The Importance of History (Speech by Neiketu Iralu at NSF Solidarity Park – Aug 14)
The presence of today’s Nagas in such impressive strength here this morning reveals your conviction as well as your concern and even anxieties about the present and what may lie ahead.
I want to thank President of Naga Students Federation Ninoto Awomi and his colleagues for inviting me to be here with you today. The Naga Solidarity Park created by NSF is an enduring symbol for keeping the emerging Naga family together. By its representative composition and existence NSF plays a natural, powerful role in nurturing the fragile struggling family. Prompted by a sense of responsibility I cannot ignore I decided to say YES to your invitation as one from my departing generation to say as honestly as I can what August 14 has meant to the Naga people. What I want to say today is that the facts of our history fully justify us to be at peace and confident about the stand the Nagas have taken thus far. My talk is about understanding the facts and learning to care for the aspirations of others also in order to survive and progress together, given the ground realities of our changing region. Difficult to work out, but no other way.
While preparing for this talk I recalled what Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Governor PB Acharya said while inaugurating the Hornbill Festival on December 1, 2014 in Kisama; and Modi’s intense examination and assessment of what he was seeing in the people thronged in front of him. The Governor welcomed the PM to Nagaland with a solemn KUKNALIM! The Prime Minister ended his fervent oration saying Kuknalim three times to the capacity audience. What did the audience think?
To me Modi was sizing up the people and trying to understand the part Kuknalim has played in shaping them and their history thus far. His three Kuknalims to the Naga public on his first visit to Nagaland, following the Governor’s, showed their thinking.
I believe most Nagas have come to believe the Naga journey into the modern world, meaning the struggle, is right and important for the Nagas.But many of the present generation are now asking difficult, honest questions about it. You know this crisis better than I do.They are rightly confused and plainly angry it has become so divided and destructive to itself and the people. Questioning the journeyis becoming stronger than appreciation for it. The cynicism and outrage in the anger must not be ignored or treated lightly, especially by the leaders of the different factions.
Is something wrong with the Naga journey? Or have compulsions and obsessions of personal or tribal agendas of the leaders damaged the unity, mutual trust and goodwill needed for the tough journey? If the journey or the struggle was and is right, as I believe it is, are we Nagas in danger of “throwing the baby out with the bath water”as an English saying puts it? Are we forgetting the baby?
An old African proverb says: “He, who wakes me up in the middle of the night to go on a long journey, I will thank him only after I have travelled very far.”
August 14 which produced Kuknalim is about the aspiration of the Naga people. It is about their identity theirhistory entitled them to claim and nurture. I believe Modi went out of his way to understand it while he was our distinguished guest in Kohima.
NSF is doing the right thing to get the present generation to understand our history afresh after all theconfusion the internal conflicts within the Naga family have created. You know the demanding responsibility of the attempt you are making.
George Orwell a British police officer of the Empire in Burma and acute observer of what was happening wrote, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their understanding of their history”.Are we also doing the obliterating?
Now the facts of our history as I have understood them, including August 14. Because of our homeland’s location very far away from history’s great land and sea trade routes, for centuries the Nagas remained unseen and unheard of by the outside world. No one was interested in us.We also showed no interest in anyone.
Peoples and nations form and grow by responding to the challenges that changes in the world bring to them. The quality of a society is determined by the quality of the people’s response to the challenges. Weshould knowour people’s response to the changing world produced the Naga journey or struggle.
After remaining untouched for centuries, the British exploration and eventual invasion into their land from India west of them, and Burma south of them, compelled the Nagas to respond to a power from outside for the first time in the first decades of the 19th century. The Naga tribes whose lands the British trespassed fiercely fought them. The resistance was sporadic and uncoordinated. In 1880 the Naga resistance was subjugated and Naga Hills became a District of Assam of British India. The shock of the defeat started the search for identity and security in the minds and imagination of the Nagas. Out of this initial response to their crisis, came their 1929 Memorandum to the British Parliamentary Commission that came to Kohima. The central point made by the Nagas was – if those whom they had fought and who had defeated them were leaving their Empire, the Nagas were to be left alone to decide their future for themselves. They alone had the right to do that. It became the first written document of the Naga struggle. It was their response to what the world was doing to them. Response decides the outcome.
On August 14, 1947, the NNC on behalf of all Nagas reaffirmed what the pioneers had declared 18 years earlier. They were simply staying authentic and true to what they had understood about their history up to that time, and staking their right for the future justified by their history as understood by them. Their decision was not because they were against India or any of their other neighbours or they had malicious intent to harm any of them who did not know they existed.
The Naga Voluntary Plebiscite four years later and all the momentous upheavals since then for which all Nagas have paid a very heavy price resisting India’s action to suppress their struggle have shown Nagas meant what they had declared to be right and honourable for them. I do not need to go into what has happened after August 14, 1947.
The size and nature of our crisis as I see them –
1. The Government of India cannot be blamed for the stand it took and continues to take in response to the stand it found the Nagas had taken. The primary responsibility of the first Prime Minister of the new enlarged India created by the British was to defend the new map the British gave his government and left.
