Naga nationalism is an ideology that supports the self-determination of the Naga people in India (mainly in Nagaland and neighboring regions) and Myanmar, and the furtherance of Naga culture.[1]

Formation of the nationalist identity

Menhir at Makhel commemorating the parting of ways of the ancestors of the Nagas

Some Naga groups share a common belief of their ethnogenesis as a distinct people: these groups include Angami, Sema, Rengma, Lotha, Zeme, Liangmei and Rongmei.[2] According to this belief, the ancestors of the Nagas lived in harmony together at a place called Mahkel (identified with the present-day Mao village of Makhel in Manipur,[3] and, alternatively, believed to be near the Chindwin river in present-day Myanmar[2]). As their population grew, they decided to split and spread outside Makhel. According to the Heraka faith, the Naga peoples took an oath pledging that they would come together again and live as a kingdom.[2]

However, when the British arrived in India, the various Naga ethnic groups had no common national identity.[4] The term "Naga" was a vaguely-defined exonym, which referred to the different ethnic groups in present-day Nagaland and its surrounding area. The different ethnic groups spoke mutually unintelligible languages and had distinct cultures but they are inextricably interrelated. Each Naga village was a sovereign state ruled by ethnic elders.[5]

Internecine feuds, wars and headhunting campaigns were common among the Naga ethnic groups.[6] The British captured several Naga territories and consolidated them under the Naga Hills District of Assam. During the British rule, missionaries such as Miles Bronson and Edwin W. Clark introduced Christianity to the area, greatly changing the social and political fabric of the local society. The common Christian identity led to peace and unity among the various Naga ethnic groups.[7] Nagamese developed as a link language for inter-ethnic communication.

Naga Club

During the Kuki revolt (1917–19) and the World War I (1914–18), the British Government recruited a number of labourers and porters from the Naga ethnic groups. As part of the labour corps, around 2000 Nagas were sent to France, where, alienated from the other British–Indian troops, they developed a sense of unity. They agreed that after returning to their homeland, they will work towards unity and friendship among the various Naga ethnic groups. These Nagas, together with the British officials, formed the Naga Club in 1918.[7] It was led by Gaonburas, Dobashis, Teachers, government servants, pastors and educated people in addition to the Naga Labour Corps personnel.[8] It had two branches, one at Kohima and the other at Mokokchung.

This club provided the socio-political foundation for the Naga nationalist movement. In 1929, the Club submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission, requesting that the Nagas should be given a choice of self-determination after the British departure from India.[7]

Heraka movement

Heraka was a religious movement led by Haipou Jadonang and his successor Rani Gaidinliu, who sought to establish the legendary kingdom of the Naga people during 1929-33. The two aimed at creating a feeling of religious nationalism among the Nagas, mainly the Zeliangrongs (Zeme, Liangmei and Rongmei including Inpui-Kabui). They launched an independence struggle against the British, and sought to establish inter-ethnic solidarity and unity.[2] However, the movement was not widespread outside of the three Zeliangrong community due to its antagonistic attitude towards Christian converts and the Kukis. The movement also developed into a political uprising against the British, which prompted the Government to clamp down on it.

Naga National Council

In 1945, C. R. Pawsey, the deputy commissioner of the Naga Hills District, established the Naga Hills District Tribal Council as a forum of the various Naga groups.[9] This body replaced the Naga Club, and a year later, developed into a political organization called the Naga National Council (NNC). The NNC initially demanded autonomy within the Indian Union and a separate electorate. Naga nationalism began to emerge as a secessionist movement under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo of the Naga National Council.[10] Naga Hills District was just a piece of the colonial frontier province of Assam which consists of the present-day states of Arunachal Pradesh,Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Mizoram, but nationalists at the time envisioned a larger Naga homeland including areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, and land on the other side of the border with Burma (present-day Myanmar).

