The Naga political struggle
Speech of Dr. Lokendra Arambam of Manipur University
At the INAUGURATION OF THE
NAGA ARCHIVES & RESEARCH CENTRE
DIMAPUR, 7 NOVEMBER 2015
Allow me to express my deepest respect and gratitude to Reverend Dr. V.K. Nuh and his distinguished members of the Board of Directors including elder brother Niketu Iralu, who had been kind and considerate enough to invite me and my friends from Manipur to this auspicious occasion of the inauguration of the Naga Archives & Research Centre at Dimapur. The start of a precious institution, in the establishment of a repository of exciting material, on the subject of the struggle for freedom of the Naga people would indeed be very special. I am sure the study of the Naga Independence Struggle had become one of the most anxious subjects all over the globe, by virtue of its being one of the longest human struggles ever for freedom and emancipation, and generations after generations of Nagas who had experienced and lived through these chapters of agony and pride, of triumphs yet tragedies and suffering, would inspire the future in their profound human appeal. Generations of my age who had listened as a neighbor to the stories of those sacrifices are chastened and humbled by the experience.As a simple student of history, especially of the emerging first peoples of the Northeast, I felt that I should endeavour to add to the ensuing collection of Reverend Nuh’s records certain additional information about the reception, response, and contribution to the enhancement of the Naga struggle by the neighbouring community of the Meetei in the Manipur valley. These stories I would like to narrate would require research and verification from Rev. Nuh’s archivists, record managers, manuscript curators and new young scholars interested in various dimensions of human struggle. The narratives from Manipur would, I hope, help expand the dynamic nuances of the course of the struggle, because of its very universality, as well as its common angst experienced by peoples together under colonial and imperialistic bondage. This bondage was perpetrated by ambitious inheritors to the dissembling British Empire. The Indian State was the common enemy for the decolonizing Northeasterners.
Angami Zapu Phizo, in his urge to secure more support for his peoples’ struggles was learnt to have visited Imphal, and met the Manipur Chief Minister Maharaj Kumar Priyobarta, to discuss the possibility of a common endeavour to fight against the Indian state. Stephen Angkang, an elderly Tangkhul, told me of the anguish of Phizo in the Manipur peoples’ response, their inability to fraternize with the precious cause. The period indeed was one of the most critical periods in Manipur’s modern history. I remember, the people, after 56 years of British protection and rule was struggling in the wake of the end of the devastating second world war to retrieve the vestiges of their ancient legacies of hills and plains unity, give themselves a proper democratic constitution, respecting human rights and adult suffrage, adapting to the realities of pluralism, engaging with double representation in single constituencies of separate communities, and also being aware of outsiders and their impact on the socio-economic anxieties of the emerging population. Three important constitutional measures were adopted, namely the Manipur State Constitution Act of 1947, the Manipur Hill Peoples (Administration) Regulations of 1947, and the Manipur Naturalization Act of 1947. These three measures reflected the restoration of the recovered nation status of the pre-colonial Asiatic state, becoming a constitutional monarchy with democracy as its working principle of governance, and taking care of decentralized empowerment of hill population with admixture of customary laws with more precious inputs from Indian legal systems introduced under British colonial rule (1891-1947). It also saw to the context of migrant populations like Indians and Nepalis etc. as foreigners, if they could be assimilated and absorbed in the social structure like in the pre-colonial past. However the equilibrium of the polity was destroyed through forced integration into India in 1949, and the new Dominion of India rapidly suppressing the peoples’ risings for a socialist republic under the leadership of the revolutionary communist leader Hijam Irabot (1949-1951). The Naga independence struggle could be hastened from a priori thesis of the Nagas not being Indians before, while that of the Meetei was after long period of Indianization, which was countered by a conscious effort of de-Indianization, and the new struggles that emerged after the forcible integration into India in 1949 and the suppression of the peasants armed movement under Irabot was based on the principles of self-determination being absorbed by young generations, and aware of the possibility of a Pan-Mongoloid unity. The new generation of armed opposition groups which emerged amidst the valley population in the sixties sought a new kind of Pan-Mongoloid collective, transcending ethnic considerations on struggle, yet respecting identities and gestured cooperation to the NNC, which was then at the forefront of the struggle. The Founder of the United National Liberation Front, formed in 1964, late Arambam Somorendra, in his efforts to seek understanding and collective endeavour made a trip to Kohima early in August 1968 to meet General Kaito and General Mowu Angami. It seems General Mowu Angami had left for China, and General Kaito was just recently assassinated, and he returned, a little disappointed.
