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Was the creation of the state of Nagaland- A mistake?

T N Mannen

The earlier Naga Hills Tuensang Area (NHTA) created in 1957 was converted into the State of Nagaland in 1962 as the 16 State of the India Union. The territorial jurisdiction of the state comprised of a part of the erstwhile Naga Hills district of Assam and the then Naga tribal area of Tuensang Div of (NEFA). This is a political creation as a result of an agreement between the Naga People’s convention (NPC) and the government of India through an instrument called the 16 point memorandum formulated at the 3rd session of the People’s convention at Mokokchung in October 1959 which was later converted into the 16 Point Agreement after modification with the Foreign Secretary on 27 & 28 July 1960 to the tune of central leaders.The formation of the state was done in haste without proper examination and understanding of its long term implication and consequences thereof. It was more motivated by subjective personal gain and short term benefit of the few. “The tempting bait was a separate state and the power it gives to those who hope to get it” (The Naga Story, H Chandola p135).The creation of a separate state of Nagaland was meant to be a compromise solution to the independent sovereign state demand of the Naga movement which was at its peak at the time when the statehood formation was under consideration at the Naga People’s Conventions (NPC) but the manner in which the formulation of the state had gone about was controversial right from the start. It was no doubt an opportunity to formulate the aspiration of the Nagas including the extremist section of the people, the UGs in consultation with the cross-section of the Nagas. Unfortunately, that vital part was completely ignored thereby cascading the subsequent events into a series of setback. The Convention delegates dominated by the so called the “Liberal” more educated section were too anxious to go ahead with the creation of the new state at all cost, had ignored the necessity to consult the UG leaders who were the vanguard of the Naga movement for independent. The” Liberal group” who took active part were guided clandestinely to sabotage the proceedings by the few shrewd none and -Naga bureaucrats mainly belonging to the Indian frontier Officers IFS) and the Intelligent Bureau officials like Sudhin Dutt, joint Director in charge of the North- east who had direct access to the Prime Minister’s office and political agents with their sinister agenda to break the backbone of the Naga unity. They had played a key role in guiding the deliberation of the Convention from behind the curtains and could manoeuvred the ‘liberal’ leaders group for creation of the state in its present truncated form curving out the territorial jurisdiction of the new state with the limited geographical areas leaving out most of the Naga inhibited territories either in Burma or in other neighbouring states of India with the vague promise to take up the rest under Articles 3&4 of the Indian Constitution later, thereby sowing the seeds of most serious infighting and disunity among the Nagas which is clearly manifested now. This creation has turned out to be the greatest obstacle to the lofty dream of the pioneering Naga leaders of building a strong united Naga community through consolidation of all the Nagas living contiguous to each other under a single administrative umbrella and to determine their future as they want without much external interference.
Prior to the statehood movement as an alternative solution, strong combined Assam Police and Indian army operations armed with few draconian laws e.g., the Naga hills Disturbed Area Ordinance, the Assam Maintenance of Public Order, the Indian Armed Forces Special Powers’ Act etc which conferred wide ranging powers to arrest, detain, search without warrant were actively misusing the powers in all over the Nagas inhabited areas committing all sort of human rights violations, like killing or maiming of innocent people, raping women and innocent girls even in church premises. Burning of villages and destroying granaries, grouping of villages into concentrated confinement in selected villages or in new establishments under strict surveillance. Yet the unity among people was intact and their spirits and morals were high in their support for the realisation of the common vision of establishing a separate Naga Entity. There were strong desire of unity and oneness feeling, common purpose and goal among all the Nagas across irrespective of the tribal affiliation and place of habitats.
It was unfortunate that the formation of the state; though was proudly proclaimed as a brilliant achievement opening a new era of peace and progress, had in really planted the seed of Disunity and divide among the Nagas, relegating the effort of integration of all Naga inhabited areas into becoming a distance dream. The statehood in its present form was thus a great mistake which had brought about far-reaching setback affecting the Socio-Political life of the Nagas as a whole. The regrettable result is that it has not achieved the expected desired result of solving the Naga issues by granting of the statehood. Instead it had boomerang negatively in all spheres of the Naga life. Some of the glaring omissions and commissions and its consequential developments are briefly explained herein;
Firstly: the immediate visible development has been the sharp divide between the underground and the statehood supporters mistake committed by some liberal leaders of the convention who were at the behest of bureaucrats and other officials at the background who had “played a key role in guiding the Convention deliberation” (the Naga story- H Chandola p127).ignoring the resolution passed at the 2nd convention at Ungma,. In that meeting, a Liaison Committee was formed to pursue the UG leaders to come to a term with the government of India for a political settlement. However, those liberal participants were against such talks with them as a waste of time. And in the 3rd Convention at Mokokchung in October 1959, bypassing such a consultation with the UG leaders who are the key players in Naga movement, gone ahead with the formulation of the 16 point memorandum and had gone to Delhi with it to negotiate with the central leaders. It was a costly mistake. This omission in not involving the UG set up in the negotiation had naturally antagonised the strongest section of the Naga people thereby created animosity, division and serious conflicts among the Nagas which is spreading extensive now eroding the vital element of unity among the people beyond the so called over grounds and the undergrounds, but into other groupings e.g. the Nagas of Nagaland (refer to the original inhabitants living within the declared territory of the state) and the Nagas outside (living across in other states in India and in Myanmar) and other social organisations crossing over the political domain.
