The Apex Hoho as the Collective Strength (Voice) of the Nagas
Time has changed, peoples’ perspective and priority have altered, and understanding and expectation have changed. Are the changed mindsets of the people still in conformity to the collective vision for a common goal of the people? Looking back into the history of the Naga TOGETHERNESS and how it had evolved over the years, to me, is quite revealing which I would like to share with general readers. It is good to know the past to determine what we need to do for the future.
1. The British Influence on the Naga:- Historically, the advent of British occupation of the Naga territories and subsequent consolidation into a single administrative jurisdiction, and subsequent introduction of certain positive measures, such as, prohibiting head hunting practice, construction of a network of bridle paths connecting the interior adm units etc., were the first step enabling the Nagas to come together. Further, appointing DB (Dobasha) in the administrative centres and GBs (Gaon Bora) in all villages who were knowledgeable in their customary law and traditional ethos, and Christianisation of the Nagas had all been contributing factors enabling the divided Nagas to come together. These were the positive contribution of the British Administration. For the first time such measures had brought about a dramatic change in their life style and attitude and come to realise the advantage of living together without fear of one another.
2. The Naga Club; over the years, with their free movement and free social interaction cutting across the village or tribal boundaries had made the Naga realise the need of a larger platform to air the issues of common interest and to know each other more closely. This is how the Naga Club was formed at Kohima in 1918. The Club was further enriched by Naga Labour Corps returnees joining the Club with their exposure and experiences in Europe during the 1st World War. The Naga Club had then represented the collective voice of the Nagas.
Its notable contribution had been the famous Memorandum presented to the Simon Commission (the Indian Statutory Commission) on 10th January 1920 at Kohima demanding that the Nagas should be excluded from the new reform scheme and be left ‘alone” as they were before when the British leaves India. Their representation (Memorandum) was a success as the Naga territory was declared “Excluded Area” in the government of India Act of 1935, keeping outside the purview of any provincial legislated laws but kept directly under the control of the British administration, the Governor.
3. The Naga Nationalist Council (NNC):- The Naga Hills District Council formed under the initiative of the last British Deputy Commissioner, Kohima Sir Pausey was renamed as the Naga Nationalist Organisation (NNC) in 1945 at Wokha session. Then the NNC had taken over the responsibility of representing “the collective Voice” of the Naga in Socio-political matter. The NNC team met the British government cabinet committee members in Delhi in April 1946 and firmly conveyed to them that the Nagas political destiny should not be arbitrarily decided without consulting the Nagas. Their representation was honoured by sending the then Governor of Assam Sir Akbar Hyder Ali as the representative of the government of India to Kohima to discuss political future of the Nagas as desired. He had concluded the historic 9 point Agreement with the NNC members representing the collective aspiration of the Nagas at Kohima in June 1947.
The Agreement was an article of faith for the Nagas and believed in honouring it by the parties in letter and spirit. Unfortunately, in spite of repeated assurances from the governor’s office giving false hope all along, on 9th Nov 1949 the than Governor ShriGopinthBordoli himself admitted that the Government of India no longer recognised the 9 point agreement. It was the most shocking news, an ultimate betrayal by the government of India which was taken as the core insult to the Nagas.
On 24/1/1950 the NNC informed the GOI and all foreign Embassies that the Naga do not accept the Constitution of India reaffirming the declaration of Naga Independent day on 14th August 1947. Subsequently, the NNC was declared as a secessionist organisation and all hell was let loose by the Indian Army committing heinous crimes indiscriminately on the innocent Naga villagers but were protected by draconian laws like The Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958.etc.
4. The Naga Peoples’ Convention: – Since the NNC was not visibly operating, the Naga Peoples’ Convention (NPC) emerged to represent the ‘Voice of the Nagas’. They had in their 3rd meeting at Mokokchung, in Oct 1957, drawn up the 16 point memorandum which was later converted into 16 points Agreement between the government of India and Naga convention Team with certain modification. Thus, the Nagaland State was created out of this political agreement which is unique to Nagaland state, but it was opposed by a section of the Nagas who believed in nationhood rather than statehood.
The Statehood had brought many beneficial socio-economic developmental activities and privileges to the Nagas. Many jobs were created bringing employment to the people. However, the long term negative impacts on the Naga society outweigh the positive initial gains especially in matters of Naga political movement for a nation in the making, instead it had deepened the divide in the Naga society seriously affecting the unity effort.
