Naga Insurgency - A Confusion of War or Peace!
Posted February 18, 2005
by R. Upadhyay
South Asia Analysis Group
Ever since Independence Naga insurgency has seized the attention of almost all the political parties and social scientists. A final solution has eluded the decision makers and there is lack of knowledge and confusion all round.
Bounded by Arunachal Pradesh in the north, Assam in the west, Manipur in the south and Myanmmar (Burma) in the east with an area of 16,579 Sq. km. and population of 1,988, 636 (2001 Census) it is one of the jungle-clad isolated regions of northeast India. The Naga problem is the epicenter and fore-runner of all insurgencies in northeast India. It encouraged almost all the ethnic groups in the region either for secessionist demand or for creation of separate statehood within Indian Union.
Historical Background of Naga Identity:
Historically, Nagas were never a homogenous tribe. Till their Christianisation they were preserving their respective faith of animism. With some of the major tribes like Mao, Sema, Angami, Ao, Rengma, Thankhul, Maram, and Lotha there are about twenty such tribes, who are commonly known as Nagas. All of them have their distinct cultural tradition, dialect, custom and system of governance.
* Their ethnic identity is rooted to the image of headhunter rival groups of warring sub-tribes of Nagas, who were fighting against each other for their respective supremacy.
* They settled in northeast corner of India for centuries and lived in a strange system of anarchy.
* They had no homogenous administrative system.
* They had no unified dialect. For inter-communication they still depend upon broken Assamese known as Nagamese and English.
* They had no common land mass
Whether or not Nagas are the indigenous in habitants of the present Nagaland from time immemorial may be a debatable question but as per recorded history, their resistance movement against the outsiders began when the British entered the Naga region with an expeditionary force in early 1830s. In 1845 the colonial power succeeded in concluding a non-aggression pact with Naga Chiefs who used to attack the bordering areas in Assam. But the Nagas violated the agreement time and again and their war and peace tactics continued till they were subjugated under the sovereign control of the British.
The British constituted District of Naga Hills in 1866 but it took almost five decades to consolidate its effective control over the Nagas. By the beginning of twentieth century Naga Hills became an integral part of British India. After the annexation of Naga territories all the rival sub-tribes of Naga group came under unified administrative control of the British power. Gradually, the British befriended the Nagas through Christian Missionaries and consolidated its administrative control over them. But due to the temperament of revenge, which is an essential element of Nagas' mental make up and chequered history of travail and suffering they were perhaps destined to their confusion of War or Peace. Despite the political consolidation of different regions of this country under its rule the British deliberately kept the Nagas in their primitive psyche by restricting the entry of the freedom movement in this isolated region and preventing it to become a part of the unique geo-cultural bond of Indian nationalism.
Till the establishment of British rule the Nagas like other indigenous tribes of India were also animists. Gradually, the Christian missionaries transformed their indigenous ethnic identity into a Christianised identity. In 1901 census Christian population of Naga Hills was only 579. After conversion into Christianity they gave up the practice of animist customs and traditions. "Culturally Naga Hills became a colony of Americal evangelism"( Nagas: Problem and Conflict by Dr. Ashikho Dailio Mao, Ashish Publishing House, New Delhi, 1992, page 160).
Christianisation brought a social change in Naga society with its gradual participation in the modern civilisational stream. But this change disturbed their environmentally isolated life style that was confined to respective village, clan and family, which they had preserved for centuries. This disturbed psyche remained a perpetual source of insurgency and confusion of War or Peace.
Background of Insurgency:
History of Naga Separatist Movement dates back to late 1929 when 'Naga Club' submitted a memorandum before the Simon Commission demanding exclusion of Nagas from the proposed constitutional reform in British administration in India. They pleaded that: "Before the British Government conquered our country in 1879-80, we were living in state of intermittent warfare with the Assamese … They never conquered us nor (were) we subjected to their rule". Our language is quite different from those people of the plains and we have no social affinities with either Hindus or Muslims. We were looked down upon by one for our beef and other for our pork" (Politics and Militancy in Nagaland by Kuhoi K.Zhimomi, Deep and Deep Publications Private Ltd. New Delhi, 2004, page 27).
