Jamir does not foresee either demand being met; says dialogue should be open
Dr. S.C Jamir, a veteran politician, famously known as the architect of modern Nagaland, served five times as Chief Minister of Nagaland, was a Member of Parliament during which he served as Union Deputy Minister of Railways, Labour & Rehabilitation, and later as the Union Deputy Minister of Community Development & Cooperation, Food and Agriculture. In later years of his political career, Jamir served as Governor of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa and Odisha. During the tenure of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Jamir was appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and represented India as a member of UN delegations.
East Wind publisher Nona Arhe sat down with him in his home in Dimapur, Nagaland to hear his views on his state, Nagaland, his political party, the Indian National Congress, and the country’s Act East policy, which has special relevance to Northeast India.
Sir, you have seen the entire history of Nagaland as a state from its birth. Are you satisfied with the direction that the state has taken and its present condition?
I think you have raised a fundamental question on Nagaland. The pioneers of Nagaland state had a dream – that Nagas, we believed, have got some speciality, that Naga people are frank, honest, upright, hardworking, very brave and simple. So the leaders of yesteryears had a very clear vision – that Nagaland as a part of India will be a very special state. The custom, the culture and the way of life are quite different from the rest of the country. Moreover, this uniqueness can be made a very distinct feature of the culture of India – that was one dream. Secondly, since Naga people are honest, committed and hardworking, we believed, and we dreamed that Nagas would progress not on borrowed strength but from our inner strength through hard work, through our efforts so that we can stand firmly on our own. Thirdly, we believe at that point of time that, once we become a part of the country, we shall benefit through the resources of the county and that should be utilized for the speedy economic development of the state.
Yes, there has been tremendous change since the creation of the state of Nagaland, because at that time we didn’t have roads, we didn’t have schools, we didn’t have hospitals, nothing was there. We started from the deputy commissioner’s house. If you compare 1960 and 2019, there is a sea of change in the lives of the people. However, something is missing today, and that is a character, which is a serious concern, not only for the present but also for the future of Nagaland. Therefore, how to rebuild, reinvent and recapture the good old spirit of Naga honesty and Naga bravery is the key question. This is the casualty of economic development. All of a sudden, we are confronted with a vast amount of money for development, and unfortunately, for quite some time, this money has not been utilized for what it is meant for. Somehow, and I can blame even the underground people also for not letting those people in position be allowed to function according to the constitution, according to the rule of law, and according to the rules and procedures as many things have to be compromised in ought to survive. So that is one of the casualties of this insurgency on governance, in Nagaland. Today we are facing a situation where things are for everybody and things are for nobody -that is the situation in which we are placed, and therefore, as an elderly person, I feel worried thinking what has gone wrong with Naga people. However, I believe Naga people with their old ingenuity will be able to overcome this problem.
What do you mean when you say, ‘things for everybody but things for nobody’?
I mean there are too many governments, whereas nobody is really governing. Because, unfortunately, the people at the helm of affairs have abdicated constitutional authority. Also, when constitutional authority is abdicated, obviously, they have to compromise with everything. And unfortunately, there are multiple governments, prime ministers, commanders-in-chief, in Nagaland and they all believe they are the boss. That’s why I say; we feel that everybody is big and nobody is big, that is what the situation we have landed in.
What has been the main challenge for Nagaland over the decades?
The main challenge for Nagaland is a satisfactory, honourable political settlement so that all the insurgent activities can be put to an end. When this issue is cleaned up or resolved once and for all, then Naga people can whole-heartedly devote their time, energy, everything for the development of the people. Today that environment has not been created. The taxation from different groups has put much stress on people. They call it taxes, but it’s extortion, the people are now so harassed to feed too many mouths. A single Naga family is feeding so many so called Government institutions; unfortunately for him, nothing is left.
