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Naga Peace Parleys: Sociological Reflections and a Plea for Pragmatism

The Naga conflict encompasses a unique and complex history straddling both the British and post-independence periods. Against the backdrop of this complexity, this essay highlights the ethnic, historical and cultural roots of the Naga issue and discusses solutions that have been advanced at various times. This essay argues that maximum use should be made of the Constitution's flexibility and adaptability and the Naga desire for peace. In this context, it examines the possibility of the "non-territorial model" as a way forward in the ongoing Indo-Naga peace talks.


Naga Peace Parleys: Sociological Reflections and a Plea for Pragmatism

N K Das

The Naga conflict encompasses a unique and complex history straddling both the British and post-independence periods. Against the backdrop of this complexity, this essay highlights the ethnic, historical and cultural roots of the Naga issue and discusses solutions that have been advanced at various times. This essay argues that maximum use should be made of the Constitution’s flexibility and adaptability and the Naga desire for peace. In this context, it examines the possibility of the “non-territorial model” as a way forward in the ongoing Indo-Naga peace talks.

A shorter version of this article was presented in a seminar on ethnicity and social unrest organised by the Department of Sociology, North Bengal University, Siligudi in March 2010. The author is grateful to Virginius Xaxa, Partha Nath Mukherjee, Abhijit Mitra, R K Bhadra, Rajat K Das and Ajit K Danda for valuable comments. The views expressed here are those of the author alone.

N K Das ( was formerly at the Anthropological Survey of India, Kolkata.

egarded as precursor of most insurgencies of north-east India, the Naga national movement (active since the 1950s) is one of the oldest unresolved armed conflicts in the world. A solution of the Naga insurgency is reliant on two issues: Naga demands of “sovereignty” and a “Greater-Nagalim”. Talks are going on right now. In order to understand the essence of the Naga political issue, this article aims to highlight the ethnic, historical and cultural rootedness of Naga politics, and discusses solutions advanced by Indian state and by intellectuals. This article explores this long-standing movement from the sociological perspective of the growth of Naga ethnicity and the crucial historical contexts, notably the decisive moments and the major efforts made during last 60 years to arrive at an acceptable solution. Naga territorial connectivity, social formation processes and articulation of Naga ethnic identity is briefly elucidated too.

Historical Foundations of Territorial Claims

The Nagas and many other tribes of north-east India claim that their territories did not form part of the lawful territory of India at the time of the transfer of power from the British crown. Indeed, at that time the region had disjointed and ambiguous geopolitical and administrative divisions of the Brahmaputra and Surma valley (districts) under the control of the Assam government; the excluded and partially excluded areas (the hills areas, also mostly under the control of the Assam government); and the princely states of Manipur, Tripura and the Khasi Syiemships. This design of segregation of people within dissimilar polities, and imposition of regulation such as “inner-line” and other such measures gradually led to perceptions of “exclusion” and marginalisation and an acute sense of resentment based on feelings of “in-group” vis-à-vis “out-group” (Das 2009).

Let us briefly discuss the development of Naga territorial “segregation”. The people of the Naga Hills, in the past, were not known as Nagas. The people of the Naga Hills maintained varied contacts with the Indian territories in the past (the plains of Assam and Manipur) and were called by varied names. The Ahom kings, right from 1228, until the British annexation of Assam in 1826, had contacts with numerous Naga tribes; certain Nagas had become “subjects” of Ahom kings, who often fought the Nagas to possess their salt wells. Ahom kings granted revenue free canals and plots to Naga Khats (Das and Imchen 1994; Ramunny 1988: 11). These were arranged with the understanding that the Nagas would refrain from “raids” in the Assam plains. Trade relation existed too and Nagas favoured barter trading of salt, cotton, medicinal herbs, ivory, bees wax, mats,

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and daos (adzes) for Assamese rice, cloth, and beads (Das and Imchen 1994: 20). The Nagas also had the tradition of exchanging tributes with Ahom rulers.

In the Manipur court the Nagas enjoyed high status. Hill Nagas participated in festive events of the kingdom. After the British annexation of Assam in 1820, military expeditions were sent into Naga areas between 1835 and 1851, and subsequently Naga areas had come under various political/administrative regimens as per British era documents (International Boundary Study 1968, Bengal – The Imperial Gazetteer of India 1908, and The Report on the Frontier Areas (Committee of Enquiry), 1947). Kekhriesituo Yhome (2010) says formal fixation and division of the Burma-India borderline, traceable to the treaty of Yandaboo, ended the Anglo-Burmese war in 1826, thereby obliging Burma to relinquish Assam to India. The Arakan mountains then formed the boundary (International Boundary Study 1968: 7).

