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OPINION | Who Made Nagaland a Battleground?

Representative image. (Credits: Rajeev Bhattacharyya)

Representative image. (Credits: Rajeev Bhattacharyya)

Naga negotiators, fearing for their lives and fratricidal bloodshed, aborted talks in 1966 and returned to the state. Eventually, it was pushed into an unprecedented inter-tribal fratricidal bloodshed.

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Dr Phirmi Bodo

The Naga Hills, before the birth of Nagaland, have always lived in a symbiotic relationship with the people of the plains of Brahmaputra Valley until 1873 when the British snapped ties between the two by bringing in the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation. Each village of present Nagaland was a self-sufficient unit in terms of its economy, social, cultural and governance, with their own laws and customary institutions to enforce the laws.

The term ‘Excluded Area’ was introduced in the Indian sphere, in the Government of India Act, 1935, which was largely a Simon Commission Report accepted by the British Parliament. In 1945, Naga Hill District Tribal Council (NHDTC) was formed as a structured organisation by British officer Charles Pawsey, ICS Deputy Commissioner, Naga Hill District, enabling people to represent themselves politically. Gradually, it turned into a political entity that could politically represent the district and converted into a new name -- Naga National Council (NNC).

NNC, the only body representing the people of Naga Hills District, was engaged with the central government and there was no evidence that it asked for or declared independence on August 14, 1947. When the Constitution of India was adopted and came into force, Phizo who was just released from jail under general amnesty and took political advantage and contested for the president of NNC in December 1950.

Interestingly, Phizo won the election with just one vote. Phizo even organised a plebiscite where there was no participation either from Manipur or the eastern part of Nagaland. After taking charge, Phizo changed the entire gamut of NNC movement and it turned violent. On the other side, the NNC got split and moderate leaders such as T Sakhire (co-villager of Phizo), TN Angami, JB Jasokie, Imkongliba Ao, SC Jamir and Vizol formed the NNC-R with an aim to stand against violence as they believed it would destroy the Nagas. There was an appeal of moderate leaders who did not support Phizo’s decision to wage armed struggle. During such an endeavor, Sakhire was killed by Phizo.

In order to save the Nagas from destruction and at the same time to ensure their inherent spirit and political aspirations were honored by a peaceful political pursuit by holding Naga peoples’ Convention in 1957, 1958 and 1959. All these years, while the moderate Naga leaders, facing threats to their lives by armed hardliners, continued mobilising the masses in support of peaceful solution. Imkongliba Ao, a very popular Naga Leader and NPC president who was responsible for successful negotiations with the government on political status of Naga areas, was assassinated by hardliners in August 1960 while returning home from his clinic.

Having launched a violent armed campaign for independence in December 1955, Phizo went underground to instigate people by recruiting cadres. The next year, with help from Pakistan's ISI and MI-6 of Britain, Phizo was facilitated to travel to London via Switzerland and later on took British Citizenship. Reverend Scott joined Phizo in Switzerland and accompanied him to London using a forged identity provided by MI-6. In early 1966, Scott during his stay in India clandestinely worked against the resolution of Naga issue by instigating the Naga people, selling the dreams of an independent Nagaland with international support. However, his anti-peace activities made him quit India with a notice and eventually he left the country.

Th Muivah, a Tangkul from Manipur, was made NNC General secretary and the separatist forces reached Manipur. Muivah had his own personal ambition and scuttled the peace talks by instigating Angamis in NNC against the Semas. In 1966, Muivah made a public resolution with a few selected hardliner leaders and warned the Naga negotiators of settling for anything short of full independence, which dealt a setback to the peace process.

The Naga negotiators, fearing for their lives and fratricidal bloodshed, aborted the talks and returned to Nagaland. Eventually, Nagaland was pushed into an unprecedented inter-tribal fratricidal bloodshed. Muivah, being a Tangkhul from Manipur, did not see his political future in Nagaland. By sabotaging the imminent peace deal and triggering an inter-tribal bloodshed in Nagaland, he ensured that not only the insurgency did not die in Nagaland but spread to Manipur to create a Greater Nagaland. When leaders of Naga people’s convention reached a settlement with the government of India for Nagaland, Tangkhuls thanked them and declined to be a part of Nagaland.

Muivah was deeply influenced by Mao’s guerilla success in China and his Communist ideology brainwashed the youth to join the Naga underground movement. China promised him assistance in terms of weapons and training for a revolutionary guerilla war against India. Muivah even misled the Nagas by exploiting their faith in Jesus Christ.

In 1980, Muivah formed the NSCN based on the ideology of Communism. However, Nagaland civil societies made several attempts to persuade him for unity. But Muivah rejected such attempts at reconciliation using strident Maoist jargon and instead launched a virulent propaganda campaign to isolate Angamis and Tenimiyas, accusing them of being Phizo loyalists and traitors. Armed with sophisticated Chinese weapons and guerilla training, he unleashed the Tangkhul cadres on his adversaries in Nagaland and also destroyed several hundred churches in eastern Nagaland.

SS Khaplang, a Myanmar Naga of Hemi tribe, who consider themselves kins of Konyak of Nagaland, also joined Muivah. While Nagaland, the epicentre of Naga underground movement was returning to normalcy, the two disgruntled leaders came together to keep violence alive. They perpetrated extensive violence on the Nagas already moving away from violence to peace. In 1988, the two separated.

Afterwards, pursuing the Chinese doctrine of bleeding their enemy through a thousand cuts, Muivah began patronizing various ethnic insurgencies in North-East. Taking advantage of the disturbed security scenario of the country in 1990s armed with Chinese weapons and largely NSCN (I/M) cadres’ unleashed wanton violence in Nagaland and became the theatre of severe violence. They killed a large number of Naga civilians. It is to be noted that in 1997, with an objective to restore peace in the region, the then government took an initiative to pacify the Naga militants through a peace agreement. NSCN (I/M)’s pre-condition of their exclusive privilege to the talks on the Naga issue claiming that they alone represented the Naga people. Besides, the ceasefire was limited between the Indian security forces so as not to launch any offensive operations against each other. It led to NSCN (I/M) using guns against other armed groups and killing several thousand Naga civilians.

Of late, it has become evident that the majority of Nagas are not in this journey of violence and bloodshed. Moreover, all senior leaders of NSCN-IM are not from the Nagaland and this makes prominent the claim that NSCN is not the voice of the state.

(The author is assistant professor at Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Views are personal.)


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