Since Nagas were not an organised community, the British formed a Naga Club in 1918 with a view to understand the socio-administrative problems of different rival Naga clans and accordingly included some of the Christianised village heads as its members. The move behind the memorandum was therefore, a hidden agenda of the alien power to ensure the isolation of this territory from the mainland freedom movement.
First time the Nagas came in contact with outside world only through the British and subsequently through Indian and Japanese soldiers during Second World War, when a section of them led by Angami Zapu Phizo had joined the unified command of Japan and INA led by Netaji Subash Chandra Bose and fought against the British. It is ironical that after the war the same Phizo became a pawn in the hands of the same colonial power when the latter was in winding up mode and negotiation for granting Independence to India began.
Inspired with the success of Pakistan movement a section of educated youth under the inducement of some Christian missionaries and support of some foreign powers expressed their reservation against amalgamation of Naga territory with Indian Union. When departure of colonial Government from India became a reality, they also started pleading that Nagas are a separate nation and demanded secession of their territories on the line of Pakistan. Accordingly they converted the Naga Club into a political organisation known as Naga National Council (NNC) in March 1946 with Imti Aliba Ao as its first President.
The NNC that was the first political organisation of Nagas to submit a memorandum to the Cabinet Mission on June 19, 1946, when it demanded autonomy to Naga Hills. They demanded separate sovereign political geography comprising of Naga inhabited areas of Nagaland, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myammar (Burma). This was the beginning of political conflict between Nagas and the Government of India. Again on May 19, 1947 the NNC sent a memorandum to British Crown demanding Independence of Naga Hills for ten years. They expressed that after ten years Naga people will decide whether to become the part of Indian Union or to maintain their sovereignty. They reiterated their plea that Naga people never accepted the subjugation of the British as they fought for their sovereignty by occasional revolt against them.
India's Independence in August 1947 provided the Nagas an opportunity for their civilisational transformation. But a misguided section of them was bent upon to carry forward the legacy of hate India campaign at the instance of a foreign power and Christian Missionaries. They ignored the pious design of Government of India to transform their centuries old image of headhunters and 'Naked Nagas' to a democratically administered region.
The colonial power was aware of the inter-clan rivalry of the Nagas and therefore did not respond favourably to the demand of the NNC. Thus, under the patronage of Christian Missionaries the NNC unilaterally declared Independent Naga Hills on August 14, 1947 just one day before Indian Independence and observed Naga Independence Day. Angami Zapu Phizo took a leading role in this revolt, which however was suppressed by the Government. Naga insurgency as we see today is therefore rooted to this Naga Movement engineered by Phizo.
Phizo was arrested in 1948 for his anti-India activities but subsequently released on compassionate ground following the death of his son in an accident He was also elected as President of the NNC in December 1950. His arrest and election as President of NNC made him more and more popular among the Nagas. But contrary to his promise before release from jail that he would join the process of assimilating in the political modernisation of India he started consolidation of various rival Naga clans together to meet his own political ambition. He reportedly organised a 'referendum' in May 1951 without any concurrence from the Government of India and claimed to have got overwhelming support of 99 percent of Nagas in favour of sovereignty. He went to Delhi, met Pandit Nehru the then Prime Minister and pleaded for his old demand for Independence, which was rejected. Nehru maintained: "As Indian Independence gradually approached some of the British officers and Christian Missionaries induced them to think in terms of 'Naga Independence' " (Quote from Pandit Nehru's letter 1952 in a book entitled Nagas: Problem and Politics by Dr. Ashikho Dailio Mao, Ashish Publishing House, New Delhi, 1992, page 3).
Disappointed from his meeting with Nehru , Phizo returned to Naga Hills and mobilised the various rival sub-tribes of Nagas with the slogan of Naga Nationalism. He also set up various front organisations like People's Independence League, the Naga Youth Movement and Naga Women's society and accelerated his movement for creation of a sovereign Naga State comprising Naga Hills, Tuensang and other Naga inhabited areas in India and Burma (Myanmar). With the support of Christian Missionaries like Rev. Michel Scott and others Phizo emerged as the supreme leader of Nagas by arousing political consciousness among them. He mobilised his people as freedom fighters for liberation of their territories from Indian occupation and gave a call for boycott of first General election in Naga Hills. Boycott of election followed by his politics of militancy was a direct challenge to the Government of India, which compelled the latter to declare Naga Hills a disturbed area.
