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Views & Reviews

Naga Constituent Assembly

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By EMN Updated: Nov 15, 2023 12:15 am

As we know, the Naga national movement has gone through many changes. Right now, the Indo-Naga peace process seems to be stuck on the issue of flag and constitution. So, to overcome these hurdles and push forward the people’s movement, Nagas can consider setting up of a Naga Constituent Assembly (NCA).

Naga national movement has been spearheaded by different national political parties through the years under a Yehzabo or constitution. However, it is also an undeniable fact that Naga national movement has been marred by factionalism in recent years. Moreover, Naga national interest has been divided into “overground” and “underground” politics. The present negotiation, therefore, with the separate “entity” or system to my mind, is therefore happening at two levels. One at the political level spearheaded by the NSCN and at other level by the people on their day-to-day life through their representatives within the Indian democracy. The result of one will naturally impact the other. So to re-structure the people’s mandate, proposition of the NCA can be considered with all the seriousness it deserves at this momentous period of Naga history. Once the question of the constitution is resolved, the issue of flag is corollary. The “competencies” already discussed between GoI and the Naga national political parties can be incorporated in the proposed exercise. Nagas can be allowed to declare their full self expression through an Act of Parliament. It will be merely a courteous ratification of the declared wish of the Naga people even as it was in the case of Indian people during their struggle for independence. The Indian parliament will ratify the wishes of the people as expressed through Nagas freely chosen and nominated representatives. The proposed constituent assembly can represent the many interests of the Nagas which is agreeable to all or at least to the overwhelming majority.

Let me take you some years back in time to refresh our memories in Indian history since we are also dealing with the narrative. In course of their struggle for independence, Indian leaders came to realise that framing a constitution of their own within which the government and people of India were to function is paramount in achieving their goal. The British introduced constitutional reforms in 1861, 1892, 1909, 1919 and 1935 according to their convenient ‘timing and pace’, always in belated and grudging response to sustained Indian nationalist pressure.

I feel we can learn many things from here. No power on earth willingly concedes to demands of the oppressed until the oppressors run out of other options.

In 1924, a resolution was introduced in the Central Legislative Assembly by Indian leaders which asked the government to summon a representative Round Table Conference to recommend for the protection of the rights and interests of important minorities, also known as the scheme of a constitution for India. This scheme would be ratified by a newly elected Indian legislature and then sent to the British parliament to be embodied in a statute. A clear cut demand for a constitution and the procedure was thus spelled out for the first time. This resolution came to be known as the National Demand. The British showing their contempt for the National Demand appointed the all-White Simon Commission in November 1927 to recommend further constitutional changes. The Nagas submitted a memorandum to this commission stating that Nagas wanted to be left alone on their own as before. However, the Indian leaders condemned the commission. After the failed Simon Commission for constitutional reform, the Indian leaders accepted the challenge to produce a constitution of their own despite their diverse opinions and interests. They came up with a draft constitution which visualized a parliamentary system with full responsible government and joint electorates with time bound reservations of seats for minorities.

Boycott of the Simon Commission was followed by mass civil disobedience movement. It was becoming clear that Indians will settle for nothing less than the right to frame their own constitution. The Congress participated in the provincial assembly elections in 1936-37 but made sure that this was not construed as acceptance of the existing constitutional framework. All the Congress provinces passed a resolution and demanded that the Government of India Act, 1935 be repealed and be replaced by a constitution for a free India framed by a Constituent Assembly elected on the basis of adult franchise. Fortunately, for the Indian national movement, in March 1942, in the wake of the British collapse in South-East Asia, Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Britain, announced the dispatch to India of Sir Stafford Cripps for the setting up of the Constituent Assembly.

Story short, after the end of the great War, a Cabinet Mission arrived in India on 24 March 1946. The Cabinet Mission lastly decided that the newly elected legislative assemblies of the provinces were to elect the members of the Constituent Assembly. The first session of the Constituent Assembly of India began on 9 December 1946. The indestructible constitution of India thus began with the concept of a union of states that begins with the words “We the people of India”. For India, the chronicle of independent India began on that historic day. However, Naga people were not a party to that declaration. With India becoming independent on 15 August 1947, the Constituent Assembly became a sovereign body. Here, it is note-worthy that King George VI was king of India until the constitution of India came into force in 1950.

Sovereignty or shared sovereignty, as agreed upon, can never be a free gift by one nation to another. It is purchased with the best blood of the nation as MK. Gandhi rightly said about India’s independence. At this point of time, Indian leaders should be reminded of their history during their fight for right to self determination. Nagas are echoing the same sentiment and spirit with which their future was decided by the will of the people. India today represents that idea. And since the negotiating parties of the Indo-Naga political issue have agreed that sovereignty lies with the people, the only honourable solution could be to allow the people to express themselves through a Constituent Assembly.

