Dating back to 1918, a few Nagas came together to form the Naga Club. In 1918, it gave its representation to the Simon Commission to claim a separate nation. The Nagas are a divided people on account of the tribal nature of the society. The territorial spread of the Nagas extends to some areas in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Before India’s independence, the Boundary Commission demarcated the Indo-Burma boundary accounting to some of Nagaland’s areas in present Myanmar.
The independence of India was followed by the Indian Government integrating the Naga areas with the state of Assam and India as a whole. This decision was not welcome by a section of the Naga leadership who wanted to remain a separate nation and in 1955, the Naga National Council declared the formation of an independent government and launching of a violent insurrection.
The government of India responded to it by sending its army to Nagaland to restore peace. The period between 1956 and 1963 was seen to be dominated by a series of negotiations which finally led to the separate existence of statehood, the Nagaland.
The military intervention that led to the formation of a state left the rebels with little popular support. This increased the resentment in the rebels, which led to frequent guerrilla activity by the Naga rebels trained in China, Pakistan and Burma. Negotiations to suppress these activities by the rebels who wanted a right to separate nation and identity was carried on in terms of of a Peace Accord signed in the Shillong Agreement in 1975. This accord led to the participation of some of the leaders in civilian politics but some still refused the discourse and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).
The NSCN – IM (Isak-Muivah) faction at present is the most influential group in the North East. Over the years, the outlook of the Muivah faction has evolved and the favourable conditions of a majority government in the centre has put it in a sweet spot to resolve the issue of Nagaland and integrate them culturally to be a part of India while giving them the right to preserve their cultural identity.
In the initial years after independence, during the consolidation of India as a nation, Jawaharlal Nehru, the main influence in shaping the attitude of the government towards the tribals, put it :
“The first problem we have to face there (in the tribal areas) is to inspire them (the tribal people) with confidence and to make them feel at one with India and to realise that they are a part of India and have an honoured place in it.”
At the same time he believed that “India should signify not only a protecting force but a liberating one“.
These were two basic parameters of the Nehruvian approach: ‘the tribal areas have to progress’ and ‘they have to progress in their own way’.
The Naga demands overall, are of two kinds, first being their political status. The Nagas have never been willing to give up on their sovereignty. Moreover, the Muivah-Ravi agreement talks of ‘shared sovereignty’ within the Indian constitutional framework.
The second demand looms over the geographical integration of Nagalim. As discussed earlier, the Nagas are scattered over parts of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. The integration of all these areas to form a political identity constitutes the second demand. If the centre gives in to this demand, it will create a problem in other states that have to give away a part of their land, leading to administrative difficulties.
The accord signed by the Modi government talks about the federal relation on the political side being renegotiated which provides for a platform of decisions to be taken on the State, Central and the Concurrent list.
The geographical issue, sadly, still remains a live issue on the table with a potential to create further agitation if not taken up soon. The peace accord, often coined a ‘historic’ accord by the media and the government, still remains troubled with a lot of questions left untouched, unanswered and far from resolved to be termed ‘historic’ yet.
The NSCN Khaplang faction that is largely scattered in parts of Myanmar, is unhappy with India signing a deal with Muivah and therefore undermining their role in the Naga Movement. The Indian government did send a team from Nagaland to Myanmar to speak to the Khaplang faction and renegotiate terms with them but the efforts of both Indian and Myanmar government to get both the parties to sort out the issue couldn’t find its way to success.
The trans-regional, trans-national and trans-border nature of the matter in question still does not address a lot of issues that stay alive and remain as complicated. It is important for India to understand the identity and autonomy demanded by the tribals and has an understanding that they (tribals) should have an equal contribution to make to the evolution of a common culture, and social and political life of the country.