However, the post-Shillong Accord scenario of mutual antagonism amidst the stalwarts of the struggle, and violent repression by the Indian army resulted to intense dislocation and displacements amongst the hill populations of Manipur, and the valley community of the Meetei rendered yeomen service to hide the then stalwarts of the NNC in the suburban households of Imphal, providing hospitality and infrastructural support to printing of leaflets and propaganda materials etc. for the cause. Names now famous in the NSCN (IM) hierarchy, Angelus Shimray, Raising, Livingstone, V. Atem and others were mentioned who were sheltered in the Meitei homes in these critical periods. In the late seventies and eighties armed opposition groups from Manipur were reported to have established contact and shared the vicissitudes of the new theatre of engagement in the Burmese geography. New groups of different leaderships amongst the Meeteis had also emerged and lent new dynamics in what is now termed in official establishment circles as ethnic insurgencies. Their history together with the ethnic brotherhood of the Kachins, the Konyaks, the Pangmis, the Tangkhuls, the Semas, the Ahom, the Shans, etc. in the tumultuous ethnic maze under the ferocious onslaughts of the Burmese Junta, during the eighties, I am sure, are yet to emerge in the annals of the post-Shillong Accord struggles of the Nagas. I would like to narrate two incidents in the entire scary episodes of the drama and tensions amidst the violences of war, depredation and survival. The one is that of April 30, 1988 when new histories were made in the course of the Naga struggle. The opponents of the Shillong Accord, the NSCN that was formed in 1980 broke into two factions in 1988 when Thuingaleng Muivah and Isaac Swu had to part with S.S. Khaplang and the resultant rift in the Naga community had serious implications on the role of the traditional Meetei groups, who were sheltered by Baba Khaplang but were also friendly to the Muivah group. It so happened that the UNLF was the first organization who became aware of the intensions of Baba Khaplang, who became suspicious of Muivah’s alleged overtures to the Indian administration, and our informants mention certain incidents at the village Longwa, when Khaplang vowed elimination of Muivah and his group who were camping side by side with the UNLF cadres in the Hangshen village. It so happened in the early morning of April 30, that the camp was raided by the forces of Khaplang to eliminate Muivah, and he was informed by the Meetei brothers to run away from the camp. Muivah survived the onslaught along with his better half due to the timely hint of the Meeteis, and the massacres that followed as a result of the rift was experienced by the pained Meetei brothers, who themselves were pounced upon by the Burmese army with mortars and gunshots subsequent to the intra-Naga crisis. Some 110 Tangkhul bodies were learnt to have been sacrificed within a few days of the rift, and the river bank of the Chindwin were spread with the stenched bodies of the cadres of the Muivah group and it seems the blood of the ethnic brothers turned into thick sheets of clod. The UNLF cadres had to be running round and round chased by the Burmese army, and had to revisit Hangshen three times in the milieu, and later as they trudged farther into the jungles, experienced another incident at Tisha village. It was here Capt. Khrang of Khaplang’s group who had captured a group of Tangkhul men and women, and amongst them was a Tangkhul doctor named Nelson. They were about to be eliminated by Khaplang’s soldiers, but the Meetei brothers earnestly pleaded to Baba Khaplang not to tar the future history of the struggle with such violent acts, and the leader listened to the pleading of the Meetei friends and spared the group including Dr. Nelson. I gather that the doctor is still serving at a Kohima Hospital.
The narratives of any independence struggle are always full of such events, which become more and more stressed when the enemy is of such power and their qualities of suppression of dissidents are heavy. These powers of subjugation and domination play different tricks and maneuvers to play with the primordial passions and prejudices of ethnic communities who are as yet not able to surpass the strains of traditional values, beliefs and faiths which are vulnerable to modern manipulations. This however adds to the burden of woes soldiers of the freedom struggle carry as a heavy national duty. The pursuit of healing of the deeply entrenched psyche is one such heavy load the ethnic communities carry in our lives when we dream and fight for the promised land.
As a neighbor Manipur provides a very critical sub-text in the Naga Independence struggle. Because Manipur as a historically established entity, the issue of ethnic relations had become mired with issues of the modern state’s inability to design a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic polity and community which is demanded by the very nature of its geography and polity nursed since its ancient history and their emergence into the globalized world of today. Nowadays its history is contested, opposed and denied by the very idea of Naga independence struggle. As per the Naga National Council’s manifesto and the constitution of the Federal Government of Nagaland, the sovereignty and independence of the Naga Nation demands a territorial association of Naga integration of all Naga inhabited areas under one administrative roof. The political demands of the NSCN (IM) who had inherited the legacy of Phizo, incorporates this concept as a vital factor to the Naga political solution. This had created a crisis in the recent past when eighteen lives were martyred in the agitation against the Bangkok agreement of 2004. Since then, it has become a serious issue not addressed as a subject of conflict between two incompatible points of view, of what Assam’s intellectual Sanjib Baruah described as ‘the emerging inclusivity of Naga identity with geography coming into clash with the territorially embodied identities of states like Manipur and Assam’.
