Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,
- I deem it a great honour to be invited to speak in the India Lecture Series of the Queen’s University Belfast. I extend my gratitude to Professor Peter Gregson, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University and Mr. Trevor Newsom, International Advisor to the Vice Chancellor, for inviting me to give this public lecture. I bring warm greetings to the QUB and the people of Northern Ireland from the people of India, especially from the people of Nagaland, which is 16th State of the Indian Union, located in the North Eastern corner of India bordering with Myanmar in the east.
- I am also grateful to the British High Commissioner’s Office in India and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who had facilitated a programme on conflict resolution for media persons from Nagaland in Northern Ireland last year. This evening’s programme is a follow up of last year’s initiative which was highly successful, and I am pleased that some of the leaders representing civil society and mass based organisations from Nagaland are also present here. I have great pleasure in participating in this public lecture series at the QUB, which is amongst the top centers of learning in the UK with a rich history of more than 150 years and located in one of Europe’s vibrant capitals.
- Although I am not a great speaker by any standard, I have accepted this invitation, thinking that it would also provide me an opportunity to create awareness about the Nagas and their political struggle and also to highlight the different aspects of running a government under an atmosphere of conflict. It is in this context that I have decided to take the liberty of expanding the scope of my lecture and dwell briefly on the unique history of the Nagas, the understanding of which is, in my opinion, essential for the proper appreciation of the Naga political movement. On my assigned subject of “Governance and conflict, the Naga context”, I intend to speak about the Nagaland experience.
Unique history of the Nagas
- Since time immemorial in our history, the Nagas have not only settled down, but also held complete and undisputed ownership and control of their present homeland. Although the British divided the Naga homeland under various administrative units, purely for their administrative convenience, the real ownership and control over the Naga homeland was never altered by them. It has always remained with the Nagas. This was so, because the British Government treated the Naga homeland as ‘unadministered’ or ‘excluded’ area, and did not interfere with their customs and traditions, including their village administration and their land holding system. For example, even within the present Nagaland state, except a few square kilometers of land within Kohima and Mokokchung towns, which were treated as ‘conquered territory’ and used by the British for their administrative headquarters without any payment of land rent or compensation, the British Government, and its successor Indian Government had never claimed possession, or ownership of any land within the Naga homeland. Further, to protect the Nagas, their land and their ways of life, the British Government introduced the Eastern Bengal Frontier Regulation Act 1873 by which the other British Indian citizens were restricted to enter the Naga territory without obtaining a special permit, known as Inner-Line Permit or ILP. Further, when Nagaland was granted statehood as the 16th State of the Indian Union in 1963, a special constitutional safeguards was provided under Article 371-A of the Constitution of India, whereby, Acts of the Indian Parliament do not apply in Nagaland in the matter of ownership and transfer of land and its resources, thereby confirming the residuary power of the Naga communities on this subject. This unique position is of great significance, and it also strengthens the case for integration of the Naga homeland. It must also be remembered that the bifurcation of the Naga homeland under various administrative units was done by the colonial rulers purely for their temporary administrative convenience, without the consent of the Nagas, the rightful land owners. This was further inherited by the Government of India where Nagas were further divided within the Indian union into the States of Nagaland, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. Another one-third of the Naga population is in Myanmar. In Myanmar, there are hundreds of Naga villages which are recognized as the Naga Self Administered Zone. All these Naga populated areas are contiguous to each other. In the Assembly of the Union of Myanmar, Nagas are represented by five members in both Houses of which one Member is a Union Minister.
