by Gideon Shadang & Kekhrie Yhome
This article was originally published by the Eastern Mirror

Former Indian Prime Minister Mr. A.B. Vajpayee said the Indo-Naga talks should not harp on the absolute issue of “sovereignty” and therefore it should be “unconditional.” So, the Collective Leadership (NSCN) sermonized to the Naga frontal organizations that sovereignty of Naga nation is not a plausible issue to be discussed at the moment and, thus, the Naga civil societies uncritically fed the same opinion to the general public and it was made to believe that owing to the changing international scenario of inter-dependent state system the issue of sovereignty must be purged from the aspiration of the Nagas. In other words Nagas have to find solution within the Indian Union and, subsequently, the entire gamut of political aspiration of a Naga nation state was eliminated from the discussion. Thereafter, NSCN began to engage with government of India on the redefined political stance of “Unique History and Situation of Nagas.”

After prolonged negotiation with Government of India ever since ceasefire was signed in 1997, the Government of India in a Joint Communiqué with NSCN on July 11, 2002 officially recognized “the unique history and situation of the Nagas.” Based on this newfound political expression the NSCN presented a proposal for “Special Federal Relationship with India.” Although, the Naga negotiators believed that the expression “unique history and situation of Nagas” is conceptually political and embodies sufficient characteristics of popular sovereign state, Government of India perceives the same expression literally and reduced it as a mere assertion for recognition of “unique history and identity of Nagas.” Therefore, the Government of India convinced the Collective Leadership that the Constitution of India is spacious enough to explore possibilities for protecting and accommodating the “unique history and identity of Nagas,” entrapping them into contemporary discourses on federalism, which is not only fashionable but also tricky and interminably corrosive with nuances.

While reiterating the rhetoric to “think outside the box,” which surprisingly was taken literally by the Naga negotiators, the Government of India, in 2007, devised constitutional experts to formulate the aspiration of the Nagas within India’s Constitution. As a result, the discussion on the subject for “special federal relationship” with India was dropped from the table, and the struggle for Nagas’ self-determination went on to look for a leeway to fit within India’s Constitution. Ideologically, in the most famished display, the demand of the Nagas for self-determination was resurrected with the slogans: “No Integration, No Solution” or “Solution Not Election” – in full throttled support from all frontal Naga organizations.

This development led Government of India to believe that the 60 years long bloodshed was a mere “identity crisis” and power parley articulated by the elite Nagas. It was also interpreted and painted as an “ethnic politics” and “electoral politics” by Indian scholars and media and therein it encouraged knee-jerk reactions from the neighbouring communities as they felt threatened that ethnic filtration in Naga dominated areas would expunge the minorities within the territory. However, the mammoth challenge before the effort to integrate Naga areas came from the neighboring states, whose fear of losing chunks of territories and demographic statistics also means slicing a huge pie away from their budgetary coffers. They accused the state of Nagaland for irredentist politics at the expense of other states. Unable to articulate the rights of the Nagas, the Collective Leadership gave in to the pressure of the neighboring states and Delhi and thereby the agenda for integration of Naga areas was subtly cast aside in the most preposterous rhetoric of phase-wise integration program. However, NC Hills of Assam or the much-politicized land-transferred Naga districts of Assam during British rule are no longer in the imaginative frame of a territorial negotiation, as is seen today.

Not surprisingly, in the phase-wise integration program the United Naga Council (UNC) became the launching pad with a proposal of “alternative arrangement” for the Nagas in the present state of Manipur. Such shoddily clad reactive and emotive activism did not only reflect sectarian politics within the Naga national cause but exacerbated the acute relation between Meiteis and the Nagas. Meiteis were made to believe that Nagas are merely attempting to paint the Meiteis as non co-habitable community in the eyes of the world. Therefore, Meiteis leave no stone unturned to seize the moment while denouncing Nagas’ quest as mere ethnic politics disregarding the modern civic nation-state values. Meiteis began to reassert even stronger for their lost Manipuri kingdom, which presumptuously covers the expanse of entire Naga territory and Chin-Kuki-Mizo landed areas. It has emboldened Meites insurgents to boldly harp on pre-merger status or, until recently, even prompted All Manipuri United Club Organizations to demand the retransfer of Kabaw Valley, from Myanmar.