The proclamation of 1874 brought the territories of Kamrup, Darrang, Nowgong, Sibsagar, Lakhimpur, Garo Hills, Khasi and Jaintia Hills, Naga Hills, Cachar and Goalpara under the lieutenantgovernor of Bengal (The Imperial Gazetteer of India 1908: 53). The 1880s witnessed intensive surveying and the induction of precise pillars as the boundary line. Much later, the Government of India Act, 1935 formally separated Burma from British India. Amazingly, at the time of independence of both India and Burma, the “Burma-India borderline” was not specified in the Independence Acts. It was done in 1967 through a bilateral agreement signed between India and Burma. The Burma-India boundary agreement of 1967 was the first Act to delimit the legitimate Burma-India boundary. These provide the unique historical contexts which “placed” the several hill tribes including the Nagas. Assam (and neighbouring territories) came under British India in phases, and at last it became a full province with a governor in 1921. Manipur and Tripura remained “princely states” in the British domain.

Inner-Line Regulation

The inner-line regulation, passed in 1873, drew certain clear-cut lines between the hills and plains of Assam. The hills were excluded from the operation of general Acts and regulations under the Scheduled District Act, 1874. It was so also under Section 52A of the Government of India Act, 1915 (Montague Chelmsford Report, 1918). The Indian Statutory Commission 1929-30 (Simon Commission) recommended, through the Government of India Act, 1935, regrouping (as excluded and partially excluded areas) through Areas Order (1936: 19). The Naga Hills District became an excluded area, under the governor of Assam. After the transfer of power, the new Indian (Provincial Constitutional) Order, 1947, by and large, retained the provisions contained in the Government of India Act, 1935 about these areas (Kumar 1999). The strategic location of the north-east had a special place in the plan of the British, who had proposed an unrealistic “Crown Colony” under the “Coupland Plan”, which could not be launched. Such proposals and other colonial biases were specially floated for blurring the vision of local ethnic groups, including the Nagas, who wanted to plan their own future. At the time of transfer of power, the above divergent geo-historical placements of the

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hills territories led to certain suspicions in the minds of people, like the Nagas.

Administrative Cataloguing and Deceptive Ethnography

The Nagas are not a single “tribe”, but rather a constellation of dissimilar tribes. They nonetheless share numerous common ethnic customs, and material/cultural traits (Das 1998). Some 17 groups in Nagaland, seven groups in Manipur and three in present-day Assam are officially declared the Naga “scheduled tribes”. The scheduled status provides numerous special provisions in government employment, educational institutions and participation in democratic framework. However, the “official” ethnic-names, most of which were invented in the colonial era, are regarded by the people to be flawed (Das 1982, 1994, 1998). So much so that the externally imposed nomenclature “Naga”, now established, is historically linked to an “imaginary” valueloaded coinage. From “headhunting” days till the colonial era, the Nagas gradually expanded their “ethnic” boundaries, as also their ethnonyms, as they, gradually, came in contact with exogenous political powers. Each localised Naga “tribe”, based in a village or a cluster of villages, had a blurred idea about its maximal tribal boundary, as inter-tribe relations existed in hostile terms only. Most tribes differently identified themselves and often placed claims on territories of neighbours. Indeed, the Naga “tribes” had smaller territorial spread.

It became imperative for the administration to evolve some pattern of classification, mainly through fusing the smaller entities. The ruthless pigeonholing led to fabrication of several collective names such as Angami, Ao, etc. The name “Angami” belongs to section “Tengima” (Tengimi), but the British established the label Angami not only for the Tengima but also for several other “tribes” living contiguously, such as Chakroma, Tengima, Chakrima (Chakrama), Kezami, Memi and Dzunokehena (Zounuo-Keyhonuo). Field research of this author reveals that these six tribes (within Angami) never formed an interactive network and, they never interacted with each other (Das 1985, 1993: 24). With the aim of deconstructing colonial categories and upholding the self-perception of the Naga tribe, this author took up for intensive legal anthropological study of one section of Angami – the Zounuo-Keyhonuo, who regard their “tribe” as a giant patri-clan having descended from “Zounuo” and “Keyhonuo”, twin apical ancestors. A segmentary kinship principle, and a moiety order, encompasses interlocking descent groups (thenu, sarra, punumi, etc), which are demonstrable in a pyramidal genealogical superstructure (Das 1982, 1993).

Just like the Zounuo-Keyhonuo, the Tikhir, the Chirr and the Makware resent their inclusion within the Yimchunger label. There are many such examples. While studying the Chakhesang tribe in the Phek-Meluri areas, in the early 1980s, this author confronted the Pochury Nagas, who retained distinct myths, kinship patterns and a dialect. Hence, a separate report for the Pochury was written (Das 1994d). After a few years, they became a distinct Naga tribe. Another example is the nomenclature predicament of the Zeliangrong people, which is again an acronym of several Naga tribes spread in three states. “Zeliangrong-Nagas”, whose demands were pursued peacefully by Rani Gaidinliu (Das 1996), are recognised as the Zeliang and the Kabui in Nagaland, as the Kacha Naga


and the Kabui in Manipur and as Zemi/Jeme and the Kabui in Assam. This author has prepared the first authenticated ethnographic and cartographic map of Zeliangrong by visiting these three states in early 1980s. Indeed the Indian state blindly follows the valueloaded ethnic cataloguing of the colonial “masters” even today.

