The illusory homeland

Published : Feb 14, 2003 00:00 IST

On the erroneous concept of an `internally coherent homeland', once again brought to the fore by the NSCN(I-M)'s vision of a Nagalim comprising all Naga-inhabited areas.

in Guwahati

THERE is little doubt that many of the nationalities, big and small, of northeastern India, and of the rest of the country as well, deeply desire for, and are engaged in various forms of agitation, peaceful and constitutional as well as violent and extra-constitutional, to achieve the realisation of an internally coherent `homeland' where they, and only they, would `belong'. In such yet-to-be-realised homelands, there would be the least possible contradiction (ideally, no contradiction at all) between the territory and the political space constituting that imagined homeland and `ethnicity', in terms of language, religion, racial and cultural characteristics, historical memories of ancient wrongs and smouldering revanchist grudges, or any other components that are presumed to make up that `ethnicity', indeed the `history' of the people inhabiting that putative homeland.

Historically, in South Asia, Pakistan was the first nation-state to come into being based on an ideology of exclusivist, though at the same time also universalist, Islamic nationalism the contradiction in the term `Islamic nationalism' notwithstanding. Over half a century after its creation, that vision of an internally coherent `pure' state comprising a `pure' people, which was abjured at the very moment of its birth by its founding father, is yet to be realised, though successive regimes have soldiered on trying to sell that vision to an increasingly sceptical people. Sri Lanka and Myanmar too have tried to construct similar denominational states, with more or less the same disastrous consequences for their societies. In India, the struggle between exclusivism and pluralism, though most visible at the national level in the grave challenge posed by the Hindutva forces to the concept of a pluralistic society and polity, is going on also in the States, regions and other sub-structures down the line, at political, societal and cultural levels. This is especially so in northeastern India.

The dream of attaining such `uncontaminated homelands' is perhaps a universal phenomenon. Forces of so-called modernisation, instead of tempering such seemingly atavistic and irrational urges, have only made them stronger. Even the phenomenon of so-called globalisation with its concomitant transformation of the whole world into a supposedly `global village' has paradoxically strengthened the tendency among various people towards defining themselves in narrower and narrower terms, and in opposition to the `other'. If, for instance, the Internet has at one level opened up the whole world and all its intellectual inheritance at least to those who have the wherewithal to possess or have access to the required technological gizmos, it has also encouraged (apart from spreading illiteracy and diminution of the habit of reading books and keeping written notes) with its instant websites the manufacturing and propagation of any and every kind of `ethnic' identities, with equally instant championing of such claims by an enormous number of very well-heeled non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local and foreign.

Consider, for instance, the following passages from the manifesto of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim dealing with what it sees as the fundamental contradictions between `Indians' and the `Nagas'. The manifesto as a whole is as typical an expression of the desire for the realisation of an `uncontaminated homeland' as any one can find in the region. Adopted on January 31, 1980, the founding day of the NSCN, and revised in November 1993, the document constitutes the most explicit expression of its ideology. "The involuntary influx of Indian nationals from the over-populated India into our country has set all Nagalim under constant threat of eventual submersion. In this connection, it may be recalled that before the year 1947, there was not a single Indian in Nagalim. It is now with more than two hundred thousand Indians... The spread of Hinduism and the queer noises have reached our homeland. Although as a doctrine Hinduism is not a recruiting force, it is not to be easily dismissed, since it is backed by a Hindu government. The forces of Hinduism, viz., the numberless Indian troops, the retail and wholesale dealers, the teachers and the instructors, the intelligent, the prophets of non-violence, the gamblers and the snake-charmers, Hindi songs and Hindi films, the rosogula makers and the Gita are all arrayed for the mission of supplanting the Christian God, the Eternal God of the universe. The challenge is serious; there is no hiding, no pretension... To join the Indian Union... is to allow ourselves to be drowned and perish in these waves of dead doctrine. Whereas to defend the Nagalim's Independent Existence... is to assure ourselves safe from the doom of Hinduism. This is a simple logic. The failure of the Christian leaders to grasp the way the evil forces work and their failure to face them in the way they should, has indeed, placed Nagalim on a most serious trial. We are not only confronted with a war of physical force but also with more dangerous insidious war of assimilation."

Addressing those `Naga religious leaders' who believe in "the illusion that constitutional sanction of India would safeguard the freedom of their faith" , the manifesto says: "Preachers of all ranks are gone after the blessings and the `award' of Indian bosses. Spiritual uprightness is pushed into the background, pliable demagogues are out, dressed in "dhoti" with that queer red mark of foreign goddess in their broad foreheads, preaching reverence for cows half absorbed, full devil! O Nagalim, whither goeth thou!...