Another challenge that is starring in our face today is the unemployment issue – we have more than 80,000 educated unemployed youths in the state today, and that is a matter of great concern. The hurt that is in the minds of the unemployed youth is, ‘I am qualified, I’ve got enthusiasm, I’ve got energy, but not the opportunity to serve the people’. I think the moral problem is much more than a physical problem. Unless you can provide for your people, what is the use of having a government? What is the purpose of having a state when our boys and girls are laboring so much? Where are our obligations, where is our duty? Where is our commitment? I think this is the greatest challenge faced today along with the Naga political settlement issue.
What is a possible honorable settlement now?
I am very frank on this topic. And that is the reason why, very often, the NSCN IM, misunderstands me. Recently I wrote an article in which I raised a few issues, since the political groups in Nagaland are engaged in political dialogue, for a final political settlement. On 3rd August 2015, they have signed an accord called ‘Framework agreement’. This agreement was signed in the presence of the prime minister and the home minister. People asked me, “What is your view on this? I said, categorically, without any inhibition, to me, if I am not mistaken, prime minister of India nor the home minister of India can afford to allow an accord which will be above constitution of India. So I presume, that the framework agreement is obviously within the parameters of the constitution of India. The only demand from Naga people is sovereignty. To put it in finer words, that very word ‘sovereignty’ was not on the agenda – that was my understanding.
When the prime minister and the home minister and all the leaders visited Manipur during the election, they have made it categorically clear that there is no agenda in the framework agreement about territorial problem. That means the integration of Naga areas is not a part of that framework. They have said it. RN Ravi, the interlocutor, in Bangalore, clarified this recently that the issue of integration does not appear in the framework agreement. If this is so, why are they delaying? I have been telling them, the political groups, as well as the underground groups, let us be open, if something is not there, let us tell our people it is not there. If something is not possible from the point of the Government of India and our side, then why don’t we tell frankly to our people that this is not possible? Naga people in one way are reasonable people, and they understand – what is real, what is possible and what is imagery. They know it. So why should they hide the truth from them? Also, if you are forthright and truthful to the Naga people, Naga people will certainly accept whatever agreement they make through their efforts, I think this will be in the interest of the Naga people only. Therefore, those who are engaged in this political dialogue, should be honest to themselves, honest to the government of India and most certainly be honest to the Naga people. I have been saying this all along, to which they have reacted sharply, but I maintain that it should be transparent. Dialogue should be open.
How do you see the Naga peace talks concluding?
I believe that the Government of India is serious and perhaps, most of the contentious issues have been resolved. So I am quite optimistic that a solution will be possible.
What was the vision of Nagaland state? Was it meant to be a homeland for all the Naga tribes?
Yes, if you read up the 16 point agreement, there, we have made one provision – integration of Naga areas. However, when we went to Delhi and discussed with the prime minister and government of India representatives, they pointed out certain technical difficulties. Under Article 3 & 4, a new state can be created, just how Nagaland state was created from Assam province. How? There was no objection from Assam. Today we have, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and a few more new states, because there was a consensus for the creation of the new state. Whereas when it comes to Nagaland state integration issue, Assam said they would not give even an inch of their land, so also Manipur and Arunachal. All these states including the state of Nagaland are part of the union of India, and are listed in Schedule 1. So, I suppose the government of India does not have the power to slice away any portion of their territory without the approval of the concerned states. That is what we are facing today – without land, how can we talk about integration? That is the problem.
There is a move to extend the ILP to Dimapur. Is that a good move?
When we drafted the 16 point agreement, we have made it clear that the inner line permit should be a part of that. The reason the British regulated this issue was that Nagas were backward, their population was small, and they were poor. They felt unless they protect them through regulation, then traders from India can go and establish their businesses and may exploit the poor people of Naga hills and other hill tribals, that’s why they have made this restriction. Likewise, we thought unless this kind of special provision is there for some time to come, till we are economically secure, till we can stand on our own feet, then allowing the outsiders to get in freely and exploit our resources will not be in our interest. That is the reason inner line regulation became a part of the agreement. However, we did not define at that time what should be the jurisdiction of the state. So we followed 1925 notification of the definition, which falls in Chumukedima. So far we have been implementing the inner line permit from the Chumukedima gate, and Dimapur excluded from that Inner line restriction.