Folklore collected earlier by this author in late 1970s and again during the People of India study (1985-1989) indicates that most Naga tribes are immigrants, and non-indigenous. Legends indicate immigration and absorption of segments and clans of “tribes”, mainly amongst Sangtam and Chakhesang Nagas (Das 1993: 23). The Angami, Chakhesang, Lotha, Rengma and Sema have a shared myth of origin from a single stock (getting separated and acquiring separate identities in distinct hill ranges). A popular folktale narrates that the ancestors of the Lotha, Sema, Rengma and the Angami had migrated together from certain location in south-east Asia and after immigration lived together at “Kezakenoma” (in Manipur), before they were pushed by the Tengima. The remaining three groups went to Themoketsa hill where the Rengma split off, the Lotha settled in and around Wokha, and the Sema settled down in Zhonobot area (Das 1993: 25, Das 1994 a, b, c, d). Ahoms and early British called the Konyak and other sections as Banferia and Jobokia, as per the mountain passes they used to visit the Assam plains. Indeed the names of Naga tribes appearing in the 13th century Ahom-Buranjis [chronicles] are difficult to identify and locate today.

Writings of colonial era administrator-scholars (J H Hutton, J P Mills 1922, 1926, etc) suffered from an Oriental imaginary, value pattern and the outsider’s perspective. Sweeping generalisations are rampant because of clumsy fusion of various sections of Nagas within unscientific amalgamated ethnic entities, as argued by me in the case of the Zounuo-Keyhonuo Naga (1985, 1993). About the pre-Hutton period British ethnographies, Elwin (1961:1) remarked, “there are many mistakes and misunderstanding of customs and institutions of the Nagas”. Edmund Leach used some materials from Hutton’s writings. Leach observed that Kachin political units were unstable, differing from one another in scale and principles of structure (Leach 1954). Leach devised ideal types using old ethnographies for the models of the gumsa (hereditary aristocracy, based on Konyak and Sema Naga chiefs) and gumlao (based on Angami Naga “democratic” polity). Dewar (1931), compared Kachin-Naga hereditary headmen.

This author was privileged to study several Naga tribes over three decades and report about their kinship, legal, political and economic systems. The eastern Nagas, such as Chang, Khiamngan and Sangtam were ethnographically neglected tribes till we studied them (Das 1994a, b, c, d). All Chang Nagas are divided into just four exogamous clans – Kangshau, Ong, Hongang and Lamou (Das 1994b). According to their legend, it was the Kangshau ancestor who had emerged from the earth before all others. Hence the members of this clan are accorded the highest position in the village level stratification. Members of this clan normally established the new villages.

A direct link is established between the clan system and the system of political and religious domains among the Changs, as among other Naga tribes. It is seen that, descent groups, clan/ lineage territories and age sets, which define the core elements of Naga societies could not be broken or weakened by colonial interventions or modern transformations. When this author visited the Chui chief Ang’s house way back in 1976, the chief (Ang) informed that he had “lost” his powers but he enjoyed traditional economic privileges and certain political rights. In pre-colonial times, not even the village but the clan (khel) was a more significant unit, politically. Clans remained basic social-political units and they united occasionally for “self-protection” against a common enemy (Das 2006). Every clan was subject to the authority of its senior male members who derived their status through the age set system, and other principles (Das 2006). Village/clan “headmen”, gaon-bura, and Dobhashis (entrusted with law enforcement) are all recognised till date in the same manner as they were in the colonial era (Das 1994, 1998; Das and Imchen 1994).

Having worked for long time in most parts of Nagaland and Manipur hills this author believes that tribes like Nagas and Kukis show similarity and variation in structure and also in administration of justice and in varied headmen/chiefs. Indeed the “dominant” presence of Nagas in Nagaland-Manipur hills zones had prompted some Kuki tribes of Manipur such as the Anal, Mayon, Monsong, Lamgang, Chothe, Chiru and Kom to opt for “Naga” nomenclature.

The Kukis, though originating from the Chin ethnic brand, were subjected to multiple identities in historical contexts, as they maintained greater migratory tendencies. Amazingly some reports described them as Nagas in 1929, though they are hostile to each other today. Hutton, Furer-Haimendorf, and W C Smith have listed shared physical and cultural traits of Nagas, which paralleled with traits of the neighbouring tribes and even people of south-east Asia. The Kuki-Chin identity is a well-established one in the Manipur-Mizoram-Nagaland-Burma zones. The early colonial ethnographers recorded Kukis as Chin in the Chin Hills, Lushai in the Lushai Hills and Kuki in other parts of north-east India. The Burmese government vaguely identifies several subethnic groups under “Chin” nomenclature, of which some are: Awa Khami, Chin, Gunte (Lyente), Gwete, Kaung, Khami, Khawno, Lushei (Lushay), Lyente, Meithei (Kathe), Mgan, Mi-er, Miram (Mara), Naga, Ngorn, Sentang, Taishon, Tanghkul, Tapong, Thado, Tiddim (Hai-Dim), Wakim Zo, and Zo-Pe.

