League was unity of all the Naga tribes as well as the non-Naga tribes of the state and work out their future according to the inclination, wishes and aspirations of the respective tribes. It also aimed to “bring together under one district administration the different scattered, allied tribes who happened to be in different districts of Assam but contiguous in area.”17 The term “self-determination” mentioned in the resolution was defined as “consolidation of tribes of the same stock under the district administrations in order to facilitate working of the future of that tribe who happen to be scattered living under different districts but contiguous in area.”18

Another memorandum was also submitted to Sardar Patel, the then Deputy Prime Minister of India, on January 24, 1948 by A. Daiho and N. Modoli of NNL along with some Mao Naga chiefs and headmen. The memorandum opined that the conservation “of their culture, tradition, customary right, usages and political practices” would not be possible if the Naga people and their contiguous geography were placed under different influences and policies.”19 They insisted that “on the basis of linguistic provinces and consolidation of the same stock of people” the Nagas of different areas but contiguous in geography should be consolidated under one administrative unit and that nothing short of this demand would be acceptable to the Nagas of Manipur.

As no positive response was received from the Government of India (GoI) and Government of Manipur, a “Provisional Government” was set up in order to start various agitations. As the first strategy, a no-house-tax campaign was started. In the following month, Daiho declared himself as leader of the Mao Nagas and did not pay tax to the state government. Instead, tax was collected by him for the Provisional Government.20 His followers indulged in subversive activities by way of violating state rules. They forcibly broke through the Mao Gate and allowed lorries full of potato to cross the state gate without paying duties, even seized members of the state police and tortured them.21

On March 9, 1948, Daiho submitted a memorandum to the Government of India arguing that his movement was “not at all communal, but broadly based on linguistic provinces of India,” and they wanted to secure their “due rights and liberties within free India as a freedom loving people.” Further, NNL Secretary K. Sashipri sent a letter to the Secretary, Ministry of State, New Delhi, expressing that A. Daiho may enter into an agreement with the Government of India on behalf of the Mao and other allied Nagas of Manipur in connection with their right to self-determination. Daiho was arrested but released on August 26, 1948 by Chief Minister of Manipur M.K. Priyobarta. Later when Daiho refused to appear before the Hill Bench of Manipur Court, the state authority rushed to arrest Daiho. War cries were heard on the arrival of the police with the crowd gesticulating and shouting anti-state slogans. An attempt to peacefully arrest Daiho failed as the mob did not allow the authority to pass through the barricades they had built. Assam Rifles took to force with lathi charge. After about 50 minutes, mob became very tense, and as soon as the police confirmed that some unlicensed arms were to be used by the followers of Daiho from the nearby jungle, Assam Rifles opened fire resulting in two deaths and two wounded. Later, Daiho along with Medoli and Loili were arrested from the area. They were later kept in Calcutta jail.22 Their arrest had greatly demoralized the followers. Meanwhile, an event of historical significance was building up. Manipur was merged into India in 1949, thus diverting the first movement for the Naga integration or secession of Naga inhabited areas from Manipur for the time being.

Threat to Territorial Integrity of Manipur

The threat to territorial integrity of Manipur started around 1946 with the upsurge of ethnic secessionism. Mao Nagas started an agitation to integrate Mao areas with Nagaland. In Manipur, there were two agitations after 1947. One was Hmar Movement for the merger with Lushai Hills as inspired by the Mizo Union of the Lushai Hill District. The other was that of Naga People’s League which stood for the independence of Nagas in Mao area of northern Manipur. But other Nagas and Kukis of Manipur did not participate in these movements. The Nagas of Manipur did not participate in the plebiscite of 1951 which was regarded as the bedrock of Naga independence movement. Their non-participation in the plebiscite was regarded as a unique feature of the politics of the Nagas of Manipur.23

The demand for integration of Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur was influenced by Phizo, the pioneer of Naga revolutionary group Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN), who demanded independent Nagaland. Peace talks were started on the issue after a ceasefire agreement was clinched between the FGN and Government of India in 1964. The next peace attempt in 1975 (Shillong Accord) between the FGN and the Government of India was thwarted by Th. Muivah and Isak Swu. The latter two along with Khaplang formed another revolutionary group, National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) in 1980 with Isaac Swu as President, Khaplang as Vice-President and Th. Muivah as General Secretary, marking a new phase in the Naga independence movement. The year 1988 saw NSCN breaking up into two factions: NSCN–IM led by Isak Swu and Th. Muivah, and NSCN–K by Khaplang.