Speaking of a constituent assembly in Indian experience, there is the precedence of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The constitution of J&K was not framed by the Indian constituent assembly but by a separate J&K constituent assembly which started its draft from 1951 and completed in 1956. In came into force in 1957. Article 147 of J&K defines the relationship between India and the state of J&K by reason of its adoption of article 370 of the constitution of India. Till 1965, there were two Head of States, Sadr-I- Riyasat of J&K and President of India and two Prime Ministers in Indian system. J&K had its own flag too. Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which provided a special status to the state of J&K, stands “abrogated” by the present government arguing on the stated “temporary” nature of the arrangement but the debate of its constitutionality may continue in days to come. It is sub judice now. My point is, such an arrangement is not unimaginable in Indian democracy. We have Article 260 in the Constitution of India which provides the government of India, the power to extend its executive, legislative and judiciary power beyond her territory. Nagaland was under Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), meaning it was treated as a foreign territory. It was arbitrarily and unilaterally transferred to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in 1972, which is why there is a political dialogue going on now to settle the issue. Taking these facts and circumstances, a demand to set up a separate constituent assembly of the Nagas should not be too much a price to pay for India. In fact, it will exhibit the maturity of Indian democracy.

I feel this negotiation is about two separate entities exploring ways to come closer to each other. Therefore, it is also a dialogue of finding common ground of two different Ideologies, philosophies, cultures, value systems and different world views, etc. The one single most serious problem India, as a nation, faced since its independence in 1947 is consolidation of India or the integration of Indian people as a political community. Despite their differences in language, culture, religion and ethnicity, they achieved national unity around the concept of “unity in diversity”. The makers of the constitution kept in view the difference between decentralisation and disintegration and between unity and integration and centralisation. It is natural that GoI recognise any agreement through its constitution. So, incorporating future agreementwith the GoI in the constitution of India would not mean capitulation of the Nagas, and that any such future agreement cannot be tinkered around easily. The same corresponding Article which defines the relationship of the two entities could be adopted accordingly in the Naga Constitution or Yehzabo. Nagas should also try to see that agreement of this nature is sacrosanct in Indian constitution unless the Nagas themselves allow the GoI to meddle with the agreement. I am not advocating Indian constitution here. I am just trying to understand it to avoid unsubstantiated doubt of perfidy to come in the way on the other extreme for a peaceful resolution.

On the other hand, besides the issue of flag and constitution which are perceived as the hitch in the peace process now, the Naga national political parties also need to admit that there is an absence of alternative vision for the Naga society today. There is no theory or strategy for economic development, for industrialisation, for creating jobs and for entrepreneurs to grow in a situation where the Naga governments are purportedly running “parallel governments”. There is a need for vision statement in the form of this NCA. Our struggle should also be about removal of poverty, improvement in living conditions of the masses and meaningful dent in the burgeoning unemployment among the youths. Unleashing popular revolutionary forces or energy by freeing the Naga people from the fear of Indian police, army and the bureaucracy especially during the cease fire period since 1997 is backfiring now. We cannot rely purely on this fervour all the time. We need to secure peace and order by ourselves, for ourselves. In the word of Micheal Vanvok Brag, if Nagas think they are a nation, then they should behave like one. These are also some of the ‘contemporary political realities’ that we need to consider seriously. The centralised and organised democratic-centralism party structure of our national political parties have helped the organisations to withstand state repression, to acquire political power to leverage a negotiation but this structures have also become a drag for the people. It tends to promote monopolisation of power by party cadres and people close to them. Patronage and partisan activities have taken a toll on the parties and their popularity. There is a failure to arrest societal decay. It is time to articulate our vision for the future through a public document like the proposed NCA.

A political overture of this nature will create more space for people’s participation in the peace process and bolster the present armistice. For the Nagas, the exercise itself can serve as a fulcrum to accelerate and strengthen the movement from its base – the people; giving impetus to the negotiation to down play the complex issues and set a new paradigm for earlier resolution. Envisaging a libertarian polity as such in a constitution will also assuage the fear and circumspection of the people toward the often misconstrued totalitarian ideology of the national political parties or factions. Magnanimity of the Naga national parties to encourage the people in decision making process and the political will of the government of India to settle the Indo-Naga issue once and for all is the need of the hour.

Ngachonmi Chamroy

The writer can be reached at chamroy1@hotmail.com.

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By EMN Updated: Nov 15, 2023 12:15:16 am
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