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November 3, 2017

Gathering the tribe

  • Perhaps one of the most talked about issues as far as the Northeast is concerned is the Naga struggle for sovereignty which started a day before India’s Independence. In the Naga mind, this issue oscillates between nostalgia for its unique history and the promise of a better future without disturbing this irreplaceable past. The problem with reality is that it does not allow us to romance the past.

Myth and reality

  • The Naga national workers are no longer in the prime of their lives. The chairman of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (I-M), Isak Chisi Swu, has passed away and Thuingaleng Muivah too is getting on in years. In an article, ‘The Presence of the Past’, Roger Cohen says, “As we grow older the past looms larger. The past is full of possibilities. The future may seem wan by comparison and, for each of us, we know where it ends. With a bang or whimper…”
  • Reams have been written, several seminars and workshops organised, and there have been daily cogitations on the Naga peace talks since they started in 1997. In August 2015, when the Framework Agreement was signed between the Government of India and the NSCN (I-M), expectations were high that an “honourable settlement” was in the offing. The problem is with the use of words which lend themselves to several interpretations depending on who the stakeholders are.
  • What is honourable for the NSCN(I-M) may not seem honourable enough to Naga society as a whole, with disparate aspirations and interpretations. Be that as it may, the Centre’s Interlocutor for the Naga Peace talks, R.N. Ravi, has taken on a formidable task.
  • No other interlocutor has interacted with and met so many Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) and civil society groups. For the first time, Mr. Ravi was able to push the envelope and create that integral space where all voices are heard with equal respect, sometimes at the risk of the NSCN (I-M) calling off the talks, since they felt that being signatories to the Framework Agreement, they alone have the right to call the shots. This fact needs to be appreciated. And it has to be understood that the Indian establishment too is not an easy customer. There is scepticism and there are doubts whether wider consultations would result in cacophony, making the task of arriving at a solution much more difficult.
  • For the interlocutor it’s a tightrope walk. The Naga people are a proud race and have held fast to their cultures, traditions and language. Yet it cannot be denied that tribal loyalty often comes in the way of a collective discourse for the future of Nagaland. Perhaps one organisation that has brought together people from all tribes is the ACAUT (Against Corruption and Unabated Taxation), which is seemingly inclusive of all tribes and a mass movement of sorts to protest against taxation by different armed groups and factions. So far, about 33 delegations, including the different tribal Hohos and recently the six NNPGs, have had their say. For Mr. Ravi, it is an opportunity to further understand how the Framework Agreement should pan out.
  • But Mr. Ravi’s visit to Dimapur last month was also seen with some scepticism. A video clip of the public reception given to him drew some uncharitable comments. Is the pent-up rage and frustration among the youth due to the protracted peace talks or does the rage spring from something else?
  • For the Naga people at this juncture, the most pragmatic step is to take a balanced view of the past. Obsession with one point of view hinders any kind of progress. With 16 major tribes, each with a sense of nationality of its own and every tribe having its village republics which is a crucial part of their culture, there will be divergent ‘national’ narratives. Naga nationalism is both a sentiment and a movement.
  • Ethnic boundaries of yore which went beyond geopolitical borders of the present nation can be both problematic and defy pragmatism. Then there is the issue of the Indian nation state, a term that is also problematic but which has provided its own stability for 70 years. If one were to go by Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Communities”, then all the communities of the Northeast fall in that ambit.
  • In an interview to the Nagaland Post, Mr. Ravi said the ongoing peace talks may have been initiated by the NSCN (I-M) but it has now become more inclusive. One ray of hope as far as the Framework Agreement is concerned is that there appears to be a political consensus and faith in the process. This in itself is a huge step forward. Now that the tribal Hohos and the NNPGs have all thrown in their support, there is hope that the much-awaited political solution will arrive sooner than later.

Jugaad isn’t the solution

  • The heavy rains in Bengaluru have laid bare the shoddy work done in the laying and maintenance of roads. A rickshaw driver claimed that driving on these roads would financially ruin him because the roads would damage his shock-absorbers and tyres and wreck havoc on the engine. Not only that, bad roads hamper the smooth flow of traffic which not only increases the time spent on the road and fuel consumption and pollution, but also decreases the quality of life. The same goes for the state of the drains, whether in Bengaluru, Mumbai, or almost every other city. No summer is complete without stories of the fragile power generation situation and of people dying of heat strokes just as no winter is complete without stories of cold-related deaths.

Jugaad and fatalism

  • There is a predictability and banality to all this. These events are like boxes that need to be ticked to acknowledge a particular Indian season. This national indifference may also be another face of the well-refined fatalism so prevalent here. As a consequence, outrage from citizens at the conditions that they have to live with is absent.
  • Not long ago, Bengaluru was deluged with articles about potholes. This led to the municipality claiming it had identified, counted and begun the process of resurfacing them. It goes without saying that a quick inspection of these potholes are in order after the recent rains. Resurfacing potholes is a very good case of jugaad , as is the annual drain-cleaning ritual.
  • The jugaadu system that we Indians are so proud of limits us because what is really a quick-fix Plan B becomes a Plan A. A Plan A is a well thought out scheme that incorporates and takes into consideration more than one aspect while looking at the immediate and long term. As a consequence, at most times Plan As are tough, requiring persistence and commitment.
  • Could our fatalism be that North Star that guides this inclination towards jugaad? Jugaad by providing a placebo in the form of a temporary fly-by-night reprieve calms us and prevents us from raising questions, answers to which could alter our fate. In the case of potholed roads, for instance, citizens are either immune to the problem caused, unaware of it, believe there is no solution, or believe that it is their fate to deal with such roads. Therefore, filling potholes is an accepted solution. There is no need to seek answers to questions like, can traffic be reduced, if not regulated? How are contracts being tendered for road laying and maintenance? Are there fines imposed on contractors for using bad quality material?
  • Jugaad and fatalism make for a heady cocktail that leads to inhibiting learning or enhancing the reluctance to latch on to what can be learned from how we respond to the weather and its impacts. Does fatalism also stave off the need for responsibility and accountability? If it does, it is denying us the privilege of seeking what is the best in us. This in turn suggests that we don’t have a high opinion of each other which ultimately prevents us from seeking, or even being the, change.