With the emergence of NSCN-IM, the demand for independent Nagalim, or integration of Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur into a new state, or to form a “Southern Nagaland” comprising the districts of Senapati, Ukhrul, Chandel and Tamenglong of Manipur got a new impetus. NSCN-IM made public its vision of a “Greater Nagaland” comprising of 1,20,000 sq. km. by expanding the present 16,579 sq. km. of Nagaland. The expanded area includes four districts of Manipur (mentioned above), five districts of Assam (parts of Sibsagar, Golahgat, Jorhat, Karbi Anglong, North Cachar Hill districts) and two districts of Arunachal Pradesh (Tirap and Changlong), with a section of Myanmar territory.24

While NSCN-K has remained focused on sovereignty for the Nagas, NSCN-IM seems to have scaled down their goal from sovereignty to “Greater Nagalim” and/or federal relations with India. Many Naga elite groups and some civil society organizations have condemned NSCN-IM’s flexible demands as sacrifice of the movement and devaluing those whose lives were sacrificed in course of the long struggle for a sovereign Nagaland. The gulf between different factions seems to be increasing day by day. Without a peaceful settlement between the two major factions, larger peace settlement seems a distant dream.

In several phases of the peace talk, the Government of India has seemingly, so far, taken cognizance of the general feeling of the people in Assam and Manipur, particularly on the issue of reshaping the existing state boundaries and shelved the demand for “Greater Nagalim” for the time being, at least.

Naga Integration and State Politics in Manipur

Though the movement for integration of Naga-inhabited areas started in 1946 in Mao area of Manipur, this became an important political issue in the state politics of the late 1960s. One of the most prominent political leaders amongst those who gained political mileage out of the issue, Rishang Keishing25 carried forward the movement with overt and covert agendas. Though the root of the Naga movement was germinated by Daiho at Mao, it was nurtured by Keishing with the formation of the Naga Integration Council at the fag end of the 1960s. With this politics in tow, Keishing could create a record of sorts by winning state assembly elections (from Phungyar assembly constituency) consecutively from 1972 to 2000.

The Naga Integration Council, formed with the aim of promoting integration of Naga-inhabited areas, was later converted into United Naga Integration Council in 1972. Not long after, the UNIC merged with the Congress Party taking assurance from the Congress to support the integration movement. Since then, Keishing has carried forward the Naga agenda as a political weapon to build up his political career. Incidentally, he was the longest serving Chief Minister of Manipur (1983-1997) until he was removed in 1997.

The political dialogue between the Government of India and NSCN-IM has crossed a decade, but it has not progressed much. Largely, this was due to the delaying tactics of the Government of India. Both the parties do not seem to be sincere in their approach, though both make claims of progress and sincerity. The Government of India has been making dual commitment both to the people of Manipur and Assam, as well as to the Naga “national” leaders. It seems that political leaders at the Centre, unable to find any amicable solution, are so far engaging in delaying tactics. On the other side, NSCN-IM merrily continues all their routine activities like taking illegal taxes from the vehicles, demanding huge amounts from the capitalist and business community and other forms of violent extortion except engaging the Indian armed forces militarily. The Government of India finds it convenient to look away from all these goings-on instead of enforcing its writ for maintaining law and order.

In the meanwhile, the pot of factional feud and hostility among Naga militant groups is kept boiling. In the circumstances, mutual recognition and reconciliation amongst the NSCN-IM, NSCN-K, and NNC become all the more daunting.

In Manipur, though, several Naga civil society organizations loyal to NSCN-IM have started implementing new strategies of organizing democratic movements since 2000.  The United Naga Council (UNC) and allied organizations staged a number of unity rally in the hill districts of Manipur and Nagaland. Bandhs, strikes, blockades, and non-cooperation movements26 of various kinds mark the main components of the new movement that is seemingly aimed at affecting public order and hopefully, earning leverage for a peace settlement with NSCN-IM.

