The Nagas are spread over what is now known as the state of Nagaland, besides Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam; some Naga tribes are also based in Myanmar.
1918: Organisation known as Naga Club formed by a few Naga chiefs to promote Naga interests.
After a Naga delegation met the Simon Commission when it visited the Naga Hills in 1929, the British declared the Naga areas as an ‘excluded area’, keeping it aloof from the Indian mainstream. This was in addition to an 1873 regulation known as the Inner Line (still in force as the Inner Line Permit) which prevented people from the plains from entering the Naga areas, with the exception of Christian missionaries.
While Christianity took roots and head-hunting stopped, the British policy of “least interference” kept the Nagas’ traditional way of life unchanged. The lack of contact with mainland also kept the Nagas away from the freedom movement.
While Nagas took part in the World War I, it was the second World War which exposed the Nagas to modern warfare and modern weapons. It was in this war that the Nagas mastered the art of guerilla warfare when the invading Japanese army reached as far as Kohima before they were driven back by the allied forces.
According to researchers, the weapons left behind by the Japanese forces and those acquired from the allies, gave the Nagas the arms which they ultimately used on Indian forces after the British left.
In April, 1945 the Naga Hills Tribal Council was formed under the aegis of CR Pawsey, then British deputy commissioner in the Naga Hills District. The council was set up for relief and rehabilitation after the war.
A year later, the council became a political outfit called the Naga National Council (NNC), which was formed to frame terms of relationship with the new Indian government after the withdrawal of the British. It was the first time the Nagas had floated the idea of their nationality.
In June, 1946 the NNC passed a resolution against the grouping of Assam with Bengal, as proposed by the British cabinet mission to India. It wanted the Naga hills to be included in Assam in independent India but also sought wide-ranging autonomy.
Following several rounds of talks between the first premier of Assam and also the state’s first chief minister Gopinath Bordoloi, Naga leaders signed the contentious nine-point agreement with Sir Muhammad Saleh Akbar Hydari, the then governor of Assam. The agreement granted judicial, executive and legislative powers, as well as autonomy in land-related matters to the Nagas. However, the new constituent Assembly refused to ratify the Hydari accord as it concluded that the pact guaranteed only a “district autonomy within the Indian Constitution”.
Rise of AZ Phizo
An Angami Naga from Khonoma village near Kohima, Phizo is considered the father of Naga insurgency, a hardline Naga who wanted nothing but complete independence for the Nagas.
In July 1947, a Naga delegation led by Phizo met Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi on their demand for independence. Gandhi is reported to have said, “The Nagas have every right to be independent...”
August 14, 1947, on the eve of India’s Independence, the NNC under Phizo declared their own independence.
India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, however, termed the NNC demand for independence as “absurd” and said, “It is doubtful whether the Nagas realise the consequences of what they are asking for. For their present demand would ruin them.” But the NNC declaration signaled the beginning of a long-drawn battle by the Nagas.
Phizo twice met Nehru before he was arrested in Burma (now Myanmar). But he later escaped to East Pakistan before reaching London. In between, he took full control of the NNC, organised a plebiscite among the Nagas, boycotted the first general elections conducted by the Indian government and later even formed the Federal Government of Nagaland with an armed wing of its own. Violence soon broke out in the Naga Hills, then part of Assam.
Birth of Nagaland state
Amidst the violence by NNC cadres, then President Radhakrishnan inaugurated the state of Nagaland at a grand function at Kohima on December 1, 1963.
In 1972, the Indian government banned the NNC, the Federal Government of Nagaland and its army “unlawful associations”, signaling the start of military intervention in the state.
As the government mounted pressure on Naga leaders to abjure violence, a section of the NNC leadership signed what is known as the Shillong Accord on November 11, 1975. However, the signatories did not consult Phizo and other senior leaders like Isak Chishi Swu and then general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, two men who would soon change the course of Naga history.
The mother of all insurgencies
On January 31, 1980, the National Socialist Council Of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed in the jungles of Myanmar. Swu was named as the chairman, SS Khaplang, a Hemi Naga from Myanmar as the vice-president and Thuingaleng Muivah, a Tangkhul Naga from Manipur’s Ukhrul district, as the general secretary.
Based on Mao Tse Tung’s ideology and with the avowed goal of ‘Nagaland for Christ’, the NSCN launched one of the most violent phases of Naga insurgency, targeting Indian troops, Naga political leaders aligned to any Indian political party and even civilians who opposed it. The outfit suffered a violent split following an attempt to assassinate Muivah on April 30, 1988. Muivah escaped, and the group split into the NSCN-IM led by Isak and Muivah and NSCN-K led by SS Khaplang.
Read: A history of accords but peace has eluded Nagaland
While engaging in its violent rebellion, the NSCN-IM leadership also took the issue to the international fora, highlighting alleged violation of human rights by Indian army. The NSCN-IM even linked up with organisations like the UN Human Rights Organisation in Geneva, the Unrepresented Nations People's Organisation (UNPO) at the Hague and the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples to highlight its cause.
On April 24, 1998, Swu addressed the United Nations Commission on Human Rights at Geneva, turning the Naga imbroglio into an international campaign like the Kashmir issue.
Read: Demand for Greater Nagaland back under the ambit of peace process
Long march to peace
The first serious attempts at finding a solution to the issue was made by then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao who met Swu and Muivah in Paris on June 15, 1995. Later in 1996, former union minister for state Rajesh Pilot went to Bangkok to convince the Naga leaders for talks following which former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda met the NSCN-IM leaders on February 3, 1997, in Zurich, Switzerland.
In August, 1997, the NSCN-IM entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Centre, starting what became one of the longest running peace talks in India.
In 2000, the NSCN-K – which was feeling left out – also announced a unilateral cease-fire in 2000. The ceasefire survived till the NSCN-K ambushed and killed 18 Indian soldiers in Manipur in June this year.
The peace talks got a fillip after the Narendra Modi government assumed power in 2014 and appointed RN Ravi as the interlocutor of the peace talks. The talks were to bear fruit on August 3 with the signing of the Naga peace accord.