The deadline for a final Naga peace accord passed on Thursday, amid assertions from both sides that peace talks would continue. Among the issues that have been contentious are the demand for a separate Naga constitution and use of the Naga flag, for decades a symbol of Naga nationalism.
The Nagas & the Indian Union
In a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929, representatives of Naga tribes demanded that Nagas be left free after Independence and not be included in the Indian Union. Ahead of Independence, a nine-point agreement was signed between the Government of India and the Naga National Council which included “an experimental coexistence with India for a period of 10 years’’ to be reviewed at the end of that period. While the Nagas saw this provision as temporary, with a right to self-determination after 10 years, Naga historians say the Indian government has interpreted the “trial period’’ as accession to the Indian Union.
The tallest leader of the Naga struggle, Dr A Z Phizo, met M K Gandhi in Delhi on July 19, 1947. According to Naga historians, Gandhi agreed that the Nagas would celebrate their independence a day ahead of India, on August 14, 1947. To this day, Nagas across Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh celebrate August 14 as Independence Day.
The Naga flag’s history
On August 14, it is not just the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN(I-M), that hoists the now contentious Naga flag. It is also hoisted in camps of various insurgent Naga groups, and even at homes of civilians who are often chased away by police who take the flag down. This year, in the backdrop of the Naga peace talks, a fresh burst of Naga nationalism saw large gatherings of Nagas hoisting the flag and taking it out in processions, especially in the Naga-inhabited Ukhrul district of Manipur, where NSCN(I-M) chief Th Muivah’s village is located.
In the Naga narrative, passed down generations by word of mouth, the Naga flag was not designed by a mortal but is of divine origin. As Naga groups battled the Indian armed forces, the legend goes, Phizo and his closest colleagues had a vision — a rainbow, in a startlingly blue sky that had appeared after a storm. “The Naga flag was a gift from God,” said an NSCN(I-M) leader.
A woman of the Rengma tribe, one of the tribes under the Naga umbrella, was commissioned to weave the flag. It was hoisted for the first time in Parashen in Rengma on March 22, 1956.
The flag has a blue background, representing the sky. A red, yellow and green rainbow arches across the centre. The Star of Bethlehem adorns the top left corner of the flag; Nagas are predominantly Christian.
The Naga flag today
The flag remains a symbol of the Nagas’ “struggle” for over 60 years, of their religious faith, of the aspirations of the Naga people, and of their identity. It helps bind all the different Naga tribes together. Outside Nagaland state, in particular, the flag continues to elucidate strong emotions of identity from Nagas.
Inside the state, common citizens are today divided on its importance. Certain sections believe that with secession from the Indian Union no longer possible, the Naga flag has lost some of its relevance. The moderates have supported a complete inclusion in the Indian state, for access to the latter’s development project, infrastructure, and its education and health facilities. But a large section of the Nagas still hold dear the idea of the Naga identity and of their tribal roots.
The Naga struggle claimed thousands of lives over decades and devastated countless homes, all over the idea of a sovereign Naga nation. If the NSCN(I-M) accedes to economic and political packages alone, without a separate flag and constitution, it remains to be seen whether it will be seen as a solution, or as a defeat.
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