Now the question arises, what do you mean by inner line regulation? It is entry to Nagaland with a permit. Because you cannot allow outsiders to have a permanent settlement, permanent properties, but they can come. So as a procedure we have been issuing this inner line permit. However, we thought to issue permit from Dimapur may create problems for tourists and would have been quite inconvenient too, so we have initiated inner line issuing permits office in Delhi, Kolkata and Shillong to facilitate this because we want tourists to come. Nagaland is not in the 1950s or 60s, we are now in 2019, and therefore we have to have a fresh look at this. What are the advantages or disadvantages? To me, since even Himachal Pradesh, which is a restricted state, has inner line permit in some areas, so why should they object to cover Dimapur? This will not harass the inhabitants. Even as it is, we have got a regulation that outsiders cannot own permanent properties, except those people who have settled before 1943. So I do not see any problems or dangers for outsiders also by extending the inner line to Dimapur.
I do not know why there is a hue and cry on this, because Naga people see the importance of Dimapur and understand how business is carried out. We have not been able to build up our human resources to take up all the businesses in the state, including Kohima and Mokokchung. Therefore, let us view this with transparent attitude and not politicize it.
How about register for indigenous people…is it a good idea?
It has to be, there is nothing wrong. We have not been able to register the indigenous inhabitants. We have to be aware of the immigrants from Bangladesh also. It is crucial to have a record of the indigenous people. It is needed.
The NRC in Assam is clearly full of errors. There are lots of stories of corruption as well. What use are measures like ILP and registers if anyone can bribe their way in?
Jamir: This time, instead of leaving everything to the administration there should be a body to oversee it. It should be filtered properly. As you mention, bribery, one cannot rule out.
Has corruption finally destroyed the Naga spirit?
Materialism has blinded and deafened our people. If you are blind or if you are deaf, then you cease to be a fully normal human being. That is exactly what is happening in Nagaland today. If we look at elections in Nagaland, it has become only a commercial transaction. The highest bidders get the vote, that’s all. So when the sanctity of your polity is destroyed, in other words, when your secured fencing is destroyed, then you are thoroughly exposed to any element to exploit, and we are facing that problem today.
Is it true that you were approached by RSS to stand for Vice President?
I did not know about that. I have never approached anybody; it was only through newspaper articles that I got to read about it. I do not have any ambition to do that either. Many people have asked me, but I can tell you there is no truth in that.
The Congress is in bad shape nationally. What is its future?
Even BJP was hardly five or six MP’s during our time, but today, they are ruling. So politics depends upon the situation of the country. Nonetheless, I believe that India cannot afford to forego secularism. Because India may be one country, but with many different races, Mongoloids, Dravidians, Aryans and hills tribes, unless India has secularism as the bedrock of Indian politics, India cannot remain united. As Nagas, we should also read the kind of future of India, whether we shall remain safe as secular people or not. Now we talk about one nation, yes, India is one nation, but our strength has been unity in diversity, and Nagas are diverse people. Unless we religiously maintain this unity and diversity, India’s future is also uncertain.
Congress is a party that believes in secularism; they respect all religion, all section of people. I think Congress will certainly resurrect. Yes, Congress is in a very helpless condition right now, but politics is sometimes like that. India cannot afford to be without Congress party.
How about the future of Congress in Nagaland?
Naga people look only at the centre. If Congress were in power at the centre, then the Congress would be active here. Now, what is the composition of the political parties in Nagaland these days? Ex-Congressman here, ex-Congress MP there, actually there is no principle these days. Any political party without a principle, without commitment, will not last long. How long can Nagas be only like a rolling stone? I think this consciousness should go at least into the minds of the younger generations; otherwise, you will lose your identity. When you lose your character, when you lose your principles, when you lose your political vision, then naturally you will lose your identity also. Today it is only a conglomeration of people who believe only in today and not tomorrow. So in such a situation, I do not think even regional parties can survive, because today they are in one party, tomorrow if more money is offered to them they will switch their party. It’s a shame actually to think even candidates can be purchased.
