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.