I honestly felt that the recent formation of the Organisation exclusive of the Naga tribes of Nagaland (NTC) and Central Naga Tribal Council (CNTC) consist of only the three tribes of central Naga areas e.g. Ao, Sema and Lotha are of the offshoots of the divides created by the hasty- haphazard formation of the state of Nagaland 50 years ago laying a firm foundation of disunity among the Nagas for the reasons mentioned. The strong feeling of belonging and oneness, kinships and brotherhood which was the hallmark of the Naga strength groomed carefully by the pioneering leaders making the Nagas to believe that we are all the same people and should come to live together as one had started cracking. The message of the Nagas as one people was receiving well in the minds of the people inspired further by the prospect of common goal of a proud Nation in the making. There were so much of goodwill, respect and unity amongst the pioneering leaders transcending across national and international boundaries and place of habitats led by the tall father figure leader Late Phizo, Imkongmeren, and a host of other leaders who had propagated unity and ones as essential conditions for greater and stronger future of the Nagas. Even now there are very many able and well-meaning Naga leaders from both within and outside Nagaland, but are handicapped by this divide in terms of Nagas of Nagaland and outsiders, Nagas of this or that factions or groups by which the society is badly handicapped by such sectarian prejudices. Are the Nagas drifting apart beyond the point of no return or correcting the disuniting mindset before it is too late is needed?
Prior to the statehood, the only known enemy in the mind of the Nagas were the Indian occupational forces as the were identified, but the statehood had added the pro-Indian Nagas as also an enemy accusing the statehood supporters as betrayers who were taking advantage for selfish reason at the cost of the Nagas (thus, till today the hardcore Nagas has not accepted the Statehood as belonging to the Nagas) thereby the process of selective elimination of the suspected Naga-Indian group had started from the assassination of Dr Imkongliba on 23rd August 1961 at broad daylight at mokokchung. This happened not long after the convention leaders had returned from Delhi after meeting the central leaders on new state formation. Since then it has become a regular happening in fratricide killings and groups’ conflicts completely forgetting the Indian army who were the original enemy number one. It looks comical but true.
Secondly; The most serious disappointment on formation of the State in its present truncated form is the compromise made on the vital core Naga issues, apart Independent state are the demands for the; (a) return of those Naga territories wrongfully taken away during the British rulers in India (Assam); (b) integration of all the Naga inhabited contiguous areas into a single grouping. These demands of the Nagas are found in Nine (9) Points Agreement made in 1947 with the then Governor Hydra Ali when Naga Hills was still a district under Assam. The demands were no doubt reiterated in the 16 point agreement. But the differences were that the NNC had emphatically followed it up again and again before the governor for honouring the 9 (nine) point Agreement. It was almost through as assured by the Advisor to the Governor NK Rustamji in his communication written to T Aliba President NNC (Vide Memo 490/C Dated 11 June 1948) conveying the message of Governor stating that “the Agreement is certainly to be implemented and that the machinery necessary to that end is already in motion” Unfortunately the government of India retracted the commitment later before it was implemented.
But the situation during the negotiation for the statehood was definitely in a much favourable position to bargain for better deal short of Independent state. The Prime Minister Nehru was favourably inclined to the demand of the statehood changing the earlier stiff stand against the granting of state as unviable. Earlier when he was approached to consider granting of state as the option to contain violence in Naga Hill, Nehru had retorted, “It is share baby talk, what you are saying, can any state of such a small size ever be self-sufficient? “But that stand was surprisingly changed perhaps by the sudden surfacing of the Naga leader A Z Phizo in London after completely silent without any trace for few years. He was granted not only political asylum but a full British citizenship. In Indian parliament some members even suggested to leave Commonwealth in protest against London giving him asylum without informing Delhi. He was moving to raise the Naga issues in United Nations and other Human right violation before the Human Right Commission ‘with account of Naga killings and trying to solicit from western nations political, economic and military help for his war of independence’. This move had caught the central leaders unaware and was embarrassed and concern. To upstage Phizo’s manoeuvre, the central leaders had changed their earlier stand on the demand of the Naga convention for a separate state and were willing to grant concessions to the Nagas generously. Nehru had invited a team of the Naga convention leaders to meet him on 26 July 1960 and had actively taken up the granting of a separate state to the Nagas. Evidently the Nagas were in an advantageous position to put forward those Core Demands which was a real opportune moment to have insisted as pre-condition before granting of the State. There were much better chance of fulfilling the demands if not fully but to a large extend at that time. If only the Naga convention leaders had handled the situation more maturely and objectively with due consultation with the Naga Nationalist group and articulating the demands cogently as the main pre-condition for granting statehood, without succumbing to the lure of benefits that were expected out of. The statehood creation would have delayed for some more time, nevertheless it would have been granted with much better status in both political as well as the territorial matters. This was a golden opportunity which the Nagas have missed for whatever reasons for which the Nagas are facing the consequential disadvantageous position now.