- The concept of integration of Naga homeland is inextricably linked with the concept of Naga nationalism. From a historical perspective, both the concepts are of recent origin, being the products of the awakening of the Nagas in the first quarter of the 20th century. Prior to the advent of the British in Naga homeland in the last part of the 19th century, the various Naga tribes lived in splendid isolation and independence, without much interaction with the outside world, or even amongst the different Naga tribes. With the advent of the British, and the spread of Christianity and education, these artificial barriers were gradually breaking down, and the various Naga tribes started to come together again. In spite of speaking different languages, the Nagas began to realize that in terms of race, culture and traditions, they are one. The first significant event heralding the birth of pan-Naga nationalism was the formation of the Naga Club in 1917. The Naga Club then submitted the historic memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929, demanding that as and when the British decide to relinquish their Indian Empire, the Nagas should be allowed to regain their former status of sovereign independence. Therefore, in terms of historical perspective, it can be said that the pan-Naga nationalism is a young movement. However, its youthfulness does not detract from its depth and legitimacy. It is to be seen as the coming together of independent and sovereign “village communities or tribes” under one administrative roof, on the realization and conviction of their oneness, in terms of ethnicity, cultural affinity and nationalism. Seen in this context, no one can deny that the demand for the ‘integration of the Naga homeland’ is the birthright of the Nagas. In fact, it has become a matter of faith, touching our innermost sentiments and emotions. The Nagaland Legislative Assembly had passed four unanimous resolutions on different occasions in support of integration of all contiguous Naga inhabited areas. These resolutions were adopted in the Nagaland Legislative Assembly on 12th December, 1964, 28th August 1970, 16th September 1994 and 18th December, 2003. At present there are 16 recognised Naga tribes in Nagaland and another 23 Naga tribes in Myanmar. The neighbouring Indian States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur also have indigenous Naga tribes.
- When the British decided to leave India, the Nagas were not told in clear terms what would be their status under the independent Indian Union that was emerging. This led to the emergence of the Naga political uprising that has lasted more than six decades, causing immense suffering and misery to the people. It has also been at a great cost to India. Initially, the movement was a peaceful one, being essentially an expression by the Nagas of their fears about their identity, as well as of their political aspirations of determining their own destiny. As already stated, a group of the educated Nagas under the banner of the ‘Naga Club’ had submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929, asking for self determination as and when the British would leave India. And when there was no clear response, either from the colonial rulers, or the Indian leaders, the Naga National Council (the political successor to the Naga Club) had declared Independence for the Nagas on the 14th August 1947 at Kohima, one day ahead of the declaration of India’s independence. This declaration was carried out in the presence of the then Deputy Commissioner, C. R. Pawsey. The NNC, under the leadership of late A. Z. Phizo, had also conducted a plebiscite amongst the Nagas in 1951, where an overwhelming majority of 99.9% voted for Naga independence. Later on, the situation turned ugly and violent, and the Indian Army was inducted to quell the movement, with its share of excesses and human rights violations. Various legal covers were also brought in to give legitimacy to the army operations, by declaring Nagaland as a disturbed area under the provisions of Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1959, which is in force till today, drawing much flak and criticism from human right groups and civil societies. It may be added here that Shri A.Z. Phizo, the father of Naga Political Movement died in exile in London in 1990, and his mortal remains brought to Nagaland and buried in Kohima.
- Nagaland was created as the 16th State of the Indian Union on 1St December, 1963, following an agreement signed between the Government of India and the Naga Peoples’ Convention, popularly known as ‘the 16 Point Agreement of 1960’. Thus, Nagaland has the distinction of being the only State within the Indian Union born out of a formal written agreement. However, the statehood did not end the violent insurgency movement, because the agreement did not have the mandate of the people, especially the underground groups who did not participate in the signing of the agreement and in the formation of the State Government. In 1964 a ceasefire was entered between the armed undergrounds and the Government of India but unfortunately after six rounds of talks the dialogue was scrapped on 31st August 1972. Thereafter, after prolonged fighting the Shillong Accord of 1975 was signed by the Government of India with a section of the underground leaders, which led to a split in the underground group. Thus the Naga underground movement continues with bitter fighting. Then a second round of ceasefire agreement were signed in the years 1997 and 2001, which have been going on for the last 14 years along with political dialogue. The people have placed their hope that this peace process will result in a political settlement that is honorable and acceptable to the people and pave the way for lasting peace.
- Nagas have fought for their political rights for a long time and are yet to reach a settlement. From the days of the British occupation of our land, Nagas were recognized as a people and our rich culture and tradition was respected. Therefore, the British Government had introduced Inner Line Permit (ILP) to safeguard the Naga identity, and to prevent their exploitation and assimilation by outsiders. After the departure of the British regime, the Indian Government furthered the protectionist regime by introducing Restricted Area Permit (RAP) which was later called Protected Area Permit (PAP) to restrict entry of foreigners into Nagaland. At present the PAP regime has been relaxed with certain regulations. All this goes to show recognition of the uniqueness of the Nagas, their history, and their territory. The late Prime Minister of India, late Shri Narasimha Rao had first declared Naga issue as a ‘political issue’ during his visit to Nagaland. Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India during his visit to Nagaland in October, 2003, had also declared the Naga history as unique. Today, the Government of India and the world know and recognize our unique political history and situation, and I am sure an acceptable solution can be worked out, provided both the parties have the vision to recognize each others’ needs and sentiments, and display enough courage and magnanimity to accommodate each other. We have placed our faith on the Government of India to bring about a political solution that will not only strengthen the foundations of Indian democracy but will enhance India’s international image as the world’s largest democracy.