2. India also cannot blame the Nagas and treat their struggle as illegal, secessionist troublemaking because they had made their position abundantly, legally, politically clear before the British whom they had fought, left their empire in South Asia.
3. The British were to blame for the clash between India and the Nagas that started after they left. But the British went away completely exhausted by the global war they had fought. They were in no position to do more than they did in the emerging situation.
4. The Naga struggle was something the Nagas had never done before. Their struggle ran into complicated economic, political, historical issues they had not anticipated, given the brevity of their modern history. This has resulted in wrongs done to one another within the Naga family. And what threatens our future is our failure to show the way forward by acknowledging our own wrongs and enable others also to do likewise restoring unity and trust. Satisfying pride, selfishness and ambition havebecome more important than meeting the larger needs of our people.Healing and reconciliation is our common responsibility.
5. The creation of Nagaland State by Delhi was not asked for, thought of or fought for by Nagas. It was a gift on a platter which some Nagas accepted perceiving it to be the best for Nagas in the given situation. Given the circumstances of its birth, the State can rightly be called the first illegitimate child of the Naga struggle, or the first faction to break away from the Naga National Council!Delhi thus inadvertently created the “over ground” faction of the Naga struggle. It was Delhi’s hasty stratagem to break the backbone of the Naga struggle. When AB Vajpayeeas Prime Minister acknowledged in Kohima the unique history of the Nagas he understood the compelling reasons that made Pandit Nehru to take the step. BK Nehru years later said it was “a grave mistake”.
6.The time has come when the “over ground” political processof the State too has to be understood as part of the larger Naga struggle conducted by one of the Naga factionswhose leaders and supporters are all Nagas and all of them cherish the common aspirations for the proper growth of their people. The illegitimate child has turned out to be an entity or political device both Nagas and India need equally for development, security and the wider stability of the NE region also affecting the Nagas across the border in Northwest Myanmar.
Human aspirations originating from their souls do not disappear. Look at the crisis between Israel and Palestine! But the circumstances in which aspirations are felt and pursued change because,just as “no man is an island entire unto itself”, so no people also can think only of their own hopes, dreams and interestsignoring their neighbours as if they do not exist.
7. Sovereignty is the most difficult issue for both the Nagas and India. It is therefore their meeting point for finding mutual understanding towards evolving an honourable, acceptable, workable solution. There are clear signs that understanding not shown earlier has started.
Nagas have learned after almost 70 years of costly struggling that India just cannot discuss sovereignty as understood by the Nagas. No PM of India can risk discussing recognition of Naga sovereignty with any Naga group as the NSCN (IM) and the NPGs have found out again.We hope they will reveal it instead of being so unwisely secretive and work out the common position urgently needed for all in today’s vastly changed situation.Naga sovereignty cannot be discussed now, not because of Nagas but because of India. A settlement which leaves out sovereignty to be discussed in the future when the people of India will enable Delhi to do so should be acceptable to all negotiating Naga groups. And why not let the future Nagas decide what will be found honourable and best? “Shared sovereignty” and other such ambiguous semantic constructionswill then cease to be issues of questionable mystery, distrust and bitterness.Feelings are real as rain; it doesn’t do to play with them at a time like the present one.
This idea is broached because Nagas on their part cannot apologise for their position on sovereignty just because it is too difficult for their neighbours. When our pioneers made their position clear long before the British left they were not motivated to cause damage to any of their neighbours who became aware of us only long after the British made us parts of them! Thinking people in India and Myanmar, our two neighbours, have started to understand the facts of our history. We must hope the people of India and Delhi will not underestimate our crisis and act recklessly because we are so smaller in size. What has been made so dangerously bad by both sides down the years must not be made more bad or worse which will certainly be too bad for Nagas but it will not be good for Indiaalso?
Indian thinkers havestarted to understand our dilemma. Our greatest need is for the Indian people to understandwe are not against or anti-India. Your generation has to reach out to the people of India to achieve this understanding. This will be a very demanding, time-consuming, but essential people-building process. The effort will produce reliable men and women whose thinking and purpose of life will generate hope and ensure the proper growth of our people.
8. The process of the Naga struggle, “underground” and “over ground”, has been very badly damaged by usas discussed earlier. The process must be healed and restored. It will mean stopping the unethical, irresponsible, arbitrary ways we so easily adopt to “solve” our problems like becoming rich so quickly even by the “underground fighters”, or achieve questionable advantages for ourselvesin so many ways ignoring the terrible consequences that always follow. There is real fear the present situation can easily collapse and go out of control again. What will that mean for us,our volatile region and Northwest Myanmar eventually?
Even at this late hour if our leaders will read the signs, listen to God and one another they will be shown what is right to save us. They will be surprised by the response they will get.Lead us to God’s superior plan for us all, not to your temptations andour suicide. This is the needed statesmanship – destiny’s call to you.