Quo Vadis Naga Nationalism?

Abraham Lotha

When we look at the present Naga political scenario, we have made a mess for ourselves. The filth, dirt, garbage, pollution and the endemic clogged drains of our towns are symptomatic and emblematic of the Naga society. This in spite of Rio getting India Today Group’s State of States Award 2011 for the Most Improved Small State (Infrastructure) when we don’t have any infrastructure. The wait for the NSCN (IM) and Government of India (GoI) to resolve the Naga problem is turning out to be like waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ (Isaac Swu is probably nodding his head and saying, “Amen”).

In the struggle for the Naga nation, the Semas and Tangkhuls use each other. One Naga community in particular thinks that independence means living in and controlling Dimapur area. The Aos, in addition to their insecurity, are going through a leadership vacuum. The Tangkhuls think Nagas are already sovereign and consider the (IM) as the ruling government. In their area any dispute, including religious ones, are taken to the (IM) to seek redress. The Angamis’ hands are tied because of Adino. The Lothas are level headed but are not in a position to provide leadership. The Konyaks and the ENPO continue to be used and abused and cannot get over the victim mentality and discourse. Ironically, the Konyaks’ description of someone who is incapable of becoming a mature person fits the present Naga scenario, “Manu hobole tan” (difficult to become a human being).”

The NSCN (IM) fellows treat Naga sovereignty as if it is their private property; they do not want to share power and position, not realizing that no one or group has a monopoly over the Naga nation. The (IM) leadership has always said, “We will take it to the Naga people and what the people say will be ultimate.” The problem is the (IM) has not taken the proceedings of any negotiations with GoI to the Naga people. The Naga public have not been given their due respect and place nor have their democratic rights been respected. What will the people decide if they don’t know on what point to decide? The so-called consultations have been more like private religious services. How long can people be kept in the dark? Whatever is being negotiated in the dark has to be brought out in the open and debated point by point. The (IM) has not been transparent.

It is also clear that Muivah doesn’t see how he and the (IM) have hurt others in many ways and are not humble enough to acknowledge their mistake. Isaac Swu is lost in rote prayer and Christian fundamentalism.
Adino and her brother Kevilevor continue to be in a state of self-deception in la-la land, undoing whatever their father, Phizo, did.

The NSCN (K) group is used by everybody. It is not surprising that the group has splintered. Neither the NSCN (K), nor NNC, or FGN have better or intelligent alternatives to offer and resolve the conflict.
The different factions are too full of themselves; they suffer from opportunism and one-upmanshipitis. No results delivered, of course. All the underground factions want to control Dimapur, the land of milk and honey, garbage and clogged drains. Meanwhile, extortions go on rampant; they all take money that belongs to the people. The ultimate political objective is either forgotten or used to justify the criminal and parasitic deeds. The Semas have a beautiful expression to describe such people: “Headmaster nathaka school te purishe” (studied in a school that had no Headmaster).”

The Naga Hoho is also another major obstacle. They have no humility to give others a space to grow together. Their insecurity, possessiveness, and opportunism are glaring. For some people, membership in the Hoho leadership is a profession. If there are other capable players, and if the conflict is resolved, what will they do? Life without status, position and power will make Nagas dull and boring.

The ENPO communities just tag behind the Konyak leadership saying, “Amikhan laka leader pura ki koishe itu he ase” (what our leader has said will be it).” If someone disagrees with or criticizes them they react like the touch-me-not plant or take a cry-baby’s stance. No critical thinking or constructive dialogue.

The FNR has reached an impasse. And one by one, incidents of factional fights are beginning to dot the pages of the newspapers again. At least the FNR people are concerned and inviting the public about what to do next.
In short, Nagas have not learned to live an organized life; ours is still a survival of the fittest.

At the moment, what is being negotiated is not sovereignty in the traditional sense of the term. Rather, it sounds like a qualified autonomy. Natural resources will belong to the Nagas (or to IM?); Nagas will use Indian currency; the defence will be jointly by India and Nagas; foreign policy will be looked after by India; etc.. What about integration of Naga areas? The GOI is not in a mood to redraw the state boundaries particularly in the Northeast.  Sometime back, in a statement about some kind of political package, Pillai clarified that under the present political circumstances in the region, the physical integration of Naga inhabited areas was not possible but “we can explore possibility of integration of Naga people in the areas of culture, social practices, customary laws, etc. through some mechanism.”

What does that mean? The Indian government has no political will to solve the problem either. It is not even a carrot-and stick policy anymore; rather, it appears to be a wait-and-drag-it-out policy. A self-respecting postcolonial country ought to know that the history of a people, however seemingly insignificant, cannot be belittled. The GoI should go beyond “recognizing” Naga history, whatever that means.

Meanwhile, the NSCN (IM) seems to have its back against the wall. The (IM) leaders seem to be under house arrest. Not allowed into Zunheboto? So what kind of negotiations and sovereignty are we talking about? Bandhs are not the solution. They further alienate us and deteriorate the situation. Now is not the time for Muivah and Isaac and other leaders to remain insulated and isolated.

There is no clear vision or directives for the future. Thomas Jefferson has a lesson on nation building relevant for the Nagas: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and will never be.”

Nagas must know that it is in their best interest to work out an honourable solution with GoI. There is no panacea to resolving this conflict. The problem is very complex and no one has all the answers. Now is the time for Nagas to come into one morung and put our heads together. We need broader consultation not more fasting and platitudes.

So what alternatives do we have?
There is a genuine desire of all Nagas for peace and acceptable settlement of the Naga political issue. And it is clear that any political settlement with India that may be reached will require the approval and endorsement of the Naga public. The Naga political issue is not the monopoly of the undergrounds. They have been given enough time and chances. Today’s ground realities necessitate that the Naga national workers, the Naga public and the Nagaland Government need to work together.

Nagas need one inclusive, common body, something like an All-Naga Convention that is independent and representative of all sections of the Naga society including the tribal hohos, civil society, intellectuals, Nagaland government, and the undergrounds. There are many well-intentioned Nagas who work for the common welfare of the people. Nagas need to recognize, accept and tap such goodwill and resources for the sake of the common good.

This Convention should frame a vision and chart directives for the future. Among others, this forum should undertake and reinforce the political education of the Nagas for nation building and consolidating our history. This forum should help evolve a Naga consensus opinion for a negotiated political settlement. This should include deliberations on the political status of the Nagas including concepts such as autonomy and sovereignty. Additionally, because proper negotiations with our neighbours are essential for any political solution, this forum can also initiate dialogue with our neighbours – Meiteis and Assamese – and the wider Indian society. In the current political climate, public relations and advocacy work can be best done by the public and not the undergrounds. And finally, this All-Naga Convention, representing all the Nagas, should take charge of the political negotiations with India as a united front.

Collaborative effort will generate political mechanism and strength. How long can the Naga people’s aspirations be imprisoned because of some groups’ vested interests? Every Naga’s life is at stake. Nagas need to unite and act fast. Time is of the essence here.