On the morning of 14 August, while the final preparations for Independence Day were underway at the Red Fort in Delhi, Kohima, Nagaland’s capital city, saw a blue flag with rainbow stripes and a white star flying against a gentle wind—the Naga national flag. The Naga Students Federation, an apex body of all Naga youth and students’ organisations, had hoisted the flag to mark the seventy-fourth Naga Independence Day. “It was celebrated by all the 17 federating units”—the 17 Naga tribes—“and a few subordinate units,” Ninoto Awomi, the president of NSF, told me. The unequivocal display of Naga nationalism was not a sudden development, but it assumed relevance in the wake of deteriorating peace talks between the Naga nationalist groups and the Indian state.
The Naga Independence Day was also celebrated in Camp Hebron, the headquarters of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), the largest armed Naga nationalist group. David Mero, the kilo kilonser, or home minister, of the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagalim—a self-declared state of the NSCN (IM)—addressed the gathering, reading out a speech by the organisation’s general secretary, Thuingaleng Muivah. “The British came in the 19th century and occupied a portion of our land, administered their laws for 115 years till we declared a Sovereign Nation on 14 August 1947,” Mero said. “This prompted the era of force Dominion by India which continues till today. Our journey has been one of untold sufferings and bloodshed.” He continued, “The Naga people have neither accepted the Union of India nor her constitution at any point of time. History will ever speak of that fact. We will not accept them today and even in days to come. We have also told them that Nagas and Indians are two poles apart in terms of history, race, identity, culture, language, geography, political concept and faith.”
On 16 August, the ministry of information and publicity of the GPRN released a press statement accusing the Indian government and RN Ravi, the governor of Nagaland and interlocutor in the Naga peace process, of attempting to derail the peace talks. In August 2019, when Ravi was appointed the governor of Nagaland, the Narendra Modi-led government had reportedly given him a deadline of three months to reach a conclusive and permanent agreement with the NSCN (IM). But a year later, peace talks seem to be stalling.
The conflict in Nagaland is India’s longest lasting insurgency, which has continued in one form or another since the Naga National Council—the oldest Naga national organisation—declared an independent Naga nation in August 1947. Four years later, the NNC organised a plebiscite in which 99 percent of Nagas voted in support of an independent Naga nation. Since then, various Naga groups have waged an armed struggle against the Indian state that has continued for over seventy years. The conflict has left a permanent scar on the Naga people and various other ethnicities in neighbouring Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Myanmar. The Institute of Conflict Management, a Delhi-based non-profit society, has recorded 2,521 casualties in the conflict in Nagaland alone, including 1,463 armed cadre and 787 civilians, since 1992.
In 1997, the NSCN (IM) and the Indian government signed a bilateral ceasefire agreement, and the two sides have been attempting to reach a peace agreement ever since. But the vehement display of Naga nationalism on 14 August 2020 is indicative of the fact that these peace talks are failing. This failure can be attributed to a range of reasons, including disagreements on key aspects of how the Naga state would look after the peace. However, in recent times, a lot of damage to the continuation of talks has occurred due to the Indian government adopting a hawkish approach. Rising attacks by Indian paramilitaries like the Assam Rifles and the arrest of the NSCN cadre and leaders are a few examples of this.