The Naga political movement in Manipur has gained maturity, furthering the struggle to unite Nagas under the common cause of Naga Nationalism. In the context of the problem of tribalism, widespread among the various Naga tribes scattered in various states in the northeast part of India, it may be necessary to consider the political dynamics prevailing in the state of Manipur where the Nagas are second highest in population. Here is a politico-historical look back to when the first stirrings began.
In terms of size and population, Manipur is one of the smallest states in India. having ranked twenty-fourth in the list of states and union territories of the Republic of India by area from largest to smallest, with total geographic area around 22,327 square kilometres of which 20,089 square kilometres comprise the hills dominated by the Naga and kuki tribes covering around ninety-one percent and dominating the regional landscape and the remaining area of 2238 square kilometres comprising the Manipur/Imphal and Jiribam/Barak valleys dominated by Metei and to some extent Muslim community.
To the hill people from time immemorial Manipur was known as “Meiteileipak” or “Kangleipak” – land of the Meiteis/Tammis/Manipuris. It may be noted that the Manipur valley which is one of the three valleys of the sensitive North-East India situated between the Naga Hills and the Chin Hills of Myanmar with an altitude of about 3000 feet accommodates about two-thirds of the state’s population according to 2011 decadal census.
The Manipur Hills, on the other hand, nestle numerous historical communities belonging to either Naga or Kuki groups who claim to have inherited their present land from their ancestors. The Meiteis called these hills as “Chinglam”or ‘tribal’ lands – land of the hill people and their inhabitants are known to them as “Chingmis” that is the people of the hills.
Endorsing the views of some colonial writers like W. McCulloch, T.C. Hodson and G.A. Grierson that the Meiteis, Nagas and Kukis are predominantly Mongoloid who speak Tibeto-Burman languages, noted indigenous/Manipuri historians advanced the theory that the people of valleys and hills of Manipur are one. “Ching-Tam Amatani” is their main slogan. It means that Manipur consists of valley and hills and these two parts of the State have never been separated. This is the claim of the Meiteis rejected by the Nagas and Kukis who put forward their respective claims over land and territory which contradict the Meitei claim. According to them, the Nagas, Meiteis and Kukis are ethnically and politically different and hence they have issues between them.
Recent years have witnessed a renascent interest in ethnic politics in Manipur and because of that ethnic situation in the State has become very explosive. Claims and Counter-claims over land and territory is the root cause of this explosive social and political situation. The Naga version maintained by the United Naga Council (UNC), an apex Naga body in Manipur that looks after the interests of the entire Nagas living in Manipur is that before the colonialization of the Naga territory, the Nagas lived in their village-states and were free from any external political interference and domination. After Manipur fell into the hands of the British after fierce fighting in the Khongjom War, the hill areas including those Naga areas controlled by the Rajas of Manipur were affected by the suzerainty of the British.
During the British rule, the Nagas in Manipur, soon after the educated and politically conscious Nagas of Naga Hills submitted an historic Naga Memorandum to the Simon Commission in Kohima, launched the “Naga Raj” AKA Makam Gwangdi Movement under the visionary leadership of Haipou Jadonang that shook the very foundation of the British establishment in Manipur. This movement aimed at freeing all Nagas from the yoke of the Britishers. For the Government of Manipur (GoM), this movement was one of the movements of the people of the State against the British rule, not a separate Naga movement as maintained by the UNC.
The “Naga Raj” Movement was nipped in the bud but the Naga nationalistic movement favouring political independence continued. According to UNC, its predecessors – Naga National League (NNL), Manipur Naga Council (MNC) and United Naga Integration Council (UNIC) supported the Naga National Council (NNC) movement which aimed at unity and solidarity of all Nagas including those Nagas of the un-administered areas. The NNL was organized under the direct influence of the NNC in September 1946 to consolidate the Nagas of Manipur to bring together the Naga people separated by colonial boundaries. During its lifetime, it stated that the Nagas in Manipur would not be part of Manipur since the latter had never conquered the former. It further declared that it would be impossible for the Nagas to preserve their culture, tradition, customary laws and political practices should the Naga people and their land be split up and placed under different political administration and government. It expressed the strong desire of the Nagas of Manipur to merge with the Naga Hills District of Assam through the “Boycott” of the preparation of electoral rolls in Naga areas in Manipur and “No House Tax Campaign”. In the fifties, its successor, MNC merged with the NNC and became an integral part of its armed struggle. After Nagaland was created as the sixteenth Indian state on 1st of December 1963, NNC was significantly weakened but UNIC intensified the merger movement of the NNL and MNC in Manipur.
When the Second Indo-Naga Cease-fire came into effect on 1st of August 1997, the Nagas of Manipur yearning for peace hailed it and endorsed the Indo-Naga peace process. However, the UNC’s endorsement of NSCN-IM’s demands and the Meitei and Kuki opposition to it caused social antagonism and political unrest in the State. The State of Manipur was in utter turmoil from August 1997 to July 2001. Nine years after the turmoil, the Nagas of Manipur under the aegis of UNC demanded for Alternative Arrangement (AA) for the Nagas in Manipur outside the purview of the GoM, pending the final solution to the vexed Indo-Naga issue. Several rounds of Tripartite Talks have been held on this issue without tangible results.
To simplify Naga movement in Manipur, it is essentially a struggle to unite all Nagas. Naga political integration is the core demand and it is very unlikely that they will lose hope on this.
Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognised Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr Hewasa Lorin, Tatongkala Pongen, Aniruddha, Meren and Kvulo Lorin. For feedback or comments please email: email@example.com.