Thursday, August 30, 2012


While Nehru was making the Tryst of Destiny speech in the hallowed portals of Parliament House the world many believed that this new India would undoubtedly fail. Malthusian theorists had for long argued that India as a concept is too incoherent and it would be a spectacular failure. Cambridge historians during their long discourses in the halls of Oxford and Cambridge further supported these arguments. Yet 65 years later India stands very much as a successful idea.

However to every successful idea there are always challenges. Perhaps this is no different in the case of India and its concept of federalism. In case of Indian federalism the two biggest challengers have been the Kashmiri and the Naga struggle. Yet after 65 years of Independence while the Nagaland crisis has headed for a definitive conclusion the Kashmiri struggle remains in eternal limbo with no way forward. In popular discourse this comparison is often dismissed by constructing the argument that while Kashmir is vital to the interests of India, Nagaland in the faraway east is neither in the politics nor in the popular minds of the people of India. However this is far from the truth if indeed Nagaland or the whole of North East was an aberration in the concept of India why weren’t the Nagas given Independence at the onset? Why Mizos were massacred by fighter planes and why were 5 divisions of army stationed in Assam? Why is AFSPA still in force in Manipur?

These examples point out that contrary to popular expectations like every other part in the country the North East too is vital to the stability of this nation. Abundant mineral resources (uranium in Meghalaya, Shale oil in Arunachal, oil in Assam), proximity to the East Asia and ethnic ties with East Asia alongwith sharing vital border alongside Bangladesh, China and Myanmar makes this region an epicenter of  geostrategic importance. The US interest in Asia Pacific region, the dispute in South China Sea and the “String of Pearls” concept used by China further emphasizes the vital importance of this region. Thus to dismiss the comparison between the Kashmir and the Naga struggle by stating it as imbalanced in terms of importance is naive.

Historical Origins:

The Kashmiri struggle for “Azadi” has centered on a call which perhaps peaked in the 1980’s and 1990’s and has since then lived in the popular discourse of the Indian imagination. If one tracks the historical genesis of this call then one is carried back right to the time of Independence. The indecision of Maharaja Hari Singh the erstwhile ruler of Kashmir in signing the Instrument of Accession, followed by the attack of the tribesmen from Pakistan which eventually resulted in large scare massacre of Kashmiris both Hindus and Muslims is the starting point of the tumultuous period of Kashmir history. Yet modern history perhaps fails to properly shed light between the happenings of post 1950’s and the late 1980’s when terrorism took a ugly shape in Kashmir. History has conveniently forgotten the efforts of Sheikh Abdullah post his release and the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru at a crucial juncture when Shiekh Abdullah was in Pakistan to make a possible settlement. Perhaps history also has conveniently forgotten Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah two men who could have given shape to the solution of the Kashmir problem.

In comparison the Naga call of separatism started even when the country was being ruled by the Britishers. Although geographically almost inaccessible, small in size and thinner in population the Nagas have always believed in their struggle for existence. After India was independent Government of India tried various measures to solve the Naga issue. Jayprakash Narayan had once famously declared “The Nagas can never be Indians.”The Indian government carried through negotiations right upto the famous meet in Amsterdam which was perhaps nothing short of a spectacle. A sovereign government had to meet rebel leaders and accord them almost equal diplomatic status. In global parlance this was seen as bending over backwards and almost granting secession to the people of Nagaland. And instead a settlement was reached Nagaland today is peaceful and a part of the Indian nation. Yet when closely seen this is only partly the truth. The NSCN-IM for long the torchbearer of the Naga struggle runs almost a parallel government. Replete with its own flag, its own “Foreign Minister”, its own national song and its own icon Phizo Naga...Nagaland is perhaps as close as a sovereign country as it can be.

Comparative Analysis:

So the question is what went right with the Naga struggle and perhaps wrong with the Kashmir struggle that today neither there is peace in Jammu and Kashmir nor even a sense of greater autonomy even after having a separate article and a separate Constitution. This failure stems from shortcomings both at the level of leaders and the subaltern level.

Let us compare the leaders of the two movements. The Kashmiri struggle can perhaps be traced back to the charisma of Shiekh Abdullah while the Naga movement can be traced back to Angami Zapu Phizo. Although both these leaders were charismatic yet fundamentally they were different. While Shiekh Abdullah at the onset desired a diplomatic solution Angami Zapu Phizo was more resolute. While Sheikh Abdullah believed in Nehru and stayed within the borders of the country, Angami choose to direct it from foreign shores. If Syed Geelani is believed to be a present leader of the Kashmiri struggle even if followed by only a section of Kashmiris, then these differences between leaders is even starker. While Geelani responds to Indian government calls for treatment when sick in Mumbai, Thuingaleng Muivah the leader of the NSCN-IM chooses to stay in Thailand and direct the Naga people from foreign shores. This gives certain legitimacy to the Naga leaders while in some circles the Kashmiri leaders are merely perceived as opportunists who live off the same system and merely want concessions in the name of Azaadi. Even among policymakers this creates a certain complacency which is perhaps why never will Syed Geelani be accorded the same status as Thuingaleng Muivah.

