Nehruvian approach to the Nagas and Northeast India

It is unlikely that India will concede to Nagas' demand, scattered in Arunachal, Nagaland and Manipur at any cost. Any attempt to bring to fruition Modi’s Act East policy will have to traverse through these states. You and I know that such diplomatic arrangement will have essentially no significance as that of a Schengen visa.

The ubiquitous Indo-Naga peace talks speculation for a September solution perhaps can take a breather now. While the ‘Indo-Naga peace talks’ continue in New Delhi, a little dive back into history seems appropriate to perhaps point out the metastasized lump of the idea of cancer prognosis to the unending negotiations dating back to 1997 ceasefire agreement, and further to 1964-68.

When the Indian parliament in 1958 enacted the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) at a time Jawaharlal Nehru was at the helm of Prime Ministership, India as we recall, was in an age of transition. In one of Nehru’s rare television interviews with Arnold Michaelis in 1958, around the same year AFSPA was enacted, Nehru, thoroughly anglicized, disquietly uttered “men’s material advance, his conquest over the power of nature has far outrun his conquest over himself.” Six years later Nehru returned for an interview again in 1964, a relatively older and weary Nehru after the Sino-Indian War over the disputed Himalayan border which unfortunately was the year he died.

The marshalling of AFSPA advancement to Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, had its terrible consequences. But for the Naga tribes, the Indian force onslaught, hostility, and ferocity was the doing of a brute aggressor but first with coercive powers and measures.

Nehru then was already aware of the technological advancements and how the world was rapidly changing. Independent countries approach to foreign policy, international affairs, national interest, democracy, federalism and his understanding and approach to a new world order, world economy perhaps made him see Northeast frontier in a different light.

He said rather candidly in the interview with Arnold Michaelis that “in western Europe and America, the economic revolution preceded the political one and thereby resources were created to satisfy political demands…” saying “there was no choice for India but to work with what India had.” India at that time, was at the rather extreme opposite end.

While keeping in mind Nehru’s geopolitical calculation with Indian economy at the heart of it, Nehru must have understood how Northeast frontier would pay rich economy dividends through India’s southeast Asia economy gateway unseeming in consonance with Modi’s new India. BJP’s look east policy, now, no longer a slogan but an Act under Modi’s Central government’s Act East policy (AEP) where Modi’s last visit to Bangkok not just explored possibilities but with plans already in the cards for Thailand and Mayanmar connectivity via Northeast.

Therefore, it will be a hard bargain for India not to consider what Nehru perhaps foresaw the economy dividends for the rest of India through Northeast economy gateway. Hence to see that plan in the cards come to fruition, Indo-Naga peace talks to Indian economist and politicians, perhaps seems like the Achilles heels, then with Nehru’s government.

A sovereign Naga Nation or an integration of all Naga areas to be placed under a single administrative unit with its own economy, flag and constitution and perhaps military could only halt the long-envisaged dream to boost Indian economy. Whether or not the Nehruvian middle path politics has any resonance with the BJP right wing politics, at the crucifix of India’s worst economy contraction at -23% for 2020 first 2 Qs, this seems like a good deal.

It is unlikely that India will concede to Nagas’ demand, scattered in Assam, Arunachal, Nagaland and Manipur at any cost. Any attempt to bring to fruition Modi’s Act East policy will have to traverse through these states. You and I know that such diplomatic arrangement will have essentially no significance as that of a Schengen visa.  

In “Chanakya” published in Modern Review, Calcutta, where Nehru describes himself as “some triumphant Caesar passing by,” who might turn dictator with “a little twist.” Nehru stressed the importance of questioning the motives of leaders, and checking the power they hold.

Well that self-examination and reforms for the Northeast frontier and especially for the Nagas, the consequences of conflict between Indian military and Naga insurgency began when Nehru turned Authoritarian as he sent hundreds of army to Northeast sawing seed of insurgency and thus began the cycle of unfriendliness, regional conflict with repercussions. 

While to the mainland India, Nehru reached out to the peasant and the worker, to the zamindar and the capitalist, to the merchant and the peddler, to the Brahmin in a civilian cloth but to the Nagas… Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru had different ideas about the Nagas.

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