For, (a) The Divide were between:- (i) the Nagas of Nagaland Vs Nagas outside, (ii) the Indian supporters Vs the Naga supporters resulting into an immediate political assassination starting with the killing of DR Imkongmeren in a broad daylight at Mokokchung. He was the first president of the Naga Convention and had just return from Delhi after finalisation of Nagaland state creation.
(b) Boundary; A hasty, arbitrary and haphazard fixation of the newly created State boundary declaring the unverified 1925 boundary line of the erstwhile Naga Hills district with the neighbouring districts of Assam as the constitutional State boundary. (It was an arbitrary line fixed by the British for their administrative convenience only). For this arbitrariness, right from the day one, border dispute with Assam started for which no solution is in sight and unless the government is serious about it Nagaland may lose at the end and remain an emotional unfulfilled dream.
The lofty dream of integration of Naga inhabited contiguous area into one consolidated Naga autonomous region is also becoming an elusive distant dream. These controversies with no visible solutions are mainly the offshoots of the state formation. The geographical and administrative divide is now percolating into mental divide among the Naga people in general which is weakening the feeling of oneness and goodwill toward each other.
On the hind side, the Naga convention leaders were knowingly or otherwise trapped in an appeasement ploy of the government. It was clearly an act of political expediency to pre-empt and disable the growing influence of Naga political movement and consolidation of Naga unity. It was a strategy of the detractors planned right at the time of creation of the state. It was thus destined to create more problems in the long run rather than solving the problem. In this regard, BM Malik (X-IB Director) has pertinently remarked in his book that ‘the formation of Nagaland state in the present form was to break the Naga solidarity. Serious collective effort is call for to take conscious possible corrective measures to salvage the Naga society from a permanent divide.
5. The Apex Naga Hobo:- 15th Nov. 1994, Wokha.- After the formation of the Nagaland state, for quite a long time, the collective Naga voice at the apex level had been missing to take up issues of common concern on any matters. It was under the aegis of Lotha Hobo, various Naga tribal representatives were assembled at Wokha once again on 15/11/94. The convener Dr TM Lotha had, made a pertinent introductory remark that the Nagas felt, ‘we are one with pride and a sense of belonging and that should be preserved and promoted further’. In pursuance of that direction, they put up two important agendas for deliberation. That were (a) the feasibility of forming an Apex Naga Organisation consists of tribal hohos. (b) To collectively take up the Assam-Nagaland Border crisis. The summit had also discussed with concern the growing dissension among the Naga national workers(UG) weakening the Naga national movement. They appealed for tolerance and reconciliation among themselves.
The 2nd Summit, Kohima on 15/6/1995:- the APO president has emphasised upon the need for a Neutral Apex Naga Body consisting of all Nagas including those from outside Nagaland regardless of political or religious affiliation or status. A highest Non-political and Non-partisan forum of the people can be an effective bridge to unite the divided Nagas again. He appealed the gathering to see that the formation of a common platform becomes a reality. The issues taken up were (a) for unity of UG factions for early political solution. (b) protection of Naga territorial integrity in the line of traditional boundaries.
The 3rd Summit at Phek on 12-4/3/1996:-In the Summit 7(seven) important resolutions were passed relating to, stoppage of factional fights, repealing of ‘Black law’ in operation in Nagaland, sending Naga delegates to Delhi to appeal to the central leaders to agree for unconditional political talk, and to admit the Naga tribes from other states mainly from Manipur into the Hoho fold, to finalise the Hoho constitution and to hold the next summit at Mokokchung.
The 4th Summit at Mokokchung on 26-7/2/1997:-The Mokokchung session was expected to be a landmark as the Nagas from other states were to formally admit into the Hoho Body. However, the delegates from Mon-Tuensang boycotted the session which had dampened the high spirit. Nevertheless, Nagas from Manipur were admitted. Their admission was further reaffirmed by the Naga Hoho on 26/8/1997 at Kohima in which bringing in of the Naga tribal contiguous area in Manipur under one political roof with the rest of the Nagas in Nagaland.
The 5th Summit at Zunheboto on 10-2/3/1998:- At last in this summit, a full- fledged Naga Hoho Office Bearers were elected with Mr Vero X-MP as the first president. Vice president were-Gaigam Zeliang, Shanglao Konyak and Gen Sani Ao.Vihuto Yepthomi as Gen Sey and Krurovi Angami as speaker and other officials.