Although Meiteis’ redundant claim is based on the feudalistic historicity and cosmic construction of Manipuri Kingdom which ruled over some Nagas at the behest of colonial British for a brief period, Government of India also could not undermine such state-formation since India itself is founded on the same colonial structure based on the feudal social system. Government of India took serious notice of such systematic disturbances that could affect the entire nation-state system of India and, therefore, at best, the issue of alternative arrangement is left to the Government of Manipur. Schemingly, Government of India is very much aware of the decision making structure in Manipur, wherein, two-third legislative representatives are Meiteis and that would invariably oppose any agenda of the Nagas. Also, by subversively non-conducting Census of India for 2001 and 2011 in parts of the District of Senapati, the equations of population and representational politics is skewed by erasing the existence of a portion of tribal population (including Nagas).

Talks between the UNC and the Government of Manipur with observers from Delhi incorrigibly failed, as expected. Since the Government of Manipur’s hard-line stance failed to budge on the of UNC’s demand for “alternative arrangement,” the Collective Leadership on the negotiating table were easily persuaded by Government of India to jettison territorial solution for Nagas in view of non-territorial supra-state model. A “non-territorial supra-state model” is specifically designed to give cultural autonomy to the Nagas with locally administered financial package directly funded from Delhi. Although Assam and Arunachal Pradesh do not find any problem with this solution, the Meiteis stiffly opposed it as they see the legitimacy of the history of Manipuri kingdom getting delegitimized, since their socio-cosmic picture includes Nagas as a composite cultural group of their kingdom. Therefore, the discussion on the Naga issue further condescended on the idea of devising the Nagas of Manipur under Sixth Scheduled of the Constitution of India or extending article 371(A) in all Naga inhabited areas. However, in recent press statements from the Government of Manipur, Ibobi Singh is stated to have had flatly opposed granting of any of these provisions to the Nagas in Manipur. Ibobi’s defiance against insertion of such provisions for the Nagas of Manipur majorly spring from the insecure fear that such constitutional provisions to the Nagas will prevent Government of Manipur to exploit the land and resources of the Nagas. In a recently concluded “Discussion on Naga National Issue” with the Indian civil societies in Delhi, Sujit Chakraborty, an observant journalist from Tripura, mentioned in his paper that a solution may not find possibility even within Sixth Schedule or even Article 371(A).

In the ongoing so-called Indo-Naga talks, the historic Naga struggle for self-determination has consciously or unconsciously scaled through different indeterminate terrains of political bargains. It is like a company shop offering successive discounts: season’s sale, post-season’s sales, and finally clearance sales! Firstly, it began as a political movement with the idea that Nagas are equally a nation with inherent rights and capacity to determine its own state system to govern its people. However, it got condescended and the discourse suddenly centered on the protection of its history, culture and identity. Secondly, it further got reduced as a mere constitutional problem wherein it failed to accommodate the aspiration of the Nagas within the Indian Union. Finally, it now appears that the entire Naga cause is hinged on the failure of state machineries and power politics among the ethnic groups in the state (i.e. Manipur).

Given the currents of political development, what needs to be seriously pondered is the question of what is the Nagas’ cause. Is it simply an attempt to adjust with the established institutional organs of Indian state system and changing facets of Indian politics? Nagas have not only failed to clinch the issue steadfastly but have consistently failed to identify problems in its process of revolutionary cause. Negotiation indeed is like haggling over the price and discount of a political commodity! The emergence of phrase dropping like “shared sovereignty” – as a frantic display of exhausted political directions – is but an import of some European and Pacific counselors, partisan to Nagas but who have little perception of dynamics in Indian politics and constitutionality. As of now, the triumvirs of NSCN, Naga Hoho and NPF-led government, out of their sheer anguished ideological stance, sell the same idea, which Government of India has been selling, since when: “What is not possible?”

Whether it is the recent statement of Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio paraphrasing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, or Naga Hoho paraphrasing the words of Neiphiu Rio, what is impossible a hundred years before would not be possible even a hundred years from now, indeed? At the heart of negotiations between Government of India and NSCN is the monumental truth of what is not possible! Unlike the “indefinite ceasefire,” the answer this time appears to be definite! Although catchy but empty slogans like “politics is the art of the possible” keep reinventing power politics and mesmerizing its intended audience, the practice and progress of politics is clear evidence between what is apparent impossibility and public deception! The talk-about-the-talk, as the Irish calls it, certainly needs to either radically transform itself or come out plain clean with honest confessions of negotiating failures.

(Gideon Shadang is a doctoral candidate in western and modern political thoughts, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and Kekhrie Yhome features a column under A Little Chat for Eastern Mirror’s Thursday edition)

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