- The present mood of the Naga people indicates an over whelming desire for peace and development. There is a growing realisation amongst the Nagas, both overground and underground, that the ongoing peace process and the political dialogues are the best options available to the Naga people today, and that we need to make the best use of this opportunity rather than cry hoarse over the lost opportunities. My Govt. is committed to the peace process, and actively playing the role of a facilitator. We have also declared our readiness to make way for any new political dispensation that may emerge from the on-going political dialogue.
- Another major day to day problem, successive governments have faced, is the division and factionalism that exists within our society. There have been different groups with different approaches and they have been involved in violent opposition of each other that have claimed hundreds of lives over the years. Lives of many leaders and VIPs were attempted including my own life, on 30th May, 1995 when I was holding the post of a Minister. But with the cease fire, relative peace has prevailed and under the banner of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR), which is made up of church and civil society leaders, a process of reconciliation, unity and understanding is underway. This process has not been easy, but we are encouraged by the fact that progress is being achieved, as warring groups are beginning to sit down together, with the aim of reconciling with each other. The leader of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR), Reverend Wati Aier was recently awarded the Denton & Janice Lotz Human Rights Award by the World Baptist Alliance, which has a membership of more than 120 nations. Apart from recognition of our efforts in reconciliation, this award also indicated that the international community is closely observing the peace process in Nagaland.
Governance under an environment of conflict
- One of the major casualties of such a long and intense insurgency of more than six decades had obviously been ‘good governance’, especially in the remote rural areas, where a sort of parallel governance exists, leading to the weakening of the traditional village authorities, as well as the writ of the State. To further complicate the matter, the people in such a situation tend to look at the State as a stop-gap arrangement, pending the final political settlement. The result is a very little sense of belonging and participation by the people in the task of governance and development. There is a tendency to view all Government’s programmes, including the public service institutions, such as school and dispensary buildings, as belonging to a distant and abstract entity, namely, the Government, and not to the people themselves.
- In our view, the best way to tackle this setbacks is through ‘involvement and empowerment’ of the village communities. The Nagas have been known for the effectiveness and ingenuity of their village administration, and for their strong community bond, which, in our opinion, are our strongest social capital. Unwittingly, they have been weakened by the long years of insurgency situations, and by the actions and omissions of successive Governments. Therefore, to give the power back to the village communities, the Village Councils, constituted though the traditional democratic practices, had been given legal status by passing the Village Councils Act, but without changing their composition or methods of selection etc. This, combined with the relatively peaceful atmosphere created by the current cease fire, and certain proactive measures taken by the State Government, have enable the village communities to gradually re-discover and re-assert their traditional role and authority with fresh confidence. They have started laying down the ‘rules of the game’ in their relation with the undergrounds. Many village communities have started effectively preventing armed UG cadres from camping in the village premises, or from indulging in extortion activities. As I have stated, the community bond amongst the Nagas is so strong, that no UG group would like to confront the village community, or retaliate against the collective decision or action of the village community. The UG groups , by and large, are seen by the villagers as ‘national workers’ or ‘freedom fighters’, and accordingly given moral and material support, especially during the heights of army operations against the UGs. The UGs also know that they cannot survive without the support of the people, and therefore, would try their level best to cultivate their good will. It is also not the agenda of the State Government to upset such a delicately balanced love-hate relationship between the UGs and the village communities, but to revive and strengthen the tradition authority of the village communities, so that they are in a better position to dictate their own terms, instead of being intimidated by unfair threats or coercion in the hands of the UG cadres. And I am happy to say that we have succeeded to a large extent.
