It has been truly said, ‘We can choose our friends, but not our neighbors’. What we make of this truth either for better or for worse, testifies to who we are and therefore, the kind of future we would bequeath our children/grandchildren. I ask of our valley friends, how do you see yourselves in the context of the given truth with Nagas as your immediate neighbors? Do you take them as your neighbors with potential impact on your existence for good or for bad? Do you therefore treat the Nagas the best that you can and expect as much in return? Or do you view the Nagas as your adversaries (being neighbors notwithstanding) and therefore treat them with contempt and ridicule? Do you view the Nagas as lesser mortals only to be used as objects for exploitation, oppression and suppression?
It may be mentioned that what one would wish on oneself is what we ought to wish for all others including our neighbors as well. This is how we can create for both a ‘win win’ situation which should be the way forward for all of us. We Nagas, despite facing countless depredations have generally refrained from saying a word or doing anything against the valley`s interests or interfering in their issues.
However it is regretfully stated that what we have seen time and time again being exhibited from most of the valley is a downright hostile and hegemonic attitude betraying utter desperation on their part to obliterate our history and therefore our existence. Most relevant in the present context is the so-called territorial integrity of Manipur in support of which most of the valley populace have rallied around, little realizing that the constitution of our country nowhere guarantees territorial integrity/territorial sanctity of any state. On the contrary, the constitution vide Art. 2 & 3, guarantees changeability/alterability of any state`s political boundary in keeping with the changing needs/demands of the time, subject to simple constitutional requirement that the bill to that effect be passed by simple majority of the members present in the house. I would further like to invite the kind attention of our valley friends to the following:
1. Racially we people of the Northeast, belong to mongoloid stock but the branches therefrom have had us perched/relocated mostly in different parts of the Asian continent. Meeteis and Nagas and other tribal groups coming together under one administrative unit dates back to India’s independence 15th August 1947.
2. Prior to August 15 1947 and dating back to 1891, Nagas of Manipur though shown within geographical limits of Manipur were separately and distinctly administered directly by the political agents of the British Crown as opposed to the valley which was under the powerful rule by the then Manipur Maharaja through his durbar. Slicing off certain Naga inhabited areas and placing them within geographical limits of Manipur in absolutely arbitrary fashion was done purely on consideration of administrative interest and convenience of the then colonial masters.
3. In the absence of legal and historical bonding, arbitrary annexation of Naga inhibited areas into new Manipur was wrong ab initio. A far greater wrong done to Nagas in direct violation of the principle of natural justice was the formalization of merger agreement (sept.1949) between the Govt. of India and the then Maharaja of Manipur for the irrefutable reason that an entity (i.e. Manipur Maharaja) not vested with sovereign powers over the Nagas could never arrogate to himself the sovereign will of the Nagas to execute such an agreement on their behalf. Wilful suppression of truth and perpetuation of untruth thereof, does not confer the right upon any power to continue holding the Nagas hostage to such political aberration that reeks of colonization. Silence of the Nagas, be that as it may, can never be taken as endorsing the validity of an overwhelmingly flawed agreement. Therefore, it should be known to all that the Nagas have never ever either by will or consent, accepted extension of the merger agreement to the Naga-owned and inhabited areas of Manipur, for there simply existed no such basis, impliedly or otherwise.
Immediately preceding the merger agreement of Sept. 1949 was the short-lived interim administrative arrangement operational from 15th August, 1947 that provided for tribal self-determination to be exercised after five years on whether or not the tribals would remain within the newly emerging Manipur. The provision for self-determination never saw the light of the day, interrupted mid-stream as it were, by merger agreement of Sept. 1949. And of course, specific to Nagas was the merger of Naga National League (Manipur) with the NNC 1948 that eventually concluded in the infamous nine point Agreement with the then Governor of erstwhile Assam province, the 6th point of which provided for bringing all contiguous Naga inhabited areas under a single administrative umbrella. Though rendered infructuous due to the slippery nature and ethos of those in control of the new dispensation at the time, the facts stated above clearly recognizes the unignorable separateness/ distinctiveness of the tribals and of the Nagas in particular which has been sought to be swept under the carpet by portraying an alternate and misleading narrative.
In the backdrop of the given facts, what then is the way forward? A future spun out of cobwebs of exclusive valley interest and convenience would only mean sustaining the unfair status-quo, a proven recipe for tribal exploitation and degradation. With 44% of State population, tribals have 19 MLA’s (32%) leaving the remaining 40 MLA’s (67%) for the valley which accounts for 56% of the state population; tribals hardly add up to 20% of the employees on the State Government`s pay roll; 90% of the land under the command of the tribals, stands totally deprived of Central Govt. institutional share. But why wonder? It takes both hands to clap; if we would like to blame the valley people for exploiting and extracting the people in the hills, even the people in the hills are to be blamed for simply standing as mute spectators awaiting to be exploited and extracted to the very bones.
The unfortunate picture that sustains present Manipur state is two-fold:
a. Valley populace of all hues and shade stand united rock solid even perhaps for the wrong/unjust reasons.
b. Tribals, and Nagas in particular however stand divided in bits and pieces in spite of standing on the right side of history.
However, no matter how determinedly misplaced our ways be, the truth is not subject to manipulation/distortion. Truth manipulated and distorted stands for self-degradation; Truth rejected stands for Self-dehumanization. None of us (Meetei/Kuki/Naga) has the mandate to subvert the truth.
We owe it to posterities and most importantly to God our Creator to come clean on the legacy that we choose to leave behind us. Will it be a legacy sold out? Will it be a future mortgaged to subjugation? I for one would not like to be evasive, elusive and pretentious. My cherished dream is that I choose to be on the side of history that honours posterities, no matter how painful the path may be.
Sword Vashum. Retired additional deputy comptroller and accountant general. Views are personal.