Nagaland: A Kashmir in Making?

A Naga youth. PC: Ashok Ningthoujam. Source: www.e-pao.net.

As India celebrates the revocation of Article 370, another issue concerning our national integration is coming up. Jammu & Kashmir hasn’t been the only state to enjoy special privileges under the Constitution. Article 371 of the Indian Constitution lists down various states in the country which has special privileges, most of them are North-East States. One such state is Nagaland, home to independent India’s oldest insurgency, which is currently in talks with the Indian Government to solve longstanding issues of political dissent.

In June 2019, various newspapers from the North East released the statement of Rh. Raising, leader of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN)-IM, in which he claimed that the Indian Government has accepted the eight demands of NSCN-IM, namely – 

  1. A separate constitution for Nagaland.
  2. Separate Flag.
  3. Separate Naga passport.
  4. Permanent UN Representative.
  5. Joint Foreign Affairs.
  6. Joint Defence/Military.
  7. Use of Currency Rupees (Right to use Naga Currency) and. 
  8. Pan Naga Government to cover all Naga inhabited Areas.

If these demands are indeed accepted by the Indian Government, they can cause an uproar across the country, especially in the former state of Jammu & Kashmir.

Nagaland has already received special status under the Indian Constitution vide Article 371A. Some of the major provisions are –

(1) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution,

    (a) no Act of Parliament in respect of

        (i) religious or social practices of the Nagas,

       (ii) Naga customary law and procedure,

      (iii) administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law,

      (iv) ownership and transfer of land and its resources, shall apply to the State of Nagaland unless the Legislative Assembly of Nagaland by a resolution so decides

The state has been grappling with insurgency for more than 70 years and was against its accession in the Indian Republic because of their distinct identity. The Naga National Council (NNC) declared independence way back, on 14 August 1947, which was not accepted by the Indian Government. In 1952, a parallel underground government started functioning with the help of the Naga Federal Army. When the local administration was unable to control the insurgency, Indian Government implemented the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA), which is in force to this day. Incidentally, Nagaland was the first state where AFSPA was introduced.

In 1975, the Indian Government got some leaders of the NNC to sign the Shillong Accord and accept the Constitution of India without conditions. However, a section of NNC leaders rejected the accord and consequently, the NNC split to form the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), which split again in the 1980s. Along with these major groups, there are also a number of small groups operating in the state.

In 2015, the Indian Government and the Naga National Political Groups (of which NSCN-IM is a member) signed a Framework Agreement to end the insurgency and bring peace to the state of Nagaland and other areas. Details of the Framework Agreement are not out in public, as few points are still under discussion. However, it was largely agreedthat the NNPG will give up their demand of sovereignty, lay down arms and accept the Indian Constitution. AFSPA is to be revoked, the territory of Nagaland state will not change, and Nagaland will have a bicameral legislature and more representation in the Parliament. Additionally, Naga Territorial Councils will be created in neighbouring states having Naga population.

For four years, there wasn’t much change in the Framework Agreement, but if the latest reports coming out of North East are to be believed, then the entire concept of India’s integration is set for a makeover.

The whole issue of Naga insurgency is based on identity. Nagas have always claimed that their identity is distinct from not only the rest of India, but also from other states in the North East. India has been trying extremely hard to do away with this concept of identity since its Independence, wherein people, at least at the national level, can relate with other citizens just as Indians. The Nagas, on the contrary, champion the concept of ‘Shared Sovereignty’ under which the eight points are stated.

The US, Hong Kong and Palestine are stellar (albeit dissimilar) examples of shared sovereignty. The US adopted a federal system of governance wherein it made provisions for each state to have its own separate Constitution, separate laws and separate Supreme Courts. Hong Kong is a  “Special Administrative Region” i.e. an autonomous region with high degree of executive, judicial and legislative authority along with its separate currency, flag, passport and Basic Law i.e. the constitution of Hong Kong. Palestine is an exceptional case as it is a disputed region under Israel, wherein the nation has its own Constitution, President, currency, flag, passport, foreign affairs and Non-Member UN representation seat. However, any kind of federalism and autonomy within the country has its limits. The US Constitution will always prevail in case there is a conflict between the US Constitution and the Constitution of any state. Similarly (and increasingly) it is considered that the Chinese Constitution will prevail over Hong Kong’s Basic Law.

India has always been wary of any kind of behaviour which could sound of autonomy due to its past experiences. Having faced the brunt of it in Jammu & Kashmir, even a small demand such as a separate state flag for Karnataka raised a lot of hue and cry in New Delhi. 

With the recent dilution of Article 370, which brought the state of Jammu & Kashmir completely under the Indian Union, it will be extremely difficult for New Delhi to justify or even accept the Naga demands of Shared Sovereignty. At most, the Indian government can accept the flag of Naga people to honour their struggle and sacrifice. However, it has to be hoisted only in Pan-Naga cultural bodies and only as a symbol of their emotional/cultural integration. If at all the Naga Constitution – known as ‘Yehzabo’ –  is  adopted, it has to be brought under the realm of the Indian Constitution. And yet, the situation with Nagaland will continue to look like it was for Jammu & Kashmir, 70 years ago. Any other points of Shared Sovereignty should be unacceptable as it will open Pandora’s box in Nagaland and in some years, the situation will be worse than what it is now. 

The Kashmir and Naga situations are different in many ways and yet are similar to some extent. Dilution of Article 370 is, certainly important for national integration, but it also has high geopolitical significance. The Naga issue is largely an internal issue and squarely about national integration. 

The Naga insurgency should end, and peace should prevail in Nagaland, no doubt. However, for this purpose, if the Government needs redress the grievances and accept certain demands of the Naga people, then it must. However, it should not concede the eight demands, nothing more than the points of the Framework Agreement and perhaps the Naga Flag. It is better to keep the Article 371-A in its current form than accepting the Naga Constitution. Failure to do so will lead to issues, not solutions.

Mark Kinra

Mark Kinra is a corporate lawyer by profession and geopolitical analyst at heart. He primarily works on South Asia, specializing in Pakistan.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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