With the full-fledged formation of the Apex Naga Body, the Hoho officials had involved wholeheartedly in discharging their responsibility and made many noteworthy interventions, such as, preventing violent factional clashes and fratricide killings; intertribal clashes like Yimchunger – Tikhirr of Kipheri District. Peace initiative during an indiscriminate Indian Army atrocities committed on civilian in Oinam area of Senapti District of Manipur after armed clashes between the Naga UG and Indian Army was praise worthy. A number of delegations of the Hoho had met national leaders in New Delhi and elsewhere concerning the Naga political issues as well as other socio-economic matters of public interest. So long the Apex Hoho was united and strong; its opinions were well received with respect as the collective voice of the Nagas in the national and in the international fora as well. It’s a clear proof of strength in unity.
The Naga Hoho now:- Lately, as it is seen, the Apex Hoho had gone out of tract and become controversial. The Hoho functioning was accused of being highly politicised losing its neutrality and impartiality losing its own identity which was the main sustaining strength and rallying power of the Hoho. The fact is, for one reason or the other the Hoho organisation is badly paralysed owing to the withdrawal by many tribal hohos mainly from Nagaland state rendering the Body truncated thereby sapped away its inner strength and reputation like the famous proverbial- biblical figure Samson’s tragic death due to his own folly. The present truncated Hoho will not be able to authoritatively represent as the collective voice of all the Nagas as it has lost its strength and respect commanded earlier. Therefore, now the priority task for the Naga Hobo is to regain that position if it has to survive as the Apex Naga Collective Body transcending the geographical, political and mental barriers. The question is how? The Hoho functionary needs to go to the people by create conducive atmosphere to enable those tribal Hohos whose membership are withdrawn at the moment return back. The reason for their departure is studied and reconciliation measures are taken up immediately before the damage becomes permanent.
It should not be forgotten that the Hoho is a voluntary socio- political organisation collectively formed by Tribal hohos for the purpose of promoting mainly the matters of common interest beneficial to all the Nagas tribe. It is non-political organisation but can involve in Naga political issue on merit in shaping the Naga political future through collective effort. The Hoho can strongly indulge in preservation and promotion of cultural aspect of the Nagas. Thus, the success and failure depend much on the willing participation of the constituent units (the tribal hohos). That united association can only be maintained as long as the constituent members are happy with the functioning of the Hoho. Once that trust is lost, crisis will be there like at the present moment.
The Hoho ideally represent the ultimate sum total wisdom of all the Nagas. It should be a source of strength and inspiration for all the Nagas from within and outside of Nagaland (like the recent appeal made by the Nagas from Myanmar and Rengmas of Assam to strengthen the Hoho for our common benefit). Therefore, it should necessarily be neutral to party politic as well as factional interest but courageously uphold, protect and promote the just cause of the Nagas basically and people in general. Only then, I believe, the Apex Hoho will survive and serve its main purpose.
At this crucial moment in Naga history, when the long arduous and tough journey of political movement is reaching a final stage, it is sad to see the Apex Naga Together ( Hoho) which had played a tremendous pivotal role in shaping and determining the Naga destiny over the years of struggle, is coming to such helpless, controversial and insignificant position. Nagas need each other at this crucial testing time and we need to come up to counter the force of negativity. We all need to make voluntary sacrifice to enable us to create conducive atmosphere to transform the Apex Hoho which can take care of the larger challenges transcending political and geographical boundaries in the larger interest of the people which the Nagas have been inspiring all these years.
In this direction, in order to make the Hoho once again a dynamic and effective body, the structural and functional changes of the Hoho suiting to the need and thinking of the day is called for. For this, even the constitution of the Hoho can be amended suitably. The structural change should clearly define the appropriate role dividing between the Apex Hoho and constituent units in conformity to the contemporary reality. In this, broadly, issues of local nature be left to the local hoho/group while the matter of requiring common platform be assigned to the Apex Body to avoid any overlapping function as well as avoid inter- tribal/group jurisdiction. It requires complete transformation to be relevant to the demand of changing time and be a real change agent for the Nagas’ future.
The Apex hoho must be a Federated Pan- Organisation of Regional grouping including the group from outside Nagaland including from Myanmar. We cannot afford to allow the Apex Naga Body which had brilliantly shaped and represented the strength of Naga Togetherness right from the formation of the Naga Club way back in 1918 and down the line of a long journey should not be allowed to come to such impotent body which is a loss to the Naga at last. We the Naga people need it for all of us.
(For any factual error or disagreement with the observation therein only I am responsible)
TN Mannen IAS (Rtrd)