In the Burmese classification then the Kuki, Naga and Meiteis, belonging to single mongoloid stock and speaking Tibeto-Burman languages, are all categorised in a single “ethnic” category. In India, the government recognises Kukis, Meiteis and Nagas as three separate ethnic entities. Meiteis, despite their limited adoption of Hinduism, do retain many tribal practices and the clanship structure seems more in tune with tribal social formations. These historical factors may have prompted “tribes” such as Aimol, Anal, Maring, Monsang, Moyon Kom, Thangal to adopt the Naga “identity” for availing advantages. Today however Naga-Kuki enmity is more apparent in terms of their respective claims for territorial supremacy, mostly in those parts/districts of Manipur which are claimed by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) as part of the “declared Nagalim”.

Colonial Intrusion, Naga Grievances and Conflicting Naga Targets

The origin of Naga dissent, traceable to explicit colonial patronage, may be seen in the British backing of a rudimentary “club” in 1918. Called the “Naga Club” and consisting informally of some

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Naga government officials it submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission on 10 January 1929. All 20 signatories were mainly from Kohima, mostly the Angamis. No representative of other Nagas met the Simon Commission (Ramunny 1988: 11). The memorandum disapproved the scheme of reforms and argued, “You (British) are the only people who have ever conquered us and when you go we should be as we were”. Socio-economic

issues raised pertained to poor education; small population and fear of impending “alien” rule. They feared their minority presence in the Council of the Assam province would be politically inconsequential. The text of the memorandum showed the emergence of “ethnic-solidarity” (Das 1982, 1994, 2006).

The Naga Club induced the birth of several Naga councils [Lotha council 1923, Ao council 1928] and others by the mid1940s (Das 1982). British officials persuaded the Nagas to change the name of the Naga Club into “Naga Hills District Tribal Council” in 1945. This Council acquired a new name, “Naga National Council” (NNC) in 1946 (Alemchiba 1970: 175; Das 1982). The NNC initially advocated a simple approach of protest though it matured as a viable political organisation representing the genuine grievances of the Nagas. The NNC submitted a four point memorandum to the government on 19 June 1946, and desired to be constitutionally included in an autonomous Assam with local autonomy (Das 1982, 2009) and “a separate electorate” for them (Ramunny 1988: 32; Das 1988).

The NNC was a pro-government moderate body intending to improve the economic condition of the Nagas through constitutional means. The NNC, in a landmark move, signed a “Nine-Point Understanding” with the Government of India, represented by governor Akbar Hydri during 27-29 June 1947 (Ramunny 1988: 38). Clause 9 of above Understanding mentioned the “renewal” or the “re-negotiating” of a new agreement after 10 years. Ramunny (1988) has discussed the divergent interpretations of this clause by both sides. By June 1946 Phizo had returned to the Naga Hills after his release in Rangoon (Ramunny 1988: 30). Gradually he came to occupy the centre-stage of the movement. As confusion prevailed over divergent views of both sides about the “future status of the Nagas” and as no consensus was accomplished, hence on 14 August, on the eve of the independence of India, some members of the NNC under the individual direction of Phizo, declared their own independence (Das 1982, 1989). Extremist A Z Phizo and a “Disputed” Plebiscite?

Various historical events contributed, in different ways, to the growth of Naga dissent and the subsequent start of the “insurgency”. Diverse opinions exist about the merits (and demerits) of Phizo and his dynamic contributions towards the Naga cause. Not all critics agree that he enjoyed an unquestionable towering status within Naga politics at any stage. Still, his stubborn repudiation of the claims of the Indian nation state from an early stage till his death did provide a direction to the movement, mainly to the faction he led. In his efforts his tribespeople supported him massively. Thus, the small NNC “Independence group”, which declared, with Phizo, Naga independence on 14 August 1947, consisted mostly of members from Khonoma (Angami) village and southern and east Angami group, most of them being “relations” of Phizo (Ramunny 1988: 42).

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Despite Phizo’s declaration of Naga independence, no furious outbreak of movement or insurgent activity was noticed. Rather, in a peaceful atmosphere, on 15 August 1947 Aliba Imti had taken over as president of the NNC. At this stage the NNC only insisted on the implementation of the “Nine-Point Understanding”, which the Government of India did not accept (Ramunny 1988: 43-44). In the next NNC session held at Kohima from 29 to 31 December 1949 Phizo again raised the demand of “a separate Naga state” outside India, though a majority of members saw this as impractical (Ramunny 1988: 48). During the NNC meeting of 16-18 February 1950 only 11 members were present. They chose Visar Angami as the new NNC president. He proclaimed, “The Nagas are strongly determined to fight constitutionally for the liberation of their mother – Nagaland” (Ramunny 1988: 49).

In September 1952 Phizo went underground and after that the NNC activities intensified in the Naga Hills (Ramunny 1988: 60-61). By June 1955 the rift within the NNC grew, one strong group remained with Sakhrie and the extremist members, supporting Phizo, stayed on the other side (Ramunny 1988: 77). Towards the end of 1956, the power struggle between the faction of the separatist Phizo and a “moderate” segment of Aliba Imti intensified, culminating in Phizo’s resignation from the NNC. He rejoined the NNC later and became president of the NNC for a very brief period.