A second problem is the basic definition of the word “freedom” for these two sets of people. While the Naga people had a very clear definition of the word freedom in every way this definition is missing in the Kashmiri discourse. There is a clamour for “Azaadi” but the definition of this “Azaadi” is missing. What does this “Azaadi” mean for the poor for the women for the children? Does this “Azaadi” have a clear economic picture? Does this “Azaadi” guarantee freedom against incursion by China or Pakistan? Does these “Azaadi” guarantee that Kashmir will not turn into a second Tibet? Often the Kashmir freedom struggle is compared to the Indian struggle for Independence in searching for legitimacy, but the moot question is that the Indian freedom struggle was not only a victory against oppressors; it was a complete process which involved economic independence among others where political freedom was a culmination of a long drawn process. In the Kashmiri struggle the moot point is to make political struggle the moot point for a complete overhaul and this is perhaps its inherent fault.

In comparison the Naga movement has never identified itself with anything that is remotely Indian even to justify its causes. It has always relied in its Naga identity its historical necessity. It always had a vision and a long term plan down to the payment of taxes in a parallel Naga government. For them political freedom was the culmination of a long drawn process of struggle the roots of which lie in the ethnicity dimensions of the Naga people. It is seen as a war among races the war between the people of the Aryan stock and the Mongoloid stock which is why Thuingaleng Muivah makes a statement by making Thailand his home instead of countries like Pakistan.

A third problem is the composition of the movement. Contrary to popular belief the “Nagas” are not one holistic group of people. The differences between the Angamis and the Ao’s are as stark as perhaps the Hindus and the Muslims in the rest of India. Yet the “Naga” people always emerged as one when the occasion rose. The Kashmiri struggle too initially was founded on the secular concept of Kashmiriyat, the land of the Sufis and the Rishis. Yet with the passage of time this movement turned into a communal movement driven by religion and perhaps hatred. In this process historical injustices committed were barbarically pushed and hidden. While the displacement of Kashmiris Pandits became the focal point of discussion the people choose to ignore the massacre of 1 million Kashmiri Muslims in Jammu as a precursor. Issues like the reservation for displaced Kashmiri Pandits but never reservation for the Kashmiri Muslims who lost almost everything in the tumultuous 1990’s were never discussed.

Kashmiri nationalists often blame the Centre for these injustices but the truth is that the very Kashmiri leaders played into the hands of the divisive powers at work. Instead of holding on to their steadfast ground of Kashmiriyat bred by leaders like Shiekh Abdullah they choose to play along communal lines. In this process they alienated their movement from the rest of Kashmir and in trying to gain sympathy of a growing surge of Islamic solidarity lost their very grounds for “Azaadi’ the Kashmiriyat or their virtues of secularism. They choose to ignore the fact that for leaders like Shiekh Abdullah and people of Kashmir “Kashmiriyat” was the chorus to freedom and not perhaps Shariat. To say that divisive forces didn’t try to divide the Naga forces would be a gross understatement. The differences between the NSCN-IM and NSCN-K the Angami and the Ao Nagas were substantially used by the divisive forces to dismantle the Naga movement. Yet such differences never worked; when the situation demanded the Naga people stood as one. If the Hindus and Muslims are seen as two ethnic or merely two communities this breakage of solidarity among the two chief communities perhaps was another major breaking point of the Kashmiri struggle.

And argument is often put forward that because Pakistan is ready to stroke the fire at the Kashmiris hearts the issue never reaches a settlement. Interestingly however the Kashmiri leadership has always been more accommodating than perhaps the Naga leadership. Yet the Naga leadership has never called for mass strikes or curfews or stone throwing sessions. It is notable that the same AFSPA that is applicable for Jammu and Kashmir is applicable for Nagaland. Army brutalities have taken place in every region where the AFSPA has been applicable. Yet the Nagas have never called for mass strikes. So what is the long term benefit of these measures not being taken by the Naga leadership? In this way they are securing the future of their own citizens. The Naga students are never faced with the closure of 6 months of academic sessions, their future are secure. The Naga fight for rights has never harmed its own citizens but the Kashmiri struggle has.

So in the end what is the meaning of this comparative study? Is it to discuss ways to end India as a concept? The answer is an emphatic NO. A nation lies not within in lands but within its people. As observers it should be our concern to discuss ways to achieve peace and this paper is perhaps a reflection of that road to peace while still perhaps clamoring for the call of greater autonomy a change in the federal structure of India. Nagaland is a prime example of how peace can be achieved even while existing within the shadow of the Indian identity. Perhaps it is time the Kashmiri leadership and people did the same. Enough blood has been spilled in the name of Azaadi in the streets of Lal Chowk. Peace has to be given a chance in this valley of Dreams. The golden dream of “Kashmiriyat” needs to be relieved again. It is perhaps time to achieve independence and peace for each Kashmiri individually and the road to that is for them to walk!