Vexed Naga Issue
Both the Naga and the larger Indian leadership need to abandon wornout notions to embrace emerging opportunities.
The talks being conducted by the government with the Nagas through the NSCN (IM) appears to have entered the final lap. Both sides by now well understand the other. After meetings with the prime minister and home minister, Muivah is currently in dialogue with the new interlocutor, R S Pandey, a just retired IAS officer drawn from the Nagaland cadre. He succeeded K Padmanabhiah who over several rounds of talks with Muivah and Iasac Swu, patiently constructed the framework within which a settlement is now sought.
The government’s acceptance of the ‘unique’ history of the Nagas laid the foundations of trust and further progress. The NSCN (IM) started with two primary demands, sovereignty and Nagalim, or the unification of all Naga-inhabited areas within India (and ‘eastern Nagaland’ in Myanmar). Over time, the government has more or less been able to persuade the NSCN (IM) that the states within India’s structure of cooperative federalism are co-sovereigns within a commonwealth. Going beyond that, however, it has conceded that the Nagas’ unique identity merits unique recognition through additional devolution within the framework of the Constitution.
The NSCN (IM) was asked to consider what part of the Indian Constitution the Nagas were freely willing to accept and what additional heads, safeguards and features they might wish to inscribe within a special ‘Naga constitution’ that could perhaps be incorporated as a separate chapter within the Indian Constitution. Critics might scream, but a moment’s reflection will convince them that there are many mini-constitutions or special dispensations within the Indian Constitution. These are spelt out in Articles 370, 371, and 371-A (pertaining to Nagaland) to 371-I and the Fifth and Sixth Schedules, and extend to special affirmative action covenants pertaining to the scheduled castes and tribes, OBCs, and religious and linguistic minorities. All these subtle variations are so much part of our constitutional and social landscape and have been so completely internalised that we often fail to note their existence.
Some of this might be done by transferring to the State List certain items that are now in the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule through a constitutional amendment. This should not be problematic as some of this has already been done to a limited extent in the existing Article 371-A. Still wider devolution is possible through Article 258 under which the Centre is empowered to ‘entrust’ to a state “any matter to which the executive power of the Union extends.” None of this will affect the unity and integrity of the country because of the accommodative genius of the Indian Constitution. Nor is there any cause to fear a domino effect, whatever others may claim, as the Naga case is sui generis.
The other issue of Nagalim too is not intractable. The imagined boundaries of Nagalim, as sometimes drawn, have little historical basis as the Naga tribes, like their cousins in much of the Northeast, have been and perhaps still are migratory.
Dimapur, for instance, the most prized territorial plum, was the capital of the Dimasa kingdom. It is now a predominantly Naga city and so it must remain, despite Dimasa claims, as history cannot be rolled back.
The solution lies not in territorial reorganisation, which will be resented and resisted, but in the coming together of these other Naga populated areas in a non-territorial entity. This would permit a coming together of all Nagas for purposes of economic, social and cultural development without derogation of current administrative jurisdictions.
An example of this is to be found in the existing apex councils first created by Hiteshwar Saikia in Assam to accommodate the common interests of small scattered tribes like the Tiwas, Rabhas and Mishings who live in non-contiguous villages spread over a wider area. The apex councils elect an executive body to administer a devolved budget and plan through their own key personnel in case of ‘transferred subjects.’
In a non-territorial ‘Naga peoplehood,’ however, distinctively Naga areas in Assam, Arunacal and Manipur could be empowered to administer common programmes of economic and social development. This could be done by means of any of several administrative devices overseen by the parent state on the one hand that enable the administered units across state boundaries to sing from the same page.
Imaginative and creative solutions are available. Some already exist; others can be enabled by constitutional amendment. The K-group has denounced the IM-group for forsaking ‘sovereignty.’ These are bargaining counters. Yet, it is absolutely necessary to get on board all shades of Naga opinion, IM, K and the two factions of the Naga National Council that Phizo founded, to endorse an overall settlement.
That Muivah is a Thangkul Naga from Manipur and Khaplang a Hemi Naga from Burma does not matter. Given a just and true settlement, each can find a place of honour in the new scheme of things. Nobody need feel left out.
It is necessary to travel in order to arrive. Both the Naga and the larger Indian leadership and societies need to abandon wornout notions to embrace emerging opportunities. An end to Naga conflict will be a triumph and a balm and will signal that insurgency anywhere is not the path to peace and progress.