Dialogue  April-June, 2015, Volume 16 No. 4


North-East Scan


From Tribalism to Democracy: The Arduous Transition


Patricia Mukhim*



It was interesting to read the recent exhortations of Mr. Isak Swu, Chairman, National Socialist Council of Nagalim (IM). Mr. Swu was greeting the people on the 36th Republic Day of the Nagas. The NSCN (IM) leadership has indulged in semantics for decades. Isak Swu and Th Muivah have perfected the art of diplomatic discourse while engaging with “India.” Now they use the same language to address their own people. Swu mentioned Naga psychology which he said has to be refurbished. He also said that tribalism, communalism and factionalism are the weapons of enemies of the people. Swu probably implies that the three ‘isms’ have been used by enemies of the Nagas to defeat their cause.

      While referring to those who started the Naga Movement, Swu hinted that those pioneers must have been inspired by a concept of society that is of a higher order; one that will help Nagas transcend from bondage to freedom, from darkness to light, from village state to nation state, from the traditionalist world to the revolutionary world and from the rule of autocratic kings to democracy. Mr. Swu’s refrain requires serious analyses. Some questions immediately come to mind. The first question is whether the State of Nagaland today is a democracy? An election once every five years is not the only yardstick for democracy. Decades after Nagaland State was created, the people had no freedom to speak their minds. Any dissenting voice was silenced. People were coerced to pay taxes to different militant outfits, despite their disenchantment. It was only about two years ago that people came together under the banner of Action Committee Against Unabated Taxation (ACAUT) to protest against multiple taxation by militant outfits. ACAUT demanded that the militant outfits come under one banner so that people could pay taxes to a single authority only.

       Obviously, this was not music to the ears of the NSCN (IM). They have controlled the extortion racket and businesses in Dimapur for decades by striking fear in people. So how can they bring diverse factions of the NSCN under one umbrella? The outfit hemmed and hawed and threatened the ACAUT leaders, but it is gratifying to note that ACAUT has persevered with its mission. The ACAUT is now a rallying point for all those who are looking for a life beyond the persistent narrative of Nagaland – the fight for sovereignty, followed by the agreement to a ceasefire in 1997 and the continued dialogue with India that does not seem to have a finishing line.

     Mr. Swu understands the fault-lines of Naga society. He points at those who ‘overlook the present, glorify the past and dogmatize the future,’ and accuses them of keeping the pot boiling for commercial purposes. Evidently, Swu is referring to adversaries and offshoots of the NSCN, such as the NSCN (K) and NSCN (U). Hence, when Swu speaks of the enemy/enemies he is referring to the two breakaway factions and the Naga National Council led by Adinou Phizo. That the NSCN (IM) has not even started a dialogue with these three key actors, no matter how fragile their links with the people are, is indicative of a spirit that is unwilling to accommodate diversities. Yet diversity is the hallmark of Naga society. What Swu refers to as tribalism is the glue that binds each tribe. The Sema or Sumi tribe to which Swu belongs is proud of its heritage, its language, and all the external manifestations that make it different from the Angami or the Ao or the Lotha tribe. That is why each tribe has its distinguished weft and wart in their weaves and is proud of those emblems. Naga unity, therefore, must be built around a larger cause that each tribe will see as larger than the tribal cause and therefore worth investing in. 

        The NSCN (IM) leadership has been living in a secluded world and not done a reality check in a long time. Mr. Muivah, Swu and others are ensconced in Camp Hebron and in a safe house in Delhi. The only people they have met are groups and individuals who have been carefully vetted. They therefore have no way of assessing what people really feel about the Movement today or whether they believe that the settlement that is being talked about is going to make any difference to their lives. After all the political concessions that come will be cornered by a few leaders yet again. What will the Nagas of Eastern Nagaland really get out of the settlement? What do they actually want? If you talk to a Konyak from Mon district which is designated as one of the most backward districts in this country, that person would ask for better roads, schools, colleges, health centres, water supply, employment opportunities etc. For the person from Mon or Wokha districts of Nagaland life has not moved an inch since Nagaland became a full-fledged State. Kohima, Dimapur and Mokokchung have cornered most of the benefits of statehood.

       The question then is whether the settlement will bring about a more nuanced development paradigm that meets with the needs of the most deprived people among the Nagas such as the Konyaks who have lived in indigence for decades? And what about the Tangkhul and Konyak Nagas who also continue to live in undeveloped Ukhrul and Mon districts respectively, because they are too poor to move out to Imphal, Guwahati, Shillong and Delhi, where the bulk of their fraternity have migrated to? What will the settlement bring for the Mao, Maram and other Nagas living in Manipur? Political pragmatism tells us that Manipur will not be vivisected to accommodate the aspirations of the Nagas for a Nagalim. The political brain governing the Indian State is a clinical brain which contrary to popular belief is not a dispassionate, calculating machine, objectively searching for the right facts, figures, and policies to make a reasoned decision. It is a brain that is driven by emotion or so says Drew Westin in ‘The Political Brain.’ In the book, Adversaries into Allies, Bob Burg, the author says, force can work to a point but as soon as the person in charge loses his positional authority, his ability to force others into action is gone.’ In other words, force is rarely if ever sustainable. Persuasion on the other hand is more effective, because it requires that the other person act on their own volition. When you persuade someone you are actually helping them see why the desired outcomes of both parties in conflict are the same. Future good results are almost assured from such an engagement.