Initially Government of India took tough stand to deal with violent insurgency but it never closed the door for peaceful negotiation with Naga rebels. But Phizo took up the deployment of Indian Armed Forces and raid on the houses of NNC leaders as a challenge. Being in possession of arms dumped by Japanese army during Second World War and material as well as moral support from Pakistan, China and Western powers - the NNC leaders waged a war against Government of India. But due to increasing pressure mounted by security forces a moderate section among the rebels were found to be in favour of peaceful negotiation with Government of India. Phizo by his egoistic temperament did not tolerate any such independent and moderate views from any leader. It was alleged that T. Shakhrie, General Secretary of NNC, who was known as lips and mind of Phizo was brutally murdered allegedly at the behest of the latter for his suspected role in favour of negotiation.
Naga Federal Government of NNC
The Indian army marched in Naga Hills after the NNC formed its underground Naga Federal Government (NFG) and tightened its noose around Phizo. This led to the escape of Phizo to erstwhile East Pakistan and subsequently to London with the help of a Baptist Christian Missionary Rev. Michel Scott. Main contribution of Phizo, who is also called by certain sections of Nagas as Qaid-e-Azam of Nagaland - was unification of various rival Naga sub-tribes for a united but negative movement for their freedom from Indian control. Since then he remained in London sitting pretty and guiding insurgency till his death in 1990.
Murder of Shakharie and escape of Phizo from India adversely affected the morale of insurgents that gradually provided an opportunity to the moderates among them for a negotiated settlement. Accordingly, the first Naga People's Convention was held at Kohima on August 22, 1957 with Imkongliba Ao as its President and Jasokie Angami one time associate of Phizo as General Secretary. The convention resolved for a satisfactory political settlement of Naga Hills within Indian Union. Responding to the demand of the Naga Peoples Convention Naga Hills, which was a district of Assam was brought under central administration under Ministry of External Affairs with a nomenclature of Naga Hills Tuuensang Area (NHTA). In its second convention at Ungma in May 1958, it constituted a committee to contact the Naga rebels and win them over. In its third convention in 1959 the resolution included the demand for a separate statehood for Naga Hills within Indian Republic. From December 1957 to February 18, 1961 remained under the administration of NHTA.
Nagaland As a Separate State:
The sixteen-point agreement between the Naga Peoples Convention and the then Prime Minister of India in July 1960 paved the way for creation of Nagaland as a separate state within Indian Union. Naga Hills was accordingly placed under the Nagaland (Transitional Provision) Regulation 1961 with an interim body consisting of 45 members elected from different sub-tribes of the Nagas. While democratic process for the proposed new state was in progress, some of the hard core rebels under the remote control guidance of Phizo and patronage of Pakistan and China stepped up their activities to foil the peace attempt. They gunned down two moderate leaders namely Imkongliba and Phanting Phong on August 22, 1961 and August 29, 1962 respectively.
The interim body was dissolved and Nagaland was formally declared as Sixteenth State of Indian Union on December 1,1963 with Shilu.Ao heading a five-member caretaker Government. In the first General Election of new state in January 1964 over 70 % of Nagas exercised their franchise, which was contrary to their boycott of the first General Election of the country in 1952. This was the major victory of the forces that believed in democracy. After the constitution of first Nagaland Legislative Assembly on February 11, 1964 Shilu Ao was sworn in as first Chief Minister Nagaland. Voters turn out of around 70% in almost all the successive elections also proved that the larger majority of Nagas had willingly joined the democratic mainstream of the country.
Growth of electoral politics though caused a set back to insurgency, the rising political ambitions of Naga leaders particularly due to influx of huge monetary grant to the State from Centre allured them for power politics and they started manipulations the insurgency in their self-interest. The virus of power politics and lust for money gave birth to political vices and corruption that badly affected the desired economic development in the state.
