Indo-Naga peace settlement–Meitei resistance
A group of educated Nagas formed the Naga Club in 1918 at Kohima. The Naga Club submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929 demanding that the Nagas should not be included within the reformed scheme of administration for British India. The Naga Club demanded self-rule by the Nagas after the departure of the British from India. The Nagas were living in their independent villages mostly in isolation with their head-hunting practice. The British had practically left the Nagas alone in the British ‘excluded areas’.
Naga National Council (NNC) of 1946 and The Hydari Agreement of 1947
The first Naga political organisation (NNC) was formed in 1946. The Nagas were independent since time immemorial and before the British advent in the Naga areas. As the British departure from India became imminent after the Second World War, the Nagas made all efforts to convince the British to leave the Nagas alone as independent people as they were before. These efforts led to the Hydari Agreement (The 9 Point Agreement) of June 29, 1947 between the Nagas and the British in order to resolve the Naga political issue. The Hydari agreement recognized the right of the Nagas to develop themselves as independent people. However, the Hydari agreement could not be implemented. Therefore, the Naga leaders led by A Z Phizo turned to the Indian leaders including Mahatma Gandhi to support and recognize the Naga independence. When the eleven Naga leaders met Mahatma Gandhi on 19 July, 1947, Gandhi declared his support for Naga independence stating that “Nagas have every right to be independent …”.
As the British were leaving India without resolving the Naga issue, the Nagas formally declared themselves to be independent on the 14th August, 1947 and hoisted the Naga flag. The new independent India and its leaders rejected the Naga claim of sovereignty and independence. Under the leadership of AZ Phizo, the NNC held plebiscite in 16 May, 1951 and claimed that 99.9 % of the Nagas backed sovereign nation for the Nagas. India decided to use force to suppress the Naga freedom movement. When India took military actions against the Nagas, they took up arms and fought India and its army to defend their independence. The Indo-Naga war erupted in a conventional manner. It is an unequal war. Thousands of Nagas were killed, their villages, houses and properties were burned down, innocent women were raped, and all kinds of army atrocities were inflicted on them. The Indian army committed extreme brutalities and cruelties. In order to break up the Nagas, India resorted to divide and rule policy and, with the help of some moderate Nagas, India created the state of Nagaland in December, 1963 with special provisions under Article 371A of the resolution of India. However, the creation of Nagaland state did not bring an end to the Naga movement for sovereignty and independence.
The Indo-Naga war waged on with heavy losses. The cease-fire and the peace talk of September 1964 to October 1967 under the leadership of Reverend Michael Scott of England, Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), Bimala Prasad Chaliha, CM of Assam as Indian Government representative, other Indian and Naga leaders also failed because the Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi asked the Naga to take everything, but not sovereignty. But the Nagas refused to be a part of Union of India.
Shillong Accord of 1975 and NSCN of 1980
The Government of India signed an accord with some leaders of the NNC in 1975. This accord was rejected by the Nagas and cadres of NNC leading to the formation of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 31 January of 1980 led by Thuingaleng Muivah, SS Khaplang and Isak Chishi Swu. But due to differences, NSCN was split into two in 1988 – NSCN (I-M) and NSCN (K). In August 1997, the NSCN (I-M) signed a ceasefire agreement with Government of India and negotiations started between Government of India and the NSCN (I M) to find a lasting and honourable solution acceptable to both the Nagas and India.
The Framework Agreement of 2015
In August 2015, the NSCN (I-M) signed the Framework Agreement with Government of India in the presence of Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi to arrive at the final agreement. The Nagas have grudgingly realized that India will never allow the Nagas to secede or break away from India not because the Nagas do not have the right to self-determination but because the Naga secession will threaten India’s own existence as a nation state. Therefore, India has used all the powers in its command to break and weaken the Naga resolve by unleashing its military force on them with draconian powers (AFSPA, 1958) and money power, adopting the policy of divide and rule and manipulation, and inciting its neighbours against them. India has succeeded in this endeavour of dividing and weakening the Nagas to a large extent. Thus, the Naga dream of complete independence has become unattainable at this time of the Naga history. The Nagas have suffered heavily for so long in this never-ending war of independence. Now they yearn for peace. For the time being, the Nagas are ready for a genuine political settlement with the Government of India. Accordingly, the NSCN (I-M) has signed the Framework Agreement of 2015 with the Government of India after consultations with various concerned groups of the Naga society. The other Naga political groups have also joined in the peace negotiation.
Concerns of the Meiteis of Manipur
The Meiteis of Manipur have entertained certain apprehensions about the outcome of the final settlement of the Naga issue and its impact on the territorial integrity of Manipur. On the face of it, this is apparently a genuine concern for the Meiteis. But are they actually justified in terms of history, identity, culture and ethnic affinity? The answer is a definite ‘no’. They are not justified in raising various objections to the Naga Settlement which is yet to be finalised. The main objection of the Meiteis is that the territorial integrity of Manipur state should not be disturbed. They have been vociferously raising this objection for some time now. It is likely that the present final settlement between India and the Nagas may not disturb the territorial integrity of Manipur. In other words, the territory of Manipur will not be divided. In that case, the concern of the Meiteis on this account does not exist any longer. Now they have opened a new dimension to their belligerent attitude towards the Naga issue by saying that the administrative set up of Manipur should be not allowed to be disturbed.