Violence started growing by 1954-55. By June 1955, a rift between Phizo’s extremist group and the moderates had widened and inter-faction assassinations commenced. Many of those who opposed Phizo were assassinated, prominent among them being the distinguished T Sakhire, Imkongliba and “General” Kaito Sema. At this juncture a small section of the supporters took Phizo to Zeliang Naga area and thence to Dacca on 6 December 1956. The then Pakistan government arranged for an El Salvador passport for Phizo, and he reached Zurich in May 1959. Michael Scott, who was once a member of the peace mission, reportedly helped Phizo get to London on 20 June 1960 (Pillai undated).

In 1951 Phizo organised a controversial plebiscite in the Naga Hills to ascertain whether the Nagas favoured independence. He claimed that 99% Nagas favoured independence, even though this plebiscite was held only in some parts of Kohima and Mokokchung districts, and the women were not allowed to vote. Tajenyuba Ao in his book British Occupation of Naga Country wrote that Phizo decided to hold a plebiscite before the first Indian general election of 1952 to demonstrate the Naga desire for independence. The plebiscite was completed in two months and copies of the votes (with thumb impressions) were sent to the president of India and to the secretary general of the United Nations. Though partial, according to Tajenyuba, the plebiscite became binding on all Naga tribes in India and Burma. There are, nevertheless, many versions of the plebiscite. As per one version the plebiscite covered only two districts of the Naga Hills and hence the result is a disproportionately exaggerated claim, which does not stand the test of scrutiny (Singh 1972). Ramunny (1988) stated that villagers were fed with wrong and simplified information (Pillai undated). Viewed objectively, the plebiscite remained a rough and hasty effort that cannot be termed as truly collective opinion of


all Nagas. But one has to admit here that it was an indicator of an incipient protest, which was in its initial stage.

Underground Governments and Groundbreaking Agreement

Right from the closing days of 1950 a rift occurred among the leadership of the NNC over “independence” and hostile activities started (Ramunny 1988: 56). Several attempts by the government did not yield any positive result. In the meantime, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the Prime Minister of Burma, U Nu visited Nagaland in March 1953 (Ramunny 1988: 61) conveying the concern of the government towards the Naga cause. In 1956 the NNC declared formation of the underground “Federal Government of Nagaland”. Much violence was let loose in Nagaland. The underground activists had started forcible recruitment drive alongside killings of the informers and other dissidents. Increased eruption of violence in Nagaland could be traced from 1955 onwards, as Indian forces tried to quell the Naga secession efforts. Indian armed forces, however, are alleged to have harassed, beaten, tortured, raped, killed, burnt huts and villages among other strong arm measures (Mao 1999).

These measures further aggravated the situation. Open conflicts began in March 1956. Rapid mobilisation began, and due to differences of ideology, T Sakhrie was assassinated. The militant underground sections of the Naga movement remained active for more than a decade between 1954 and 1964. From 1964 onwards and till 1968, periodic talks were held between the underground leadership and the Government of India. At this stage most of the tribal areas in the north-east were being provided with the autonomous district councils, under the provisions of the sixth schedule of the Constitution, but the NNC turned down the offer of such limited autonomy. In 1967, the underground leaders sent Naga representatives to London for consultation with Naga leader Phizo. The year 1968 witnessed a division of the Naga underground – the “federal government” on the one side and “revolutionary government of Naga land” formed by the dissidents, on the other. The “revolutionary” extremists tried to capture the entire underground bloc and wanted a dialogue for a peaceful settlement of the Naga problem (Singh 1972: 163). The objectives of this “revolutionary” wing, according to Aram (1974: 187), were: (a) preserving the integrity of Nagaland; (b) peaceful coexistence; (c) peaceful solution of the Naga political problem; and (d) achieving national and individual liberty and freedom from external powers.

Nagaland was just a district (Naga Hills district) of Assam until 1957. In order to change this status some Nagas, who were earlier with the NNC, informally discussed other avenues. This initiative was well received in the circles of the Indian National Congress then. Such likeminded leaders now formed the Naga People’s Convention (NPC) and chose Imkongliba Ao as its president. NPC remained very active and organised three Naga People’s Conventions during 1957 and 1960. In its very first session held at Kohima from 22-26 August 1957, the NPC proposed for a larger administrative unit by merging the Naga majority Tuensang division of the then North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) with the Naga Hills district. Nehru met the NPC delegation on 25 September 1957 to discuss this issue and finally, on 1 December 1957, the Government of India agreed to carve out a new “Naga Hills and Tuensang Area” (NHTA) (Ramunny 1988: 122).

