Sixty seven years ago today
What led to the situation of August 14, 1947; the day of Naga independence declaration?
Dr. K. Hoshi
[dropcap]B[/dropcap]efore the British subdued the Nagas, each Naga village was independent sovereign state. In 1929, the Nagas expressed themselves to the British India Government through the Memorandum to the Simon Commission that the Nagas should not be included in the new reformed scheme. From 1929 to 1935, the understanding of sovereignty by Nagas was ‘self-rule’ based on traditional territorial definition. From 1935 to 1945, Nagas were merely asking for autonomy within Assam. In response to the Naga memorandum to Simon Commission, the British House of Commons decreed that the Naga Hills ought to be kept outside the purview of the New Constitution; the Government of India Act, 1935 and ordered Naga areas as Excluded Area; meaning outside the administration of British India government. Thereafter from April 1, 1937, it was brought under the direct administration of the Crown through Her Majesty’s representative; the Governor of Assam province.Soon after its formation, on April 9, 1946, the Naga National Council (NNC) submitted a memorandum to the British Cabinet Mission when it visited Delhi during that time. The crux of the memorandum stated that; “Naga future would not be bound by any arbitrary decision of the British Government and no recommendation would be accepted without consultation”.
In June 1946, the NNC submitted a four point memorandum signed by Mr. T. Sakhrie; the then Secretary of NNC, to the British Cabinet Mission who visited India. The memorandum stated that;
1. The NNC stands for the solidarity of all Naga tribes, including those in un-administered areas;
2. The Council strongly protests against the grouping of Assam with Bengal;
3. The Naga Hills should be constitutionally included in an autonomous Assam, in a free India, with local autonomy and due safeguards for the interests of the Nagas;
4. The Naga tribes should have a separate electorate.
On August 1, 1946, Jawarhalal Nehru, the then President of Indian National Congress in his reply to the memorandum cast his points on the future of Naga Hills and appealed the Nagas to join the Union of India promising local autonomy and safeguards in a wide ranging areas of administration.
It was after 1946 only that the Nagas had asserted their inalienable right to be a separate nation and an absolute right to live independently.
In February 1947, the NNC passed a resolution at its Kohima meet and submitted a proposal on February 20, 1947 for interim Government of Nagas, under a “Guardian Power” for a period of ten years. They didn’t explicitly stated who the “Guardian Power” should be but it was undoubtedly the government of Assam province under the Crown because Nagas had believed that Assam was not going to join the Union of India.
On February 20, 1947, NNC sent an appeal to the British Government through its last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten and demanded from Her Majesty’s Government and the Government of British India to set up an Interim Government for the Nagas with independent India as the Guardian power for a period of ten years, at the end of which, the Naga people will be left to choose any form of government.
On May 20, 1947, the Constituent Assembly of India sent a delegation of Sub-Committee of Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Tribes to talk with the NNC at Kohima. The committee asked the Nagas to join the Union of India and offered an autonomous State. But the Nagas rejected the offer on the ground that the Nagas were a sovereign independent nation before the British conquered them.
In June 1947, the NNC agreed in principle and proclaimed that when India became independent, Naga Hills would not remain part of it. In the same year, Bardoloi sub-committee came to Kohima for discussion with the Naga leaders. When the sub-committee reached Kohima, NNC did not have a permanent president. A. Kevichusa, the senior Extra Assistant Commissioner, EAC at Kohima, led the NNC group as its guardian. A memorandum was drafted on the initiative of people like A. Kevichusa and Mayangnokcha. It was on the basis and frame-work of that memorandum that the 9-point Hydari agreement was drafted.
From June 27 – 29, 1947, immediately after the visit of Sub-Committee of Advisory Committee on Aboriginal Tribes, Sir Akbar Hydari, then Governor of Assam province came to Kohima and re-negotiated afresh with NNC. Nagas entered into a treaty with the Governor of Assam believing that Assam was going to be independent and not join the Union of India.
A Nine-point memorandum known as the 9-point Hydari Agreement was drawn up in which the views of the Naga leaders were also accommodated. Its preamble recognized the right of the Nagas to develop themselves according to their freely expressed wishes. In the articles of the agreement, all the points put forward by the NNC were accepted in principle and drafted with minor modifications and explanations thereof. However, clause 9 of the agreement became the sticking point over which; dispute arose in its interpretation as both sides interpreted the clause differently. In absence of unanimity in its interpretation, the Government of India annulled the agreement unilaterally before ratification by India’s Parliament. The agreement died a natural dead.
On July 19, 1947, a Naga delegation including A. Z. Phizo, who was then a Member of NNC Central Executive, went to Delhi and met Mahatma Gandhi at his Bhangi Colony. The Naga delegate told Gandhi that the Nagas should be left outside the Union of India to which, Gandhi assured that there would be no forced union.
When it became clear that Assam was not going to be independent but going to join the Union of India; when all diplomatic approaches had failed and when India was determined on forced union of Naga territories with India, the Nagas had no other option than to declare their independence on 14th August, 1947; one day ahead of India’s declaration. Nagas then told the British India government to acknowledge and recognize it based on the sovereign right of the Nagas. The declaration was also cabled to United Nations Organization (UNO) which was dully acknowledged. That was what took place sixty seven years ago today.
Today is Naga Independence Day. Naga people will see Independence Day speeches from leaders of various Naga national groups. As we observe the day, I want to ask; “How many Independence Day will be there for Nagas”? How many political groups and how many Presidential addresses? It is very embarrassing indeed!
The only way forward is holistic unity; one political institution and one national government; one principle and one voice. Unity should be on the basis of principle. Sovereignty is the principle. So, Naga national groups should unite for unity of that purpose. There’s no other mechanism to move forward.