      For decades the Naga insurgents have used bullets to articulate their claim for a sovereign nation. It did not work because the Nagas suffered the most from this untenable position. Finally the Naga Mothers Association (NMA) forced the rebels to “Shed No More Blood,” and a truce was worked out in 1997. It is instructive that the Naga social system, entrenched as it is in patriarchy, has prevented the same women who ended the bloodshed, from being active stakeholders in the peace process.

        To the young Nagas Mr. Swu says, “Be guided by our own culture.” But what exactly is that culture? Is it a culture of tribal warfare, violence bloodshed and the evils of patriarchy? Or was there a counter culture that the Nagas have forgotten?

      It truly is a long road from tribalism to a democracy that is still a work in progress.


*The writer is editor, The Shillong Times and an eminent social activist, journalist and member of National Security Advisory Board.  



Celebrate Diversity but not Inequality


Pradip Phanjoubam*



Perfect social and economic equality is a myth, which is perhaps why a perfect Communist State too has always been a dream too far. It is not uncommon for this dream to turn into a nightmare too. Nobody has done a better parody of such dream chasers than George Orwell, first in Animal Farm and then in another novel 1984 - A Novel. The latter was first published in 1949 and is more of a prophecy of what things would be like in 1984 if the illusory chase persists.

        With the advantage of hindsight, we do know nothing of the nature of what Orwell imagined happened in the year 1984 or even later. But we do know that in the closing decade of the last century, the obituary for all totalitarian rules was already written. Difference between peoples is a destiny of nature and there is nothing much anybody can do about this. All things are by this virtue different, despite very many similarities. Even children of the same parents have as many differences as there are similarities. Inclinations, temperaments, intelligence quotients, skills etc., have seldom been identical, not even in mono-zygotic twins (identical twins). All the better too, for variety is what ensures life is never a drag. In any case, to force everybody to a pre-defined level in the name of equality can hardly be called promoting freedom.

      Celebrating variety and differences does not however also mean we must celebrate inequality. On the other hand, this is only a reiteration of a much stated wisdom that the quest for an egalitarian society must be set on a different foundation.

       The basic principle must be to make opportunities equal, and from then on let it be every individual’s lookout. No we are not at all talking about existing or planned positive discrimination policy measures. Let that be a matter of another debate. We are here talking about a more fundamental issue of ensuring equal opportunities precisely by ensuring basic quality education.

      Unfortunately, this is one area which the Manipur government has been neglecting for far too long, and in the process creating a condition in which availability of opportunities has been incrementally made unequal. In fact, thanks to this criminal neglect, the ladder to the top echelon of the social hierarchy may have already become totally unavailable to a larger section of the society’s future generations.

      In this increasingly competitive world, which student from a poor family who has had no option but to study in a government primary school can hope to bag a seat in the courses for the top professions such as medicine and engineering etc. Given the quality of education in government schools where a majority are bound by the economic conditions to study, can opportunities be said to be equal even if by a legal definition it may be so and there are no legal obstacles against any class of students from taking part in the competition.

      In this regard, the new and imaginative initiative of the Manipur government has undertaken to revive government schools is laudable. Other than this, by and large those who have held the rein of power in the state have remained unconcerned. They have allowed the school system here to rot though they would have their own children educated away from the State, and be amongst the elite few to book a place in the society’s top strata.

       Year after year, government schools have shown dismal results in the public examinations, and this year too it was hardly different. For far too long, recruitment of teachers have been through D.O. letters and recommendations, rather than merit. Teachers’ transfers and postings too have been by the same route. Bad performances by schools have gone un-penalised just as outstanding performances have seen no rewards. Schools without students as well as schools without teachers have been allowed to remain outside the government scanner. This condition of anarchy, it seems is the government’s idea of freedom.

      The question is, can a minority group who has had all the best benefits the system can provide, ever find peace in the same space they will have to share with a majority who had been excluded from the system altogether because of dereliction of  duty and responsibility by those in power? Inequalities that result because of natural differences and abilities will seldom be resented, but inequality because of deprived opportunities is what comes with explosive potentials. Manipur is currently witness to this phenomenon. We do hope there is a change of outlook soon.


*Editor, Imphal Free Press, Imphal, Manipur.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

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