"Furthermore, the abundant amenities of life accorded to them are only sinister seeds of dissension being sown in the Naga family. Whatever it may be and wherever they may be, Nagas are Nagas and we shall prove the evil of this policy before long. India's `Ahimsa', `All Roads Lead to Rome' and `No Religion has the monopoly of righteousness' are no doubt, masterpieces of philosophy, but the way to eternal life is not philosophy. The time has come for you and for us either to shrink back or prove through. God wants us right now to stand for him. Now is the time to hold firm our ground with Christ and face the stick and carrot policy.... O men of God, lead us to Saviour Christ for He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life that leads to God, the Father. Our Saviour taught us saying, `and thou shalt be hated of all nations for My name's sake'. Truly it is time and we hold the Moses' question Who is on the Lord's side? Come for Christ, come for the Nagalim's freedom... There is no third way, because `he who is not with me is against me and he who does not gather with me scatters'."

Leaving aside the irony of the NSCN (Isaac-Muivah) leaders with their strong commitment as much to the idea of `Nagaland for Christ' as to their firm rejection, with unconcealed and ill-informed contempt, of the symbols and substance of what they see as `Hinduism' holding talks with the leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, what comes through in the passage and in the manifesto as a whole is the passionate commitment to the realisation of an ideal Nagalim, the unqualified territorial nationalism anchored in land, the land of the Naga people transcending the boundaries of the present State of Nagaland, inhabited by one people, the Naga, following one faith, Christianity, and committed to one ideology, `national socialism' or, more accurately, Naga socialism. Central to this vision is the conviction that the Naga people, never defeated or conquered even by the British colonial rulers, are not `seeking independence' since they declared themselves independent a day before India attained its Independence, and Nagaland (Nagalim) has therefore been an `independent nation' since then. The real issue in Nagalim is to secure the removal of Indians, the armed forces as well as others, who constitute another colonial occupying force; and simultaneously also secure the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas, currently under the occupation of India and Myanmar, thus finally realising the vision of a sovereign and independent Nagalim.

The problem, as much with Nagalim as with any other corresponding aspiration in the northeastern region, is that no amount of restructuring of territory, either in response to agitations conducted within the framework of the Constitution or extra-constitutional struggles and insurgencies as those represented by the various factions of the so-called Naga underground and others it has spawned either in imitation or in competition, will result in the constitution of such an internally coherent `homeland'. This would be so even if, hypothetically, a `sovereign Nagalim' were to come into being, with (an even more hypothetical assumption) Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur and Myanmar acquiescing in the integration of large areas under their control into a `sovereign Nagalim', and the Indian government conceding every single point to the proponents of a `sovereign Nagalim'. The most cursory examination of the map of Nagalim and the census figures of the areas claimed for the envisaged Nagalim will show that its population will still have a very pluralistic character, with lots and lots more Indians, lots and lots more people practising other faiths, indeed lots and lots more non-Nagas, far more pluralist than that of the present State of Nagaland. Such is the case with every one of the envisaged `homelands' being pressed for by various groups in the region.

FOR instance, consider the case of Mizoram, attained after a two-decade-long violent struggle, perhaps the most internally coherent political unit functioning in the northeastern region, where one ethnic group (Lushai/Mizo), one language (Mizo) and one religion (Christianity) overwhelmingly dominate all the rest. And yet, Mizoram also has provisions for three autonomous district councils, two of them representing people who are ethnically not different from the majority Lushai. Further, it has had to cope with a violent separatist agitation from the Hmar People's Council (whose claimed homeland traverses Mizoram, Manipur and Assam) and is at present facing another violent agitation by the Bru (the Reang), who straddle the region traversing Mizoram, Tripura and Assam. Manipur, whose dismemberment is a key element in the making of Nagalim, presents the classic instance of extraordinary pluralism, with about 30 recognised Scheduled Tribes sharing the same political and physical space with the dominant Meitei not merely in the five non-Meitei-dominated districts surrounding the Imphal Valley but in the Imphal Valley as well, indeed, in Imphal city. When there were violent outbursts in the State in June 2001, following the Central government's notification extending the ceasefire, until then operating only in Nagaland, to `all Naga-inhabited areas' (without any consultation, let alone the concurrence of the governments of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur), no Naga inhabitant of Imphal was affected, though some on their own volition left the city.

The situation is even more complicated in Assam, where owing to centuries of social and cultural interaction, the dividing lines between communities have become extremely blurred. Yet, even these same people are engaged in competitively raising demands of ethnic separation, constitution of a separate district or a Union Territory or a State, sovereignty and independence, terrorising and killing each other (and themselves) in the process.

Put simply, no people in northeastern India (indeed in the rest of the country as well) can reasonably aspire for, let alone attain, an exclusive political space for an `uncontaminated homeland' short of engaging in ruthless ethnic cleansing.

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