Gradually, as a new strategy, NSCN-IM is seemingly entering into state politics, directly or indirectly, by reversing its pre-ceasefire stand of boycotting and banning elections in the hill districts. The State Assembly election of 2002 saw the NSCN-IM backing specific candidates. This was done to strengthen the peace process and also to achieve some political points for negotiation. Then, again, the organization initiated the consolidation of Naga politicians supporting “integration” through the UNC. On the eve of the 2002 election, the Naga candidates had taken an “undertaking” to contribute to the Naga consolidation and integration movement. Thus, the Naga problem has become a major political issue for the entire state. The same policy was continued in the next State Assembly election of 2007, with the UNC instructing the Naga candidate aspirants not to be candidate of a national party, condemning particularly the ruling Congress high command’s attitude and its delaying tactics.

Conclusion

Opposition parties’ attack of ruling party is a common phenomenon in democratic politics; but the mode of consolidation of the opposition in recent times carries certain significance in the state politics of Manipur. The Naga integration movement continues to play a major catalyst in this respect leaving no stone unturned in its efforts germinate and consolidate oppositional democratic politics along ethnic lines and furthering hill-valley divide in Manipur.

In the foreseeable future, too, there will be no dearth of leaders and organizations to keep the pot of Naga integration politics boiling. The price for this obsessive agenda of the NSCN-IM will be pushing two equally important agenda of the Naga struggle – one, ending of hostility among the three factions (NSCN-IM, NSCN-K and NNC), and, two, a more comprehensive and sincere engagement with/ by the Government of India – on the back-burner. This, of course, is easier said than done. Future of Naga politics in the state of Manipur, and the region as a whole, lies in the dynamics of this engagement

NOTES & REFERENCES:

1. Daiho was a Mao Naga leader (member of Manipur Constitution Drafting Committee and later Minister of Finance during Territorial Council 1963 and also elected as MLA from Karong AC in 1972, 1st Assembly election after statehood.

2 Irom Khamba Singh, “Manipurgi Houkhraba Leingaklon (since 1891)” in Voice of People’s Democracy; vol. 1, 53rd Anniversary Souvenir; Imphal: PDF, 2002, p. 55.

3 A memorandum was submitted by the Khullakpas, Gouburas and elders of the Mao Nagas to the Governor of Assam, apparently, when he visited Mao on Jan 2, 1946.

4    A. Ibobi, “Manipurgi Ngamkheida Pirakpa Cheitheng V-1,” Poknapham, November 2, 2005.

5    Gangmumei Kamei, “Ethnicity and Politics in Manipur,” in Selected Writings on Issue of Identity, Imphal: Imphal Free Press 8th year of publication, 2003, p. 36

6    A. Daiho, “My views on the tendency of future Hills administration of Manipur or Demand of the Hills,” General People, September 5, 1946.

7    Ibid.

8    Ibid.

9    Ibid.

10 Proceedings of a meeting of hill men held on Aug 13, 1947, at Imphal under the chairmanship of R. Suisa, quoted in S. Mangi, A Study on Selected Socio-Political Problems in Manipur (1947–80), unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Department of Political Science, Manipur University, p. 344.

11 Telegram from President of Naga state, Kohima to the Maharaja of Manipur on August 14, 1947, in S. Mangi, A Study on Selected Socio-Political Problems in Manipur (1947–80), p. 345.

12 Ibid., p. 346.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid.

16 Memorandum dated January 20, 1946 signed by N. Modoli and A. Daihom, President of NNL, Ibid., p. 347.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid., p. 349.

20 Shillong Times, September 3, 1948.

21 S. Mangi, A Study on Selected Socio-Political Problems in Manipur (1947–80), p. 349.

22 Ibid., p. 350.

23 Gangmumei Kamei, “Ethnicity and Politics in Manipur,” p. 37.

24 R.K. Mani, “A Reflection on the Indo-NSCN-IM Cease-fire Extension,” in R.K. Mani (ed.), For Our Tomorrow: Perspectives on Naga Ceasefire in Manipur, SILYA, 2001, p. 27.

25 Rishang Keishing, a Tangkhul Naga, is known as the longest serving Chief Minister of Manipur.

26  Those forms of protests manifest in specific forms, such as including nonpayment of hill house tax, longest blockade against June uprising holiday, textbook issue, school affiliation issue, banning Meitei script and entertainment elements in the hill areas, replacing signboards of district head quarters in “South Nagaland,” etc.

———————-

*The paper is written by Laitonjam Muhindro Singh

source: manipuronline

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