The Meiteis will not compromise the integrity of Manipur on any ground based on ethnic lines. The goal-post is now widen and shifted. The Meiteis of Manipur do not want the Nagas and hill tribes to get or receive anything from the Centre and even from the Manipur state also. If the Meiteis continue to have their way, there will be nothing for the Nagas as in the past and in future also. Since the inception of Manipur state in January, 1972, all the funds received from the Centre and funds raised locally by the state of Manipur have been grabbed by the Meiteis, invested and utilized in Imphal/Manipur Valley. All important institutions and offices such as the Assembly, High court, Secretariat, universities, colleges, schools, hospitals and health centres, technical institutions, training centres, etc. are located in Imphal valley only. Roads, bridges, power projects, markets and infrastructures located in the Manipur valley inhibited by the Meiteis are well-developed and maintained. The Government schools and colleges located in hill areas are neglected, non-functional and are in ruins mainly because science and maths teachers are from the advanced Meitei Community who do not attend such schools/colleges. These absentee teachers stay in Imphal Valley getting all the benefits without performing their duties. This is true with many institutions including health centres. All important jobs and businesses are in the hands of the Meiteis except a few cases here and there. The Imphal valley is fully developed in stark contrast to the complete backwardness of the hill areas. Nothing really is left for hill tribes of Manipur. All the developments and benefits of Manipur state have gone to the dominant Meitei ethnic group.
Imphal being the capital of Manipur, some Nagas and hill people are compelled to take up jobs in the Imphal valley and live there. The Meiteis are resentful of this with the argument that they are not allowed to acquire land in the scheduled tribe areas due to the constitutional protection. But the Meiteis chose themselves not to be scheduled tribes but the upper-caste in the Indian Hindu society. In the larger interest of all communities of Manipur, some of these important government institutions/offices, educational and medical institutions, projects, sports facilities, etc. should have been located in hill areas on proportionate basis. The Meiteis demand that the territory of Manipur should not be divided, but they do not want to share the benefits/funds that come to Manipur (from the Centre as the state’s entitlement/share) with the Nagas and hill tribes. The Nagas do not want any charity from the Meiteis. The Nagas simply want their legitimate share that is due to them and live with their neighbours in peace. They do not have any objection if the Meiteis get political/economic packages for themselves from the Centre.
The Meiteis have their own history quite different from the Nagas. As far as the Meitei history goes, they have been living in the Manipur valley for ages. Unlike the Nagas, the Meiteis had a kingdom and its kings ruled over the Manipur valley. In its history, the Meitei kingdom was known by different names. It was only in 1825-35 that the name of Manipur came to be popularly used during the reign of king Bhagyachandra and his successo the conversion of King Pamheiba to Vaishnavism in October 1717, the Meiteis converted into Hinduism and thus, the alien Hindu caste system was introduced in the Meitei society with its harmful consequences.
The Meitei Hindus treated the Nagas and other hill people as ‘untouchables’ and uncivilized in the most discriminatory and shameful manner. In Manipur valley, the Meiteis still continue to harass the Nagas and hill people with physical harm, illegal threat of eviction, unlawful deprivations and abuses on regular basis as a big bully. By the beginning of the 20th century, the Nagas had accepted Christianity and saw the Meiteis as Hindu idol worshippers hopelessly lost without identity. On the top of this, the strong opposition by the Meiteis to the struggle of the Nagas for their political rights and the integration of Naga areas under one administrative unit has created mistrust and resentment in the minds of the Nagas. Thus, the divide between the Nagas and the Meiteis becomes complete. The geographical closeness and ethnic affinity of the two peoples destroyed due to historical reasons have not helped. Further, in the case of Meiteis, on the 21st September, 1949, Maharaja Budhachandra signed the Merger Agreement under duress, merging the Meitei kingdom into India, whereas the Nagas have never agreed to be part of the Union of India.
If the statements and assurances of the Central Government Authorities in Delhi are taken to be correct, then the expected final agreement between the Nagas and the Government of India will not involve the division of the territorial boundaries of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam and the stakeholders of these three states are being consulted before the finalisation of the said agreement. The Nagas are not getting what they have been fighting for so long with so much sacrifice. All indications suggest that there will be some economic packages, autonomy, etc. for the Naga areas. So where is the grievance or cause of concern of the Meiteis now! If one looks further, the Meiteis have done hardly anything to make the Nagas and the other hill people of Manipur feel that they can live together in Manipur in a mutually beneficial relationship. Considering the expected final Indo-Naga settlement in its totality, any further belligerent resistance from the Meiteis to the Naga settlement will be unjustified, counter-productive and will alienate the Nagas further and further with deep resentment. In the interest of enduring peaceful co-existence, the Nagas expect the Meiteis to be reasonable and fair while dealing with the Nagas and the Indo-Naga political issue in the spirit of mutual respect, trust and understanding.