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In Phizo's footsteps

By Kuldip Nayar
January 14, 2003 21:00 IST
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The Nagas living in northeast India have seldom captured the country's attention. Whenever they have, it is either a clash between the underground among them and the armed forces or sporadic incidents of violence. For an ordinary Indian, Nagaland is disturbed, unfamiliar territory that is far away.

Like Jammu and Kashmir, which has Article 370 guaranteeing special status, Nagaland has it under Article 371(A). The Nagaland assembly is supreme and no act of Parliament can apply in matters of religious practices, customary laws, and ownership or transfer of land and its resources. The difference between the two states is that Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India after the paramountcy of Britain lapsed while Nagaland was carved out from the loosely administered area under the British.

Both have the central Election Commission conducting their polls. Both have their state assemblies and elected governments. People of both states are Indian citizens and carry its passport when travelling abroad. Strategically, both states are important, Nagaland having a border with three countries -- China, Bangladesh, and Myanmar (Burma).

Even after five decades, New Delhi has not been able to establish peace either in Kashmir or in Nagaland. The problem in both places is political, but the government has employed the army to solve it. The army's commanders themselves admit that it is not possible to establish peace without political inputs.

While Kashmir awaits the talks that the Centre has promised -- Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed gives three months as the deadline -- Nagaland is engaged in a parley of sorts at the highest level. The real problem is not whether anything will come out of the talks, but whether New Delhi is willing to go to the extent where the intractable become malleable. Is the government willing to modify its stand that a strong Centre is the answer to local or regional aspirations for identity?

The Nagas with whom New Delhi is having talks, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim -- its leaders, Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, are the negotiators -- is satisfied that the Government of India has recognised "the unique history and situation of the Nagas". Now they want it spelt out.

The Concerned Naga Senior Citizens and the Naga Hoho, an apex body, have supported the statement. They have dug out Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's letter to then Assam chief minister Medhi: "One of their [the Nagas'] grievances is that under our Constitution we split them up in different political areas. Whether it is possible or desirable to bring them together again is for us to consider. Also what measure of autonomy we should give them so that they can lead their own lives without any sensation of interference."

This is interpreted differently by some other Naga groups, which have not accepted the five-year-old ceasefire. Their strength and that of Congress party Nagas in power in Kohima is far less than the NSCN-IM's. The church is largely behind the latter.

All groups, however, support two demands: one, a greater Nagaland incorporating the Nagas living in Manipur, Meghalaya and Assam, and, two, sovereignty. The first one, as the Nagas know, does not depend only on New Delhi. The three states have to agree to give part of their territories and get a resolution to that effect adopted in their assemblies. Then Parliament has to endorse it by a two-thirds majority in both Houses. It is difficult to envisage such a resolution going through either in the assemblies or in Parliament.

The second demand is that of independence, which means secession.

The Nagas argue that they were never part of India and, therefore, the question of secession does not arise. Still the fact remains that Nagaland is now a state in the Indian Union and is listed in the relevant schedule of the Constitution. It needs no argument that such a proposition will never be acceptable to the country.

Something like autonomy may be more readily acceptable. To use the words of former prime minister P V Narasimha Rao, "The sky is the limit." True, he had said so in the context of Jammu and Kashmir. But it can well apply to the Nagas. They should try to have it as soon as possible. For the Hindutva elements may give the whole thing a religious colour as more than 90 per cent of the population in Nagaland is Christian.

I believe that even the views of the Nagas' Gandhi, A Z Phizo, had undergone a change some time before he died in London in 1990. I was then India's high commissioner for the United Kingdom. Phizo told his old comrade-in-arms, Khodao-Yanthan, who was working with him in London, that he wanted to advise his old friends to give up violence and seek a solution within the framework of a united India. Khodao-Yanthan said that "Phizo had changed" and that he wanted to settle the Nagaland question with the Indian leaders.

Khodao-Yanthan was insistent on describing his nationality as 'Naga' in the visa application. The consular section was inclined to reject it on the ground that India did not recognise Nagaland as a separate nation. I intervened. I thought it was important that he visit India and meet political leaders. After living in London for three decades, he had lost touch with the realities in India, and he might begin to face facts if he returned.

In fact, I sent a long telegram to New Delhi on Phizo's views. I proposed that the government leaders meet Khodao-Yanthan, who was going on his own to Kohima via New Delhi. But the day he reached Delhi, the V P Singh government fell. It was one of those unfortunate quirks of fate. His successor showed no interest in the matter.

Khodao-Yanthan, I believe, conveyed Phizo's wish to both Isak Swu and Muivah. Even though independence may not be on the agenda of the talks between New Delhi and the two Naga leaders, the question of the quantum of autonomy is sure to come up. If so, both the Nagaland leaders and New Delhi are on the right track.

Taking a leaf from the same book, the government should initiate talks with all leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, whether they participated in the election or not. My recent brief visit to Pakistan convinces me that Islamabad will come around to accept whatever settlement we reach inside our side of Kashmir.

The Hurriyat leaders are not facing reality when they go on emphasizing a tripartite conference of India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris. Maulvi Umar Farooq is right when he says that any two can meet. But the Hurriyat should know that any solution hammered out without involving India would never be acceptable to the country.

If the Nagas can get to agree that greater Nagaland may not be feasible, why don't the valley leaders exclude Kashmir under Pakistan from their talks with New Delhi, if and when they are held? The Line of Control may well be a proper line to accept because it separates the Kashmiri-speaking Kashmiris from the Punjabi-speaking Kashmiris.

The Ceasefire in Nagaland: Complete coverage

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Kuldip Nayar