In the second NPC meeting that was held in Ao village Ungma from 21 to 23 May 1958 more than 2,705 delegates attended (Ramunny 1988: 125). The third NPC meeting was held in Mokokchung from 22 to 26 October 1959, wherein 300 delegates attended (Ramunny 1988: 124-25). In the third NPC meeting a groundbreaking 16-point resolution was passed. In July 1960, a delegation of the NPC met Nehru and a 16-point agreement was formally proposed. The government agreed to the proposals, which inter alia provided for formation of a separate state for the Nagas within the Indian Union to be known as “Nagaland” with a governor and secretariat, a council of ministers and legislative assembly. An interim body of 42 members was constituted, which functioned as the de facto council of ministers from February 1961, with Imkongliba Ao as chairman of the interim body and P Shilo as chief executive councillor. Shilo went on to become the first chief minister of Nagaland.

The 16-point agreement was unique in many ways. It acknowledged the distinct status of the Nagas within the India federal system. It ensured that no act or law passed by Parliament that affected the religious and social practices of the Nagas, their customary laws and procedure of criminal justice would have no influence in the new state unless passed by a majority vote of the Nagaland legislative assembly. The 13th amendment of the Constitution by which the state of Nagaland was created, not only showed that the Indian democratic system could be flexible but also revealed the accommodative capacity of the Indian Constitution.

Gradually a significant section of the Nagas came to concede that the 16-point agreement fulfilled many of their aspirations. But the NNC argued that the 16-point agreement was a complete “sellout” of the Naga political cause. Ultimately the growing animosity between the NNC and the NPC resulted in the assassination of Imkongliba. The establishment of the state of Nagaland led to another turning point because by this time a sizeable group of “overground” Naga leaders had emerged, who chose to parti cipate in the electoral democratic political system, which resulted in the formation of the Nagaland Nationalist Organisation (NNO). A second political party emerged in the shape of the Democratic Party of Nagaland, which was formed by those who differed from the NNO leadership and harboured sympathy for the secessionist underground group (Thakkar 1972; Das 1982). In the aftermath of the total boycott of two Indian general elections of 1952 and 1957, the npc and the Interim Body confronted the first test of “democracy” and successfully organised the general elections in Nagaland during January 1964. Amazingly, over 70% of Nagas exercised their franchise. This set in motion the growth and maturing of electoral politics in Nagaland and caused a setback to the insurgency.

Peace Parleys Amid Factionalism

The Indo-Naga peace exercise is stretched into several decades. The peace talks of the 1960s had resulted in the Naga People’s Conventions, the 16-point agreement and the establishment of the “Peace Mission” consisting of Michael Scott, an Anglican pastor, the gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan, and B P Chaliha, the then chief minister of Assam. The mission played a crucial role.

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Church leaders such as Longri Ao actively supported the mission initiatives, which resulted in a “Cessation of Fire” commencing from 23 May 1964. Misunderstandings later grew amongst the Peace Mission members. After the expulsion of Michael Scott and resignations of the other two members, the Peace Mission came to an end (Ramunny 1988: 236). On his way back to London on 4 May 1966, Michael Scott is reported to have argued (Sema 1986: 129):

(he) was not trying to internationalise the Naga issue, he never played partisan role and that Naga sovereignty was a fact from which it was difficult to run away. ... demand of Naga sovereignty was not incompatible with the Indian Constitution.

By 1966-67 the venue of the peace talks shifted to New Delhi where six rounds of talks were held, but meanwhile the NNC, the Naga Federal Government (NFG) and the Federal Army aggressively increased their bloodshed. On 3 August 1968, “General” Kaito was assassinated. On 8 August 1972, chief minister Hokishe Sema had a miraculous escape and his daughter was seriously injured. Eventually in August 1972, the government banned these three underground outfits.

By the end of 1968, an anti-communist faction calling itself the “Revolutionary Government of Nagaland” came into being, and then followed a series of splits within the NNC and NFG, largely along “tribal” lines. The government realised the futility of peace talks and blocked the extension of ceasefire. The Nagaland Peace Council was formed again at the initiative of the church leaders and a liaison committee was formed, which succeeded in persuading underground leaders, who sent six representatives to have discussions. More than five rounds of talks were held.

These talks resulted in the “Shillong Accord” signed on 11 November 1975. The Nagas who signed represented the NFG and NNC (Horam 1988) and they surrendered arms and personnel. The Shillong Accord of 1975, as it was later learnt, was reached only with the India-based NNC, which did not enjoy the “unambiguous” support of Phizo (Mao 1999). Dissatisfied, rebellious leaders like Isak Chishi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and others who were camping in Myanmar formed the “National Socialist Council of Nagaland” (NSCN) on 31 January 1980 in the Eastern Naga Hills (Upper Myanmar) to establish a “People’s Republic of Nagaland” based on Mao’s communist ideology. The manifesto of the NSCN was based on the principle of “socialism” for economic solution backed by a spiritual outlook of “Nagaland for Christ” (Horam 1988: 253). Animosity developed within the NSCN and thus two factions – NSCN (I-M) and NSCN (Khaplang) emerged by April 1988. After the death of Phizo in 1990, the NNC was also divided into the faction led by Adinno, daughter of Phizo and Khadao Youthan, an old associate of Phizo (Kotwal 2000). The second NNC faction seems to have come closer to the NSCN (I-M). Clashes amongst factions became very frequent and a large number of Nagas, including those not connected to these groups, were killed (Mao 1999).

