It has become almost a cyclic phenomenon. Ever since the signing of the what has since come to be known as the “Framework Agreement” on August 3, 2015, periodically there have been bouts of elations as well as anxieties (depending on the vantage), that a final solution to the Naga insurgency problem was around the corner. Each time they ended up with nothing substantial materialising, largely because of many internal contradictions within the ethnic cauldron that the Northeast veritably is, but more specifically within the very structure and composition of the Naga society and identity itself.
With the Nagaland State Assembly election less than a year from now, yet again speculations on a Naga solution has entered public discursive space. This time however, indications are, something will materialise, whether this will be satisfactory or not to all stakeholders, is another matter.
These writings on the walls have been evident for long, but unfortunately those who did not like these messages chose not to read them, deliberately sometime, but probably also because of the resort to the Freudian ego defence mechanism, one of which is for the subconscious mind to filter out gravely uncomfortable or embarrassing information which are likely to undermine the ego’s self-image.
The fact of the matter is, there is now a clear split in the outlooks within the larger Naga movement. On the one hand are the conglomerate of seven underground factions coming together under the umbrella of Naga National Political Group, NNPG, all of which are based largely within the state of Nagaland. On the other side is the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, NSCN(IM), still the strongest of the Naga underground factions, but with base increasingly confined within the Naga areas of Manipur. The later still does have some footholds within the Sema tribe of Nagaland but after the death of Isak Chishi Swu, the “I” in the “IM”, even this seems to be loosening. Some of the most outspoken, bitter and prominent underground as well as overground critics of the NSCN(IM) in Nagaland today are indeed from amongst the Semas.
The other fact is, the NNPG seems to have reconciled with the reality that there can be no settlement outside the Indian constitution, unlike the NSCN(IM) which still insists of a separate flag and constitution for the old dream of a unified Naga homeland that expands beyond the borders of Nagaland and into neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. There also seems to be a hardening of position with each passing year. The NNPG as well as a larger section of Nagas of Nagaland, now are not just ready for a compromise towards separate settlements for Nagas of Nagaland and Nagas outside Nagaland, but actually seem to want this.
Good or bad, this is the emerging reality and this has to be taken cognizance of. As the saying goes, there is nothing as a permanent relationship, and indeed friends have turned foes and foes friends practically everywhere over time. The only way to sustain healthy relationships is to constantly nurse and nurture them, and in the case of bad relationships, to search for ways to mend differences. What has to be realised is that conditions for any relationship change with changing times, and those who wish to keep a relationship going or else altered it, must be always willing to accommodate the ever changing circumstances in which the relationship exists. This would be much like parents having to adjust to the changing needs and aspirations of their children as they grow. Not acknowledging his can only lead to frictions and even disasters.
Sovereignty ruled out
Nobody was in any serious doubt Naga sovereignty could ever have been negotiated across the table. However, so long as the vision of a sovereign Nagaland was in the horizon, the grand project of a unified Naga homeland remained attractive. But when it became clear the settlement is to be for a state within India, many in Nagaland seem to be saying, strengthening the present state of Nagaland is the best option for them. The NNPG certainly is doing so openly.
This should not be too difficult to fathom. For as a bigger state of India, with nearly three times the number of tribes, it is foreseeable how much the problems of power and resource sharing would be compounded in the new Nagaland, and Nagas of Nagaland is also unlikely to remain the privileged group. In terms of numbers too, Nagaland’s 16 recognized tribes would also be far less than the halfway mark.
However, in this situation of a proposed settlement with the original goalposts changed, a majority of NSCN(IM)’s leadership and cadres, including Muivah, would be left out, as most of them are from tribes outside Nagaland. The insistence on a separate flag and constitution for the Nagas by the NSCN(IM) probably is also informed by the aversion of such a future.
Again, it should be remembered that the NSCN came into being in 1980 after a then younger generation of Naga rebel leaders, in particular Th. Muivah, Isak Chishi Swu and S.S. Khaplang, rejected the Shillong Accord of 1975 in which an agreement was reached between Naga rebels and the Government of India for a settlement within the Indian constitution, as a betrayal of the Nagas. If NSCN(IM) were to now agree to an unconditional settlement within the Indian constitution, it would be an admission of a 48-year mistake in rejecting the Shillong Accord. This indeed is an unenviable situation for the NSCN(IM).
Ripeness is all
In one of William Shakespeare’s grand tragedies, King Lear, the son of the Earl of Gloucester, Edgar’s intuitive wisdom in one of his casual verdicts says it all. When his father showed pique at the unkind fate King Lear was dealt, Edgar remarked: “What, in ill thoughts again? Men must endure. Their going hence even as their coming hither. Ripeness is all. Come on.”
Like King Lear who remained a faithful adherent to a past era and values, a generation of revolutionaries thrown up by the oppressive circumstances of a time of yore, remain wedded to their original dreams of sovereignty, and are unable to accept the radically changed circumstances in the decades that have gone by. This is true of not just the Nagas but also of many other communities in the Northeast. As the timeless saying goes, the only thing constant is change, hence no revolution can also continue to be fought on 70-year-old slogans. At the turn of an epoch, those not resilient enough to accommodate and adjust to the paradigmatic changes, probably are fated be left with a bitter sense of betrayal and defeat as King Lear certainly was.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author