Just War Ain’t Just Anymore
Joel Nillo Kath
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]UGUSTINE of Hippo (4-5th Century AD), the very influential early church thinker postulated the doctrine of Just War in describing the battles of the Old Testament. In moral terms, the Just War concept legitimizes having standing armies, the waging of wars (against injustices) and the fight against evil (Hitler). While we can have philosophical arguments as well on Just War theology, the point here is that the armed nature (as a last resort) of the Naga movement is explainable as the fight of free Nagas against the forceful occupation of their land by an alien Indian state. The illegitimacy of Indian armed forces occupation of free Nagalim or our historical legitimacy was the justification for armed recourse by Nagas and such an action was believed to be morally right, God-sanctified or a “Just War.” Unfortunately, the fratricidal killings and factionalism now synonymous with Naga Political Groups’ (NPGs) as also the levying of heavy taxations not for war efforts but for personal gains has made any linkages to Just War concept untenable. While this has not stopped the NPGs from continuing the struggle citing historical legitimacy, it’s the question of moral legitimacy which is posing a great challenge to permanent peace and settlement. Against the background of the current peace-talks, any critical questioning by individuals and organisations on the motives of the NPGs is cunningly misdirected as questioning the historical legitimacy of the Naga struggle which is not true since the true question being posed is ‘whether claims to historical legitimacy is enough to justify one’s actions in the face of moral bankruptcy of the NPGs no matter how noble the struggle or the sacrifices.’
Many a times the NPGs have publicly taken Naga intellectuals and organisations to task for questioning their motives and they routinely invoke the historical legitimacy of the struggle to justify all their actions. Their modus-operandi is to discredit opponents by labeling critics as traitors or anti-Nagas’ and stifle dissent and any sort of debate. After all, even constitutional governments routinely imprison or even execute traitors….Therefore, the question raised is “How can the Naga Political Groups invoke a moral concept when they have abandoned the very moral premise on which the struggle was kick-started? The term ‘traitor’ and ‘anti-Naga’ implying a moral judgment, isn’t it presumptuous to accuse when the accuser itself is bereft of moral authority? How do you justify their contribution to general lawlessness, the killings, the factional fights, and unabated taxations in the light of Just War and claim the moral right to morally discredit people (and organisations) as traitors fit to be given history lessons? Is the historicity of the movement enough to justify the continued existence of the NPGs without an accompanying moral foundation?” The two grave issues which have already undermined the NPGs are:
1. Absence of moral authority and
2. Defection or the fear of defection
Moral authority should not be confused with religiosity as the NPGs would like to believe. Mass fasting with prayer services, conducting “Cleansing programmes”, or having grand churches inside the camps with designated pastors cannot redeem the NPGs much less confer it with moral authority. On the contrary, it reeks of hypocrisy. What is the worth of Nelson Mandela? What is Gandhi and his philosophy without his sacrifices? Their worth is that the most powerful country in Africa and the mighty British Empire capitulated before them because of their moral stature. The Naga struggle is no less genuine but struggle for power, money, affluence and thirst for revenge is now the mainstay of the NPGs and this moral turpitude or the lack of moral voice is the reason why the NPGs are small men still crying hoarse against giant India. Turning the tables, the question now is “Who has betrayed whom?”
Unless the NSCNs bury their differences and reconcile with popular support behind a unified movement (even a moth-eaten Nagalim will do), India has no need to come around. Therefore, reconciliation is a must. Secondly, reconciliation without popular support will not do. The issue of taxation which has polarized Naga society has to be addressed if at all popular support is to be mobilized. It is crystal clear that negating these core issues whilst accusing all and sundry of undermining the peace-talks will not bring about a political solution.
Probably, the great blunder of the last 16 years is the non inclusion of no-defection clause in the ceasefire agreement arrived at in 1997 between the NSCN (IM) and the GOI. This non inclusion could be due to the fact that there was no simultaneous ceasefire agreement between the GOI and NSCN (K) during the same period – it happened only in 2001. The non-inclusion may appear innocuous but the damage caused is not difficult to comprehend. Surprisingly, it’s not the actual defection per se but the fear of defection which is unraveling the movement apart. Mid-level and lower cadres of the NSCNs now effectively run the organisations, thanks to their subtle threat to defect if the top rebel leaderships clamp down on their anti-social activities like illegal taxations. This couldn’t have happened at a more inopportune moment. The peace-talks have reached a serious stalemate and India is prepared to play the waiting game for the next 100 years whereas NSCN (IM) does not have the luxury of time. But any serious pro-people initiative to win the hearts and minds of the people would mean reining in the free-wheeling cadres.
However, the fear of defection means that such a popular initiative can never take off. There is a strong suspicion that the GOI is banking on the defection card to finish off the Indo-Naga imbroglio once and for all. In short, the suspicion is that the hands of Isak & Muivah, Kitovi & khole and Khaplang are tied. The NSCN (IM) faces a Mexican Standoff on two fronts, one with the GOI and the other against its own cadres but the top leaderships are hesitant to take the first shot since the first shot is invariably risky in a three-way standoff. Nevertheless, the relevance of the movement being called into question by the average Nagas, the NSCNs has to purge their organisations of disruptive elements. Such would entail the most difficult decision and it may result in mass defections too but the fear of defections should not be allowed to undermine the movement at any cost. At the end of the day, even if Isak & Muivah, Kitovi & khole and Khaplang stands alone in the organisation, the fact is that Naga people will be grateful to these leaders for showing leadership at a time of national crisis and mass support is assured.
If reconciliation and single taxation is an impossible task, the NPGs might as well give up all pretenses to fighting for Naga cause and the public would be satisfied. Such an admission would also save us the chorus of every entity from the state government to Naga Hoho raising every time the bogey of fear of derailment of the Indo-Naga peace talks which is a silly attempt to cover up their misdeeds and inadequacies and an insult to our intelligence. Under the present circumstances, a Just War is simply incongruous with present reality.