It was a fact that the legitimacy of demand for return of those delineated territories by the British during their Rule in Assam was territories of the Nagas from time immemorial was acknowledged by the governor of Assam as mentioned in Advisor Rustamji’s letter. Such established evidence could have been put forward to justify the demand in 16 point memorandum when the then Foreign Secretary had remarked that the territories in question was with Naga Hills only for 21 year while it was with other neighbouring districts of Assam for much longer period, therefore government of India could not give such assurance of return. It was unfortunate that the Naga leaders could not correct such erroneous understanding by the persons in making policy decision. The traditionally ownership by the Nagas of those territories in question were recognised even by the British themselves when the first Southernmost Revenue boundary of Sibsagar District with the Nagas was demarcated by erecting triangular posts all along the traditional Boundary lines between the Ahom country and the independent Nagas by the line known as Ladiogarh, Naga Bund, Diodar Ali. But the British subsequently violated this boundary line unilaterally by encroaching the Naga territories to extract rich forest and mineral resources and to extend the development of Tea industries along the fertile foothill Naga areas. This is a clear case of historical wrong and the Nagas has strong legitimate right to claim over it. Even the latest Government of India Act of 2006 (The scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006.) 26th Dec. 2006, aims to recognise and vest forest rights on ancestral lands and their habitat which were not adequately recognised during the colonial period as well as in the independent India resulting in historical injustice. The demand of the Nagas were based on such solid historical facts but not presented properly to the right forum. Today the Nagas are put in such weak disadvantage position for any political bargaining in spite of admirably sustaining the cause for so long nearing a century. And the little concessions granted during the creation of the state to the Nagas in matters of customary laws and Practices and Land and its Resources listed out under Art 371 A of the Constitution of India is also under threat. It is a real irony that from a high advantageous position then, it is now in a helpless position.
The scenario after 50 years.
Today the scenario is that the boundary settlement with the neighbour Assam on a permanent basis is becoming more remote. In the last 50 years since the statehood, even the preliminary hurdle has not been crossed. Inspite of tall promises, frequent border clashes, assurances made by the government for Boundary Commission to settle the border problem, the issue is booked down over a Writ petition filed by Assam in Supreme Court in 1988 praying to declare the controversial 1925 notification as the Constitutional Boundary between the two states through the court. This notification issued during the British Rule consolidated all the disputed forest areas transferred out of the then Naga Hills District over the years (1826-1925) to the neighbouring districts of Assam. It is a contentious notification because the Survey General of India officials has time and again admitted that the boundary along this notified line is not verified and identified on the ground. But Assam is trying to legitimise the defective notified line for permanent possession. This manoeuvre is also a successful delay tactic working effectively by installing the settlement issue to their advantage. Assam is aware that the disputed areas were originally belonged to the Nagas who has right to claim.
Earlier the Supreme Court has on number of hearings expressed preference for appointment of a Boundary Commission knowing its limitation in arbitrating the redefining inter state boundary lines. It can be done only through political decision .However in 2006, constituted a Local Commission to identify mainly the 1925 notified Line but so far not succeeded .Again the Court has appointed another different attempt through appointment of Mediators in 2010 to try for an amicable settlement of the boundary issues. It is a fact that the changing of boundary line can only be possible not through the Court but only by positive political intervention not by interference of course. The legitimate formal demand of returning the delineated lands to the rightful owners made right from 9 point agreement onward still remain an elusive dream. In the situation Nagas can only hope for the best as “Hope is the last thing to die’ as they say.
Integration of Contiguous Naga inhabited Territories.
From the high pedestal lofty position boldly demanding a sovereign Independent State, the lest demand for amalgamation of the willing Naga inhabited territories forming a single administrative entity within the grand Indian Onion is also becoming an impossible dream. Government of India is now audaciously declaring that integration is none-negotiable issue now. The high expectation of an acceptable negotiated settlement to the chronic Naga political issue appears to be in limbo after more than a decade rounds of talk. But instead of a sale out settlement naturally, hard bargain for an honourable settlement respecting the Naga psyches keeping in view of the long die hard struggle for a common vision will be the ultimate aim inspite of the unfavourable environment at the moment. The passed mistakes are good lessons to make wiser decision. Though the common Nagas are passing through a serious fatigue syndrome by the sufferings and sacrifices made throughout the prolonged conflicts, it will be wrong to presume that they will accept any settlement that may consider a surrender of the long cherished goal of recognising a united Naga entity. In this scenario in which the Nagas are today, what best course collective action is possible to restore the position from where Naga leaders can bargain for an honourable settlement to end the sufferings? This is a vital issue now needing urgent reflection by all well-meaning Nagas for the better future. Many noted leaders in the past who had united kept the “torch of Naga Unity” burning brightly making the Nagas proud and inspired. The word “Naga” could kindle an exclusive sense of patriotic pride amongst the true Nagas. Can we search the inner mind to rekindle such united mindset?
The writer is IAS (Rtd)
Email: tnmannen rediffmail.com

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