Most of the rival factions of the NSCN (I-M) remain defiant towards the current peace talks. They doubt the support base of NSCN (I-M), which is claimed to extend over large areas of north-eastern India and even Myanmar. NNC factions and the NSCN (Khaplang) oppose the “recognition” given to a single underground outfit. NSCN (Khaplang) too claims a vast following and its own core area of operation and earlier it developed links with non-Naga insurgent

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groups such as Manipur’s United National Liberation Front, Assam’s United Liberation Front of Assam and National Democratic Front of Bodoland and some smaller armed outfits under control of Dimasa, Hmar and Karbi extremists (EPW 2003).

NSCN (Khaplang) has made it clear that any agreement reached only with the NSCN (I-M) would not be acceptable. Naga National Council (A) has described the ongoing peace process as an “Indian government project”. Adinno Phizo said in a statement issued from her base in London that the NSCN (I-M)’s slogan for “Nagalim”, a homeland encompassing all Naga inhabited areas was absurd. Meanwhile, factionalism grew further with the emergence of NSCN (Unification). Indeed there has been no dearth of attempts at factional patch up. NSCN (I-M) has made it clear that factional-reconciliation is an internal issue of the Nagas. NSCN (I-M) does not regard either the Khaplang group or the two NNC outfits as freedom fighters. NSCN (I-M) alleges that by selling out Naga interest, through the “Shillong Accord”, NNC has ceased to be “revolutionary” and Khaplang faction is alleged to be a creation of the Indian government.

Peace talks have a long history. Sadly no justification was provided for prolonging the talks. There are many explanations for probable motives (read “politics”) behind the never-ending parleys. The NSCN (I-M) is being accused of procrastinating at the negotiations to establish its dominance across “Nagalim”, and purging its opposing factions, before it reaches a final settlement. The Indian government is purportedly delaying the move towards reaching a final solution and may be aiming towards destabilising the NSCN (I-M) by encouraging factional fights and split within the Naga groups. The NSCN (Khaplang) faction’s ceasefire with the Indian government and its pronouncements regarding current peace talks are seen with suspicion.

Vigilant Civil Society and Naga Reconciliation

Traditional political instituions of the Naga tribes have been highly democratic and a basis for civil society concepts can be seen in the customary practices and relations of the ethnic institutions. The civil society organisations, in modern times, could succeed because the basic social norms and jural structures of the people had the inherent capacity to embrace them. Therefore mobilising public opinion in Nagaland and Manipur for the right causes was easier. Informal traditional chiefs/headmen/elders and the government recognised gaon-buras too played a crucial role. A younger Naga scholar wrote that the need to check the uncontrollable violence led to establishing the Naga Mothers’ Association, and rejuvenating the Naga Students’ Federation, Naga people’s Movement for Human Rights and the Naga Hoho (Mao 1999). Role of the human rights bodies too have been crucial. These initiatives and several peace efforts have created a positive impact at different levels.

The very perceptions of the Naga leaders and of the government representatives have undergone major changes and hence both sides have shown enormous degree of flexibility in trying to work out a political settlement. Undeniably these civil society organisations, in association with church leaders, have played a significant role in laying the foundation for peace. They have been successful in reaching out to communities, both Naga and other ethnic tribes, and promoting dialogue and understanding between contesting communities, which the political outfits engaged in talks could not do.


The Naga Hoho, incorporating all Naga tribal councils, has launched a “reconciliation campaign” throughout the State. The Naga Hoho, which believes that the settlement of the Naga problem is not possible without the unity of all Naga tribes, has initiated the campaign to help end the clashes between the different extremist groups and to bring together all underground factions, for the “greater cause of rebuilding the Naga society and ending years of bloodbath” (Frontline 2002). Launching the “Naga National Reconciliation Move” in Kohima on 20 December 2001, Naga Hoho president M Vero said that for the Nagas the need of the hour was to come together to “share, discuss and consult with grace how to absolve their past mistakes and begin building a new future based on peace, hopes and truth through a process of healing and compassion”. More than 10,000 Nagas, who attended the convention, came from Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar, irrespective of their ideologies and affiliations. The Naga Hoho ensured that most of the tribes of Nagaland’s faction-ridden society were represented at the convention. According to an estimate, about 50,000 people were killed in the past several decades either in the factional clashes or at the hands of militants and security forces (Chaudhuri 2002).

In view of the talks between the Government of India and NSCN (I-M) which began on March 2010, thousands of Naga people including students, social workers and church activists organised mass rallies simultaneously in the four hill districts of Manipur, under the banner of the United Naga Council (UNC), a sociocultural Naga body. Memoranda were sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh through the deputy commissioners of Tamenglong, Chandel, Ukhrul and Senapati districts demanding an early solution to the vexed Naga problem. Rallies held banners which proclaimed: “We want peace”, “We demand a solution”, “Give peace a chance”.