Perhaps what has been felt in the precious aims of this prestigious Research Centre about the human aspect of love, relationship, reconciliation and harmony are still ideals which as yet are to be realized in concrete terms in the huge romance and struggle of communities for recognition and identity, which drive the engine of self determination movements. The gestures of a brotherly community at a critical period of perceived common destiny, reaching out towards fraternal groups to work together for a proposed common objective would have been limited in its application by the overwhelming passions aroused by stories of pain, hurt and perception of otherness of others associated with the tensions of these struggles. A Pan-Mongoloid movement could have had little impact or acceptance at such a critical moment of the times, whereas the Pan-Naga consciousness and its structures within Naga society were more immediate as the deeper challenge for the Naga brothers themselves, to which neighbouring polities and peoples couldn’t possibly have a meaningful presence.
The idea of a Pan-Naga consciousness, if I venture to note, however as an unavoidable factor in the development of Naga nationhood as experienced in Manipur is another bind where history as a discipline of understanding is tested to its sternest credentials. The nation had the right to be imagined in current political movements, and at the same time the relationship of events with time and circumstances, the motives of the players and leaders of movements at these times including their actions could also be ‘appropriated’ to suit the current urge towards this ideal of nationhood. But the very fact of ethnicity in nationhood has its flaws of history and its uneven, even contradictory unfoldment. The refusal to accept and recognize Rani Gaidinlieu by an important section of Naga society is perhaps a painful reminder to its contradictions. For as students of Naga self determination we may be prone to incorporate other ethnic identity movements at its anti-colonial resistances in other areas and periods of colonial history as a part of our rising common consciousness. But the movement of Jadonang and Gaidinlieu and their people was of another vintage, which perhaps, by the facts of the movements themselves became a sour note in the overall Naga Independence struggle. For Jadonang dreamt of a Makam Gwangdi, a kingdom of the Makam people and Gaidinlieu suffered the longest stint at colonial jails as a woman for the cause. Yet she was appropriated by the Indian nation state, as valuable part of the all India anti-British struggle for independence. She, however, following her Achan’s ideals fought passionately, silently, to bring the Roungmei, Zemei, Liangmei together with other nearer cognate tribes in a more immediate aim to fulfill her peoples religion and culture, which became anathema to the modern and Christian ideals of Naga nationhood. Meijinglung Kamson, a deep personal friend of the Rani once told of how Zapu Phizo accepted her struggle and proposed to her to join the larger Naga Independence movement against India. She was reported to have replied to Zapu, that ‘while he was dreaming about the moon, he should not forget his feet on the ground!’ I am sure our Angami brothers could now laugh about it and still accept her as one of them, in spite of the six years of serious contention from 1960 to 1966. The Zeliangroung, for which Gaidinlieu fought and died for, could be acknowledged as distinct and autonomous people, within the flexible umbrella of the Pan Naga consciousness.
No doubt the spread of an idea from centres of struggle to other contiguous areas contain intriguing moments, where same or similar traits of culture or language pervade amongst people. The spirit of awareness of identity had an interesting dynamic typical of ethnic communities. It is true that the colonial masters, with their education of the hill peoples through patronage had helped imbibe a spirit of dignity and awareness of the collective self against outsiders and ethno-national formation that began in the Naga districts of Assam had spread its influences in neighbouring hill village spaces in Manipur. On the other side, awareness of the self in certain others were also caused by the actions of the colonial masters who had attempted to impose a sense of the real to the autochthones, which were not their own. The movement of the Zeliangroung was therefore a new energy which started from the hills of Tamenglong in Manipur and spread in a reverse manner to that of the spread of the Naga consciousness emerging from Kohima. It spread to contiguous areas of North Cachar Hills and the Peren districts of present Nagaland. The movement took a form, which perhaps predates the present political position of the NSCN (IM), which General Muivah expanded in the current scenario, with fresher dimensions and fresher content and newer methodologies in practice.
Rani Gaidinlieu struggled for Zeliangroung unity through peaceful consultations with the Indian national leaders, and her personal relationship with the Nehru family, and the support of Zeliangroung intellectuals both in the governmental establishments in Nagaland and Manipur helped her pursue the dream of Zeliangroung unity without much fanfare and without much disturbance in the public sphere in Manipur till her death in 1993. The post Phizo Naga National workers perhaps had a sort of love and hate relationship with the Zeliangroung people, the dynamics of which the valley people of Manipur did not have a single idea for a long time.
