Nelson Mandela entered prison a terrorist and emerged a statesman. The transformation was nothing short of remarkable. His 27 years of incarceration taught him many things, including the power of forgiveness and the need to shed bitterness. The Mandela Moment came when Nelson Mandela, the statesman, donned the shirt of the all white South African Rugby team and supported the team of his former white oppressors. His country won. It is indeed remarkable that prior to 1963, Mandela was considered a militant, a terrorist, a bomber, not different from many of the revolutionaries of that time, including Nagas, and he entered jail as the leader of MK, the armed wing of ANC, convicted for life. However, Mandela’s time in jail was a blot on the conscience of the free world. Apartheid white South Africa caved in.
It is nothing short of amazing that Mandela transformed his core values, from that of a raging, ranting, militant black leader into a Dalai Lama type personality oozing forgiveness and reconciliation. Is it possible for our Naga revolutionary leaders to restructure their core values? Is it possible for them to truly forgive, forget and overcome the bitterness of the past? Can Muivah truly hug Khaplang (or Kitovi) and say, “The bitterness of 1988 does not linger anymore, comrade.” Nagas know that despite FNR, despite the “Covenant of Reconciliation”, the NSCN (IM) is still the most embittered organisation out there. Can a new Nagaland on the lines of a new South Africa be forged based on forgiveness and genuine reconciliation? Can the NSCN (IM) truly don the shirt of unity and embrace the other factions? Can Isak and Muivah truly discard the contempt they have for the other Naga political groups? At the core of the NSCN (IM)’s argument that it is the sole legitimate heir of the Naga movement is nothing but arrogance and contempt for the other groups. It was Mandela, representing the newly emancipated majority blacks who magnanimously reached out to the whites, not the other way around.
Every cause needs a hero, every revolution a martyr. If Mandela could galvanise world opinion through his imprisonment, for Gandhi, jail was a means to an end. In fact, along with his non-violence philosophy, Gandhi’s most potent weapon against the British was his time spent in jail. In White South Africa, he tasted jail 6 times. In British India, he was jailed 7 times between 1920-1944. With the mass support he carried, Gandhi optimized his time spent in jail by regularly channelizing the popular sentiments against British Raj into potent political weapons. Tens of thousands of ordinary Nagas have sacrificed their lives for the cause. Ten thousands more Naga soldiers have died too. Phizo, no doubt is the undisputed father of the nation but Phizo’s self-imposed exile in London did not serve the purpose of the cause. Isak and Muivah jaunting in foreign lands did not serve the cause. For some reasons, Nagas have a very disillusioned view about jails. Jails serve the cause of revolutions or any cause by allowing the jailed leaders to appeal to the emotional sentiments of the oppressed and use them for the furtherance of the cause. The pain and angst of leaders in jail fires the imaginations of followers like no other and galvanizes the cause further. This is very far from the present trend, where, the leaders of the Naga revolutionary groups are perceived as stretching in comfort at the cost of the followers.
Time in jail serves to highlight the plight of the oppressed groups and keep the momentum going in front of the world community. Unfortunately for Nagas, such a thing could not come to pass. By the 70’s, the Naga cause had more or less ceased to create a flutter in the world’s conscience except for China which was guided by its self-interested India containment policy. Jail also serves to give birth to political philosophies. Mandela’s apparent shedding of his militant side in jail for forgiveness, non-violence and reconciliation between whites and blacks is truly landmark.
It created a moral giant against which the white regime had simply no answer. Aung San Suu Kyi was in jail for 15 years between 1990 and 2010 and this created world sentiment against the Burmese junta. Martin Luther King Jr went to jail 30 times for the cause of black civil rights and he won, eventually. Vaclav Havel, the scholar president of Czechoslovakia and later the Czech Republic experienced communist jail many times in his fight against communism in the Soviet Bloc. Andrei Sakharov was a jailed dissident of the Soviet Union. Both of them helped demolish the “Evil Empire” of Soviet Bloc as described by Ronald Reagan. Xanana Gusmao, the first president of East Timor was once a jailed bird of the Indonesian regime. The list of this tribe is endless.
To add credence to their cause, most of these leaders won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 so that he could help the cause of democracy in China. He is still in jail. US President Barack Obama was awarded one too in 2009 so that he could usher in ‘world peace’ following the turmoil of Bush wars. Could Phizo have won the Nobel Peace Prize and helped keep aflame the Naga cause flickering in the world’s conscience, if not for the self-imposed exile? Most importantly, could he have settled the Indo-Naga imbroglio in his lifetime? Does Isak, Muivah, Kitovi and Khaplang have it in them to become transformational leaders?