Even after creation of a new state, the Government of India constituted a Peace Mission in April 1964 with Rev. Michel Scott, a Baptist Church leader and British National, Bimala Prasad Chaliha, the then Chief Minister of Assam and Jai Prakash Narayan, the Sarvoday leader as its members. Cease-fire agreement was accordingly signed between the underground representatives and the Government of India on August 15 1964 but came into practice on September 6. However, in stead of working as a negotiator, Michel Scott worked as spokesman of Naga rebels as he argued in favour of liberation of Naga territory from Indian occupation. Government of India took his stand as anti-national activity and therefore expelled him from the country on May 3, 1966 for his partisan role. The Peace Mission was subsequently dissolved.
With a ban imposed on NNC, NFG and other militant outfits in 1972 under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act by Government of India, followed by strong counter insurgency measures forced the insurgents for further negotiation. Some of the rebel leaders who had joined political parties helped in the process of negotiation. The representatives of Insurgents signed Shillong Accord in 1975 with Government of India by accepting Indian constitution and a sizeable section of China trained insurgents surrendered their arms before the security forces. The Government on the other hand released the arrested rebels and suspended operation by security forces in Nagaland.
Even though the democratically elected Government has effectively established itself in the state, a section of hardcore militants in NNC, who were not a party to Shillong Accord -rejected it. Their leaders like Issac Swu,, Muivah and Khaplang, who had been carrying the flag of NNC contacted Phizo sitting in London and requested him to condemn the accord. But they got disappointed and denounced his leadership for his long silence. They formed a new party of underground namely Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) in late 1970s with Isak Chisi, S.S.Khaplang and T.Muivah as Chairman, Vice-Presient and General Secretary respectively. They prepared the manifesto of the new organisation in January 1980 maintaining the old stand on sovereignty and revived their hostilities against the Government.
By late 1980s ethnic rivalry caused further split in NSCN into two groups one led by Issac and Muivah called NSCN (IM) and another by Khaplang called NSCN(K). Of the three prominent insurgent leaders while Issac Chisi is a Sema Naga, Muivah is a Tangkhul Naga of Manipur. Khaplang on the other hand belongs to Konyak Naga sub-tribe largely settled in Myanmar. Of the various Naga clans Konyaks are numerically largest but educationally still backward. On the other hand Aos are though numerically second largest sub-tribes educationally they are most advanced. Semas are the third largest sub-tribes of Nagas but educationally they are less advanced than Angami. The tussle for ethnic supremacy is apparently the main reason behind the split among the Naga rebels. With formation of splinter groups and commanding influence in their respective areas and clans Naga people are now being governed by parallel 'governments' of NSCN(IM), NSCN (K), FGN (Federal Government of Nagaland initially formed by Phizo besides the democratically elected government installed in the State.
At the instance of Baptist Church leaders of North America celebration of 125th year of Christianity in Nagaland was organised in Atlanta in July-August 1997 in which all the factions of Naga insurgents were also invited. It was also an effort to unite all the rebel groups. NSCN (IM) boycotted the Atlanta meet though, NSCN(K) and Phizoite group of FGN sent their representatives. Meanwhile, NSCN (IM) had a cease fire agreement in 1997 with Government of India which is continuing its peace negotiation by extending the agreement. However, even a meeting between NSCN (IM) and the central leaders in UPA cabinet in November 2004 and subsequently in February 2005 hardly brought any final solution to the problem. Government's acceptance to the extension of cease-fire agreement also in Naga inhabited areas of Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and foreign territory of Burma caused adverse reaction among the people and the government of respective states. They apprehend that Government of India might succumb to the Naga insurgents' demand of Nagalim (Greater Nagaland) which includes the Naga inhabited territories of Assam, Manipur,and Arunachal Pradesh. This may increase inter-state ethnic conflict in the region. Extension of cease-fire agreement was one of the reasons of recent upsurge of violence in Manipur. Moreover the Nagalim demand also includes a foreign territory of Burma which is beyond the power of the Government of India. Absence of Khapang group in peace negotiation has already annoyed the numerically largest Konyak sub-tribes whose significant presence in Indian Territory will remain a constant problem if they are not taken into confidence.
