New Delhi | June 15 : One of India’s smallest states is also among its biggest conundrums. With a history as chequered and intriguing as its topography, Nagaland is a bewildering mosaic of social and geopolitical complexities. In his book Nagaland: A Journey to India’s Forgotten Frontier, British journalist Jonathan Glancey tries to take a closer look at Nagaland. He shares his findings with Harsh Kabra:
Why a book on Nagaland?
Because Nagaland is such a forgotten corner of the world. It isn’t at all well known even in India, and it is much misunderstood. I had known about the Naga Hills from childhood. For me, at that stage of life, and as someone with a great love for India, this was a Secret Garden or Lost Kingdom, a land from a Kipling story. As I grew up, I remained curious. When I finally went to Nagaland in the early 1980s, I had the opportunity – not as a journalist – to tell the story of a people and a place that deserve recognition. I have been astonished by how little people in India know about Nagaland and its extraordinary history. Here, aside from a fascinating people with a rich culture, is a land that has been a junction box for political ambitions that have shaped the world. This is where the Japanese nearly invaded India in 1944. This is where China might have invaded in 1962. For any number of reasons, Nagaland matters.
Didn’t you come across varying, even contradictory, narratives of history?
I would say that the vast majority of Naga people want independence from India. Being forced into Indian citizenship when the state of Nagaland was created in 1963 only strengthened the resolve of most Nagas. From then on, to fight for Nagalim – the dream of a greater Nagaland embracing all Naga tribes across state and international borders – meant being a subversive or traitor. This has not gone down well with Naga people. Of course, there are those who do well working with the federal government and in modern business, and these people – a small minority – do have a less intransigent view of where Nagaland stands in relation to India.
What is at the root of the Naga scepticism towards India?
Nagas were promised their freedom by Mahatma Gandhi. This offer was revoked, and brutally so as events proved, by Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors. So there is a lack of trust. Nagas come from a very different background and culture. They still want their own country, much, perhaps, as the Irish did when ruled by Britain.
Isn’t Nagaland more at peace now with its current identity?
Nagas are very happy with the idea of being Nagas; their attachment to their beautiful hills is profound. India cannot truly understand Nagaland because most Nagas do not want the Indian state of Nagaland. If more Indians were able or willing to travel through Nagaland, I think they would understand. After all, Indians worked hard for their independence. They, of all people, should understand the dream of an independent Nagaland.
Can modern India’s economic might counterpoise the Naga desire for independence?
The desire for independence is deep-rooted. The Look East policy, driving economic development into Nagaland and the northeast generally, has helped many people in a matter-of-fact way. Yet, whenever I speak with Naga people, no matter how seemingly integrated into modern Indian life and even the global economy, I hear a longing for an independent Nagalim. And, as Nagas, whether villagers or professors in North America, told me, Nagaland is not for sale.