The recent MP elections were closely contested. How did that happen?
It is not only Congress. NPF and Congress fought together and the churches also played a significant role. We don’t like to take credit; it is the people’s consciousness. BJP is in power today, but I doubt if they can be grafted healthily into Naga politics.
You have been one of those few people who served as Governor under both the UPA and NDA. What was your experience of working with them?
Governor’s role is very neutral, as long as one function according to the Constitution, whether its UPA government or NDA Government – they cannot touch you. To be honest, I was also wondering why I was not removed, as all my colleagues were removed. I was counting my days, but somehow, I just carried on. I was very strict in maintaining the constitutional position of the Government. There was no controversy at all during my tenure as a Governor, whether it was Maharashtra or Orissa.
Is the Act East policy likely to work for the local communities?
Certainly. I have been saying all along whether you like it or not, the NE region, including Nagaland, will be a corridor when Act East policy matures and it will be soon. India is a very attractive destination today for investors, and the world is looking at the east because western civilization is dying, their economy is also dying, so 21st Century will be the world of Asia, in which India will play a vital role especially in politics.
India, China and Japan will play a vital role in shaping the destiny of the world in this 21st century. That’s why we are fully concentrating on looking to the east. The outcome of Act East policy is that there will be a tremendous inflow of populations from Southeast Asian countries – as traders, as industrialists, as tourists, as scholars, and they have to pass through the states of Nagaland and Manipur as the entry points. Many Industrialists would like to invest here, but once they invest, they will bring in their army of technicians and experts along with them. So if we are not prepared from now on, technically and in other education, then we shall be second-class citizens in our homeland. Therefore we have to gear up strengthening our education institutions, upgrading those that are already functioning so that when the time comes, we can be a partner in the economic activities. Unless we prepare ourselves, we shall be submerged in our own homes.
Secondly, with due respect to our girls, there will be a lot of rich, well-educated people coming into our areas once the work progresses. Naga girls are beautiful compared to others, and they would like to have a comfortable life, but that will cause tremendous intermarriages and to some extent that cannot be prevented. Every parent wants his daughter to be blessed with a comfortable life, but there will be a threat. From South East Asian countries, mostly Buddhists will come from Burma or Thailand, from Malaysia and Indonesia Muslims will come, and more people will also come from Bangladesh and Nepal. When our girls marry these outsiders, we will have plenty of Buddhist, Muslims and Hindus. The danger will be our Naga identity and Christian identity will be jeopardized – unless we work from now, systematically.
Politically the politics is all about throwing out outsiders or keeping them out. Economically we are building roads and talking about connectivity. Aren’t these two contradictory?
Situation will be quite different at that time. The situation then will be purely economic activities. We shall forget about politics, we shall forget about boundary disputes with Assam or other states, because the entire northeastern region will be a single economic unity. Singly we won’t be able to observe the economic forces at that time. So we shall be compelled to join together, the entire northeastern region. It will be a common market, and that is what I keep saying, we have to prepare because it is surely coming – the changes.
Will we see you in active politics again?
No, I have rendered my 60 years of service to the people of Nagaland and the country. For the first time in 60 years, I have a normal, natural lifestyle. I do not have responsibilities or go for formal occasions. So I am a free man, enjoying my free life. I am free but cannot retire from service – service to the people. I will not join active politics again because I want to rest.
What is your message to the youth of the NE region?
My message to the youth of the northeastern region is, be prepared to be a very strong, intelligent enlightened citizen of this country and play an active role, not only in regional level but national level so that the entire northeastern region will be an envy for the whole country. We have tremendous economic resources here, the most beautiful tourist spots are also in the region, and the varieties of rich customs and culture here is unparalleled in any other part of the country. This region can be a gem for the entire country, provided we are united in our shared vision. My appeal to the youth of the region is, stand as one man for the region and don’t be influenced by tribalism, regionalism or borders. Stand as northeastern people to contribute to the development of the entire region.