Naga hills remained isolated for centuries prior to its annexation by the British colonial power. Various tribal groups with diverse linguistic tradition and geo-cultural isolation also maintained their distinct system of governance. Without realising this historical reality Phizo tried to organise the unorganised Naga community which carried forward the legacy of their primary loyalties to respective clan and lineage
Phizo's charisma started fading after the creation of Nagaland as 16th state within Indian Union followed by surrender of arms by his underground followers. But a section of Naga intelligentsia under the influence of Marxist ideology encouraged the splinter factions of insurgents by projecting him as a legendary figure and supporting his secessionist theory. His so called contribution of accomplishing Naga solidarity also proved wrong when even his hard core followers denounced him and split in to various factions.
Since 1954 a number of peace agreements have been signed and as yet no viable solution has been found.
The Nagas like other tribes of India also started changing their primitive life styles once they came in contact with outer world. Today, Nagaland with literacy rate of 67.11 % and SDP per capita of Rs.11, 174 (2001 Census) is much ahead of national average. In 1947 there was only one Government High School in Naga Hills but today this small state with a population below twenty lacks has a university with number of colleges, hundred of high schools and thousands of primary schools. This could be possible, as Government of India always remained sincere to fulfil the socio-political and economic aspirations of Naga people. But the insurgents criticised all such developments as a political trap.
Right from Phizo to Muivah all the insurgent leaders and supporters of their political ideology talked for peaceful negotiation but in between thousands of innocent live were lost. Nagaland emerged as an independent state within Indian Union and larger majority of its people participated in the national political current as an equal Indian citizens. Notwithstanding this ground reality of political settlement of Nagaland certain vested interests with intellectual support to the outdated theory of Naga nationalism are not ready to understand it. Even Naga academicians, continue to carry forward the historical legacy of pre-British primitive independence of Nagas and thereby sustain the ideology behind the insurgency. No one would question the academic rights of the intellectuals but such negative contributions have adversely affect the psyche of successive generations of Nagas, who continue to be sympathetic towards the insurgents. Dr. A. Lanunungsang Ao, Dean of Social Sciences and Professor in-charge, Nagaland University said: "I love India because I belong to India, but I love Nagaland more than India because I am a Naga born there and shall die there whether in shame or national dignity". "(From Phizo to Mulvah, Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 2002, page vii-viii).
Involvement of over 70% Nagas during elections since creation of Nagaland to elect their Assembly and Parliamentary members proves that a large majority of Nagas negated the political theory of Phizo. But Dr. Ao still considers the ongoing conflict in Nagaland as " undeclared war between two big brotherly nations, India and the Nagas" and "desires peace for final political settlement" (Ibid.).
Insurgency with the help of foreign powers as well as corrupt politicians, contractors, smugglers and other vested interests have now become an intoxicating scent of luxurious life styles that attract the unemployed and misguided Naga youths. The questions therefore, still remain unanswered - where are the Nagas going? The answer lies with people of the state. If they want peace and further improve the quality of their lives they will have to display collective will to fight against the marginalised section of some misguided elements around them. Every Indian citizen desires peace in Nagaland but it is also the responsibility of Naga intellectuals to clear the mental confusion of their people over War or Peace in favour of the latter. Ironically even a section of them while carrying forward the legacy of Phizo,s negative ideology has added to the perpetual confusion of War or Peace among the successive generations of Nagas.. In absence of the collective will of Naga people any attempt for peace will remain an exercise in futility.
Encyclopaedia of North-East -S.K.Khanna -Indian Publishers - 1999.
Encyclopaedia of North East India - H.M.Bareh -Mittal Publications -2001.
Politics and Militancy in Nagaland by Kuhoi k.Zhimomi, Deep and Deep Publications, Private Limitted, New Delhi, 2004.
Emergence of Nagaland by Hokishe Sema (Es-Chief Minister Nagaland), Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1986.
Nagaland by Verrier Elvin, Shillong, 1961.
Nagas: Problem and Politics by Dr. Ashikho Dalio Mao, Ashish Publishing House, New Delhi, 1992.
War and Peace in Nagaland by Y.D.Gundevia, ICS, Palit and Palit Publishers, 1975.
From Phizo to Muviah by Dr. A.Lanununcsang Ao, Mittal Publications, New Delhi 2002.
Nagaland by Prakash Singh IPS, National Book Trust, New Delhi, 1972.
Survey of Conflict & Resolution in India's Northeast by Ajai Sahni.
( E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org)