- However, we are also aware that the process of empowerment of the village communities is not complete without economic empowerment, and without giving them a sense of ownership and participation in the development processes that affect or benefit them. With this end in view, we had set up Village Development Board in every recognized village, under the control and supervision of the Village Council and the Deputy Commissioner of the district. This policy was introduced in the State through the Nagaland Village & Area Council Act 1978. The Village Development Boards are being given financial grants on the basis of household allocations, enabling them to plan and execute a number of village specific development schemes at their own level. Recently, we have taken this process further through an innovative scheme, known as ‘Communitization’, whereby the management and maintenance of village level public services and institutions, such as elementary schools, primary health centers, supply of electricity and water etc, are transferred to the village level committees constituted for the purpose, along with the required funds. This has led to remarkable improvements in the functioning of these institutions and services. An independent evaluation of this novel experiment of communitization was recently carried out by an outside agency, commissioned by the UNICEF, with very positive and encouraging findings. To further consolidate the empowerment of the rural masses, and give them a sound economic foothold, my Government had declared the years 2006 and 2007 as the ‘Year of Farmers’. I think, for a change, other more advanced states may like to learn some lessons from our successful experiments in empowerment of the village communities.
- We have also realized that we have a large number of educated unemployed youth, who are our assets if we utilize them, but our liabilities if we fail to utilize them. We are aware that in an insurgency affected state like ours, the presence of large number of educated, but frustrated youth, can create an explosive situation. The State Government successfully observed two consecutive years of 2004 and 2005 as the ‘Years of Youth Empowerment’, during which we have taken several measures to engage our youth in constructive activities. We have adopted comprehensive policies for the youth in various spheres of activity including sports, music, capacity building, entrepreneurship, farming, etc. Our efforts in implementing these policies have met with considerable success, with thousands of our youth finding self employment, or employment in the private sectors, both inside and outside the state, including abroad. Increasing numbers of our youth are also joining the defence and central para-military forces, about which, there used to be lots of reservations till the recent past. Various initiatives under a special programme called the ‘Year of Farmer’s from 2006 to 2007, which continues till date, gave special focus on improvement of the agriculture and allied sector. We are also targeting human resource development with observation of ‘Year of Capacity Building’ in 2008-09 and 2009-10 and ‘Year of Entrepreneurship’ during 2010-11 and 2011-12. We have also coined a new slogan – “Do not eat the seeds but eat the fruits” We are confident that these initiatives will be the launching pad for our youth to become equal citizens of the global village in the near future. In the meantime, we are continuing the activities initiated by us under all these declarations to uplift the people’s economy.
- Realizing that peace and development are two sides of the same coin, and inextricably linked, my Government have adopted a slogan, which says, “Peace for development and development for peace”. We are getting much support from the people in this direction. A gradual realization is dawning on our new generation that no one can exist as an island in the context of the emerging globalization process, and that we Nagas have to prepare ourselves to be equal partners in the emerging global village. We of course do need understanding and moral support from people all over the world, particularly from India and our neighboring states, and the civil societies, especially in the context of the ongoing peace talk between the Government of India and the Naga undergrounds. I feel that this should not be left to the government of the day alone, because the civil societies, the intelligentsia, and the media can play a very positive role in this by highlighting the issues in proper perspectives, and by applying the right kind of social pressures. I am sure a peaceful resolution of the more than six decade old Naga issue which pre-dated India’s Independence, and which is often referred to as the ‘mother of all insurgencies’, will bring the peoples of the North East closer to mainland India, and in making India a stronger nation.
- I once again thank the QUB for giving me this honour and opportunity to voice a few thoughts which are dear to me and the entire Nagas. I hope that some of the brightest minds of the University and others who have collected here tonight would have understood the Nagas and their problems better by now and also understood some of the unique problems faced by governments in conflict situations. I am also hopeful that my participation here will create more opportunities and vistas for increased people-to-people contact between the two countries. India is today, a growing economic power with significant advancements in all fields of human activity. Our country has opened its doors to the international community to work together in the common interest of humanity. Young students and scholars will be excited to know that India is also home to some of the best educational institutions in the world, especially in the field of information technology, engineering and business management. With a history that goes back thousands of years, India is rich in culture and heritage and is perhaps one of the most colourful and diverse nations on earth. As a responsible and mature democracy, India’s role in the international community has greatly increased, ranging from international peace keeping to playing a pivotal role in climate change and environmental conservation. With an economic growth rate of 8 percent, an environment of free thinking, a vibrant and diverse culture, India has become an exciting destination in all aspects, and I invite you to come and visit Incredible India, particularly Nagaland “the Land of Festivals”.