Further, in view of the March 2010 peace talks a joint public meeting of three Naga political groups NNC/FGN, GPRN/NSCN and NSCN/GPRN in which common people of Nagaland also participated was held at Dimapur in Nagaland to facilitate the peace talks. Held under the banner “A journey for common hope” and organised by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) and joint working group, the meet provided a much-needed platform to bring the three warring Naga factions together for a common cause. The forum has also been meeting Naga people of Ukhrul and Senapati districts in Manipur. Nagas and other non-local communities who readily embraced the reconciliatory movement towards peace in the region turned up in large numbers to support the cause. Discussions, prayers to almighty for the attainment of peace and songs were conducted during the meet. The meet attended by various Naga factions and people from all sections of the society clearly reflects the hopes and enthusiasm of the people for a positive and progressive outcome of the peace talk.

These are very positive endeavours aimed at facilitating the parties involved in peace talks to succeed. Efforts of the civil society organisations should not be allowed to break down.

Non-Territorial Model

Right from Mahatma Gandhi to Jawaharlal Nehru to Jayaprakash Narayan, Indian statesmen have expressed various opinions on the Naga problem. Jayaprakash Narayan had even suggested settling the Naga issue outside the Constitution of India. Anthropologist B K Roy Burman (2004) had suggested a solution through a nonterritorial jurisdiction with legislative, administrative, judicial and development-oriented powers by constituting coordinating bodies. In October 1993 Roy Burman had proposed “internal self-determination” for people like the Nagas, which implied the right of people to determine their own social, economic and political system, to depose their resources and to create conditions for their own development within an existing state. Roy Burman finds the Sami autonomy pact a good example of the implementation of internal self-determination. The Samis have their own parliaments in three different European countries, wherein they have autonomous powers pertaining to traditional livelihoods, the development issues, teaching of Sami language and social and health services. Though Sami people are not independent, their autonomous status has elements of external self-determination (Lal Not Dated).

Exploring a “non-territorial model” of “Nagalim” and a “mini Naga constitution”, which seem crucial in the current phase of the peace talks, B G Verghese (2010) stated:

[The] government’s acceptance of the “unique” history of the Nagas has laid the foundations for trust. The NSCN (I-M) started with two primary demands, sovereignty and Nagalim, unification of all Nagainhabited areas falling within India and in “Eastern Nagaland” in Myanmar. ...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 the scheduled tribes, the 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 notice their existence. ...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. ...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. In a non-territorial distinctively Naga areas in Assam, Arunachal and Manipur people 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. This arrangement may offer amity amongst the factions, mainly as the K-Group has denounced the IM-Group for forsaking ‘sovereignty’. This effort should ensure to get on board all shades of Naga opinion, IM, K and the two factions of the Naga National Council in order finally to endorse an overall settlement.

It may be stressed that these proposals seem pragmatic particularly in view of the unique history of the Naga people and their demands and, if implemented, they should satisfy the wishes of the Naga leaders, to a great extent. Several Naga scholars too have offered peaceful proposals. Thus one scholar R Suisa proposes that Nagaland and India should form a federation, through a pact on defence, foreign affairs, and communication; and in matters of

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internal affairs Nagaland will be sovereign. It seems all these various models and federal proposals, described above seem analogous. They should, with some modifications, fit well within the purview of the greatly flexible Indian Constitution.


To conclude, it may be argued that ever since the ceasefire of August 1997, several rounds of talks have been held in India and abroad. NSCN (I-M) had held last discussions in December 2006. The current talks, which started in March 2010, are still not concluded as other actions are in progress. Two issues – “sovereignty” for Nagaland and the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas – have become difficult to resolve. The claims also include a sort of “sub-constitution” and a “Naga army”, though either side knows constitutional and legal challenges that such propositions present. However, the political solution seems available within our constitutional federal system. The fact that the Naga leaders have almost moved away from original demand for “independence” brings hope for peace. The Naga rebellion has inspired and influenced numerous insurgencies in the northeast region. An end to Naga insurgency will have an enormous impact on the north-eastern societies. The success of the Look East policy of the Indian government too will depend, in the long run, on success of these peace talks. Assam’s’ paper The Sentinel (2010) wrote on the current scenario:


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    Indeed the Naga youth of today are increasingly looking both at economic and political advantages of being part of the larger federal democratic system of India. Further, concerns about the militarisation and brutalisation of local society due to six decades of armed conflict and the imposition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act also need to be addressed and rectified.

    The federal principles enshrined in the Constitution allow a great deal of flexibility relating to “autonomy” of particular areas and people. The conspiracy theories are many, variously accusing the Indian government, the Nagaland government, the NSCN (I-M) and the NSCN (K), for prolonging the peace talks with vested interests. Yet pragmatism and the imperatives of peace demand that the ultimate target of a permanent and full scope agreement should not suffer once again. In fact, the need for circumspection is greater now than ever before. The current phase of peace parleys should not be left half-way for yet an

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