As for the people of Mao and Tangkhuls in the northern and eastern hills of Manipur the story was different. Immediate contiguity of geography and closer connectivity with the centres of Naga struggle influenced the formation of the Naga National League under the leadership of the first graduate of the Mao people A. Daiho. Impressed by the 9 point agreement signed by the Governor of Assam Sir Akbar Hydari (who died in Manipur) with the NNC in 1947, Daiho led the non-co-operation movement against the state of Manipur and boycotted the Manipur elections of 1948. The general environment of the idea of the right of the secession which attracted global political movements in the decolonization periods after the Second World War also emboldened the Naga awakening in Manipur. Daiho, as one of the elites of his people, and in close connection with the Naga leaders in Kohima, along with subtle relationship with the erstwhile western masters in periodic consultations was deeply impressed with the universal political values of the right of peoples to experiment with newly formed polities for 10 years, with the right of secession in tow. The no House-tax campaign however was suppressed by the new state of Manipur utilizing the colonial method of forcible repression, with the help of the Assam Rifles, which had been inherited by the Dominion of India from the British masters. Three young Mao youths were sacrificed. Prof. Gangmumei Kamei wrote that the Naga National League died a natural death. The agitators were imprisoned at Dum Dum Central Jail. A. Daiho, after release from jail was made a member of the Advisory Council of the Chief Commissioner after Manipur’s Merger with India. N. Modoli, the Secretary of the NNL entered into the service of the Government of Manipur.
One must be aware that the Pan-Naga discourse interpreted the intense incident as having been deeply influenced by Naga national awakening for Naga solidarity and desire for Nagas to live under one administrative roof. But one is surprised that Daiho too willingly became a member of the Advisory Council to the Chief Commissioner, and N. Modoli, Secretary of the League, accommodated in the Manipur administration. It is also to be verified that not a single Naga village in Manipur participated in the Naga plebiscite of 1951. Actual participation of the Mao people was reported to have been led by one Beshikho Chaumai (spelling uncertain) who joined the NNC ranks in 1955.
As for the Tangkhul people, various openings in the new India’s constitutional structure, and opening of avenues of recognition and service for Manipur seem to have been considered by the elite leaders of the Tangkhul community. Through age-old relationship through blood and tradition of amity, leaders like Major R. Khathing, Miksha R. Shimray, Thisam Luikham, R. Suisa, Ngalangjar Ragui etc. were reported to have contributed to the unfolding mixed scenario of accommodation and development. It was perhaps in the sixties when the war between the Indian state and the Naga people became severe and violence and oppression became a daily feature of Naga experience, that volunteers from the hill areas of Manipur participated more ardently in the Naga cause. Leaders like R. Suisa and Rishang Keishing entered the constitutional politics of India, while Th. Muivah was learnt to have joined in the late sixties and soon rose in the ranks of NNC. A civil society body known as the Manipur Naga Council was formed in 1956, merging with the NNC in 1957. Angam Anal, and Z. Ramyo went underground. Z. Ramyo a handsome football player we saw often at the Imphal pologround was reported to be more capable than Muivah, and his unfortunate death in a car accident at the United States had cut short his contribution to the Naga cause, even though he was one of the signatories of the Shillong Accord of 1975. We are as yet to be informed fully of the participation of the Tangkhul community and their contribution to the Naga Independence movement. In fact the people in the plains of Manipur would be happier to side with Baba Khaplang’s statement that the ‘Tangkhuls are not Nagas, that they are elder brothers of the Meeteis’. There are plenty of each community’s folklore which are yet to be explored and investigated for their very meanings and values in search of proper history of decolonization.
I need not say more of the critical issues when the movement for Naga Independence became a discourse which became a bone of contention with the neighbouring communities of Manipur. The discourse has yet to be peacefully addressed if alternative aspirations are seeking recognition and legitimacy at the same time. Problems of the first peoples of the Northeast seem to have had a common experience of the over-recurring colonial experience, recycled through hegemonic penetration of ambitious powers refusing to acknowledge conflict under international humanitarian laws and values. I hope the Research Centre under the supervision of Rev. V.K. Nuh and his distinguished colleagues would discover deeper spiritual meanings in the course of their mission. A fuller, more intimate biography of A Zapu Phizo would surely emerge from the efforts of this precious venture.
I, on behalf of our people in Manipur, and my colleagues here on this august gathering, wish the Naga Archives & Research Centre success through God’s grace and we stand to extend support and co-operation to this noble task!