The Citizenship Amendment Bill/Act has quite sharply exposed the soft under-belly of the Naga leadership and the glaring gap that has grown in the Naga thinking ability since the days when the Naga leaders submitted their Memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929, surprising even our more educated neighbours in the region, 90 years ago.
Having apparently decided to hide behind the fig leaf of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, or the Innerline Permit, the Naga MPs in the Indian Parliament had voted for the CAB/CAA. And now, because of what they have done, the Nagas, as a whole, find themselves in a position from where they cannot say much more on the issue.
In 1929, the then Naga leaders demanded to be kept outside the Reformed Scheme of India because they were fearful that unless they took a firm pre-emptive step, the coming generations of Nagas would risk being flooded by outsiders and the Naga people would lose their lands, their cultures and their identity “and life will not be worth living then”. As a result of their now famous Memorandum to the Simon Commission, the Nagas were kept outside the Reformed Scheme of India through the Government of India Act, 1935, along with some other tribes who also were kept in the excluded or partially excluded zones.
Even the British Colonialists were mindful of the separateness of the tribes of the North East from mainland India and wanted to protect them. According to Governor Robert Reid, “neither racially, historically, culturally, nor linguistically have they (the tribes) any affinity with the people of the plains, or with the peoples of India proper. It is only by an historical accident and as a natural administrative convenience that they have been tacked on to an Indian province”.
He, therefore, said that “It is up to us (British) to see that they (the tribes) are given under our protection a period of respite within which they will develop on their own lines and without outside influence but if the present opportunity to give them that chance is let slip, the danger is that it will never occur”.
Under such considerations the Crown Colony concept was proposed just before the 2nd World War reached our lands and people. It was the Naga Memorandum to the Simon Commission and the above facts of our history that launched the beginnings of our people’s recent political journey!
The NPF has belatedly started questioning their MPs for voting for the CAB while the NDPP stayed silent after their party MP said he voted according to party instructions. The CAB was nothing new as it was already introduced in 2016. Following protests, particularly in the North Eastern region, it was kept in abeyance. But the BJP made it part of its election manifesto and openly stated that they would re-introduce it if voted to power. Tragic or comic, the people of India, including those in the North East, voted the BJP to power in such an unprecedented manner. At least in this case, the BJP did not lie, although they have lied in so many other cases.
Everybody in India and North East, including the Nagas, had the good part of three years to discuss and thrash out the issue threadbare. The Naga political parties could have come together, invited the tribe leaders as well, and together worked out a common stand for the Naga people. Sure, political parties have differences or are bound to have differences, but on issues that are clearly in the interest of the Naga people, they are expected to be able to come together. If they cannot work together in the interests of the Naga people they have no justification to try to lead our people.
To be fair, the Naga Political Talks as well as the sudden announcement of Naga Solution “within three months” by Governor Ravi stampeded the thinking of our people and acted as a big distraction. But there seemed to have been not much effort by Naga leaders at trying to come together and protecting the interests of the Naga people on this issue. Meanwhile, the daily newspaper wars through opposing/contradictory press releases, managed to keep the people well and truly confused about whether the ILP and Article 371A of the Indian Constitution were enough protection or not.
Why do our present leaders want to go and dilute/confuse our history when even the Government of India has formally accepted our “unique history and situation”? Everyone is also aware that the Innerline Permit (ILP) system has never quite worked. What happens when Innerline Permit defaulters are detected? The ILP defaulters are taken to the Dimapur train station! After that who knows what happens?! Our Innerline Permit system is effective only up to Dimapur Train Station! Moreover, the issue of the illegal migrants in the region is not a trickle but a flood! Also, as far as our people and the region are concerned, any migrant is the same because our concern is the “Demography!”
The Innerline Permit Issue should also have made our people aware that without the goodwill and cooperation of our neighbours, particularly Assam, Nagas would be helpless on the issue of tackling illegal immigrants. If nothing else, self-preservation instincts should have made the Naga leaders to be more sensitive to the feelings of Assam and Assamese people. The CAB/CAA, quite simply discarded the entire Assam Movement (which saw about 800 people killed in about six years of agitations against illegal immigrants) and the Assam Accord of 1985 at one go and without a second thought. The 1985 Assam Accord, signed with GoI, had March 1971 as the cut off date for accepting immigrants as citizens. Through the CAB/CAA, the BJP has added more than 40 years as the cut off date! How many millions of illegal migrants are we talking about in over 40 years? One estimate puts the figure at 70 lakhs (“Citizenship (Amendment) Act : The Assam Perspective” by Sandeep Borah & Mukut Medhi, East Mojo, December 24, 2019)! If just a million (10 lakhs) more enter Nagaland what will this do to Nagaland and the Nagas?
That some Assamese leaders, including the AGP a direct party/beneficiary of the Assam Accord who continue to remain in a coalition government with the BJP in Assam, were also voting for the CAB – or that Ranjan Gogoi of Assam as the Chief Justice of India presided over the NRC in Assam – should not have been reason for Naga leaders to do the same. We have a different history and we should remain true to it. No doubt, the Assamese people will sort out their own problems and we should let them do so. Nagas should have focused on doing what is right for our people and for the region in which we live. But, alas! The Naga of 1929 seems to have dissipated in today’s more educated and sophisticated environment although it is not even a century ago! How tragic for the Nagas.
Nagas are fond of recounting the meeting between Naga leaders and Mahatma Gandhi in 1947 when Gandhi explained his vision of India as a garden full of different beautiful flowers and how he wished the Nagas could be part of this garden. When the Naga leaders expressed their inability to do so, Gandhi said “Then the matter must stop there!”. But the Naga leaders were fearful that Indian leaders may resort to use of force. Gandhi’s reply was that in such an event he would come to Kohima and would be the first to be shot before any Naga was killed.
In an India as described by Gandhi Nagas, and others like them, might have been able to imagine finding a home. In Modi’s India, where one flower clearly takes precedence over all other flowers in the garden, things are more complicated and less sure! Many Nagas themselves have learned to be fickle and to suit different roles for personal benefit – In Christian terms we might even say that so many Nagas now believe in building their own private “heaven on earth” during their lifetime! For instance, if the BJP goes out of power tomorrow and another party sits in Delhi the Lotus in Nagaland may begin to wither and soon die! We will leave that to the future to have final say.
Despite excuses and justifications that will be trotted out, one can be sure that even the Naga political parties and the MPs themselves, cannot be terribly proud of what they have done. If the Naga political parties, and the Naga MPs, did not want to displease the BJP in view of the Naga Settlement, which everybody was made to believe was imminent, the Naga MPs could have abstained from voting on the CAB issue. Such a step would have been understandable in the circumstances, if not fully agreeable.
Now that the CAA issue has broken out not just as a nation-wide issue but also an international one, hopefully the Nagas are re-visiting the issue and where their stand ought to have been. Indeed, one thinks the Nagas should begin a whole new exercise based on who they are, their history and culture, where they live in the middle of Asia’s complex ethnic region, how far they have travelled as a people, where they are going and how they will survive as a people within the union of India, as good and true Indian citizens. For come the Naga settlement, that is what will happen!
President, Kohima Educational Society and author