The NNC declared independence from Britain on August 14, 1947, the day before India received its independence, and this symbolic act remained a significant moment for Naga nationalism as this would become the first internal conflict in India. The NNC organized a separate government in their territory and successfully boycotted the 1952 elections, claiming that Naga support for a sovereign state was unanimous. The NNC declined as differences developed between Phizo and other leaders, and Phizo got the NNC secretary T. Sakhrie murdered in January 1956.[11]

A leaked internal document by the Assam Police detailed the government’s strategy in putting down the insurgency. The Assam Police’s strategy was to isolate each village, summon inhabitants to a central location, and search them to identify and apprehend “hostiles.” Apprehending “hostiles” was the primary goal. Hideouts and camps were to be destroyed, and villages known to harbor insurgents were to be searched thoroughly.[12]

This leaked secret document specifically states that “severe disciplinary action” would be meted out against any police found to be looting, raping, or torturing inhabitants. On the ground reports suggest that all of these acts were common, however. The village of Mokokchung compiled a village diary, recording every abuse by the Indian government against the village between the years of 1954 and 1964. Graphic depictions of human rights abuses are described in detail with the dates reported as well as the name and age of all those involved. Rape, abuse, torture, and the demolition of homes is described. Nationalists had heavy stones placed on their chests, chili and sour things poured into their eyes, and they were hung from rafters for demonstration.[13]

More radical splinter groups have emerged from the Naga National Council like the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). The NSCN described the struggle against India, not just in terms of ethnic conflict, but as part of a larger class struggle. The NSCN had Maoist influences and pushed for a continued armed conflict to resolve the contradiction between the larger state of India imposing its will on the Naga people. Although it was a Maoist organization, they still claimed Christianity as the state religion for their proposed Naga State. This is a great example of how powerful of a symbol Christianity had become amongst the Naga people. It did not seem to be a contradiction to support the atheist doctrines of Mao along with Christianity to the NSCN, who saw deep socialist principles in Jesus’ anti-institutional teachings on the poor and egalitarianism.[14]

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland remained separate from the Naga National Council, and separate ceasefire agreements had to be negotiated with each group individually in the 90s. In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to a peace deal with the insurgents that were previously active in Nagaland.[15]

Formation of Nagaland

After a series of armed conflicts and peace missions, the Government of India agreed to create the Naga Hills Tuensang Area (NHTA), a Union territory with a large degree of autonomy. After further protests, violence and diplomatic discussions, the Government recognised Nagaland as a full-fledged State within the Union of India.[16] Since then, the Naga nationalism has co-existed with Indian nationalism. Nagaland recorded more than 87% voter turnout in 2014 Indian general election which was highest voters turnout in India which Indian authorities consider as faith of Naga people in democracy of India.[17][18]

See also


  1. ^ Laishram, Bidhan (4 December 2004). "Naga Nationalism: The Inward Turn Of A Conflict". Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies. Manipur Online. Retrieved 6 May 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d Arkotong Longkumer (4 May 2010). Reform, Identity and Narratives of Belonging: The Heraka Movement in Northeast India. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-0-8264-3970-3. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  3. ^ U. A. Shimray (2007). Naga Population and Integration Movement: Documentation. Mittal Publications. pp. 24–. ISBN 978-81-8324-181-6. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  4. ^ Prasenjit Biswas; C. Joshua Thomas (2006). Peace in India's North-East. Regency. p. 371. ISBN 978-81-89233-48-8. As such the notion of common Naga identity is a colonial product and had no historical antecedents. It developed first in the British carved Naga Hills district...
  5. ^ Bendangjungshi (2011). Confessing Christ in the Naga Context: Towards a Liberating Ecclesiology. LIT Verlag Münster. pp. 29–. ISBN 978-3-643-90071-5. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  6. ^ Chandrika Singh (2004). Naga Politics: A Critical Account. Mittal Publications. pp. 6–. ISBN 978-81-7099-920-1. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  7. ^ a b c Neivetso Venuh; Bonita Aleaz (2005). British Colonization and Restructuring of Naga Polity. Mittal Publications. pp. 55–65. ISBN 978-81-7099-978-2. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  8. ^ Sema, Piketo (1992). British Policy and Administration in Nagaland: 1881-1947. Delhi: Scholar Publishing House. ISBN 8171721923.
  9. ^ Chaube, Shibani Kinkar (1999) [1973]. Hill politics in Northeast India. Orient Longman. pp. 74–77. ISBN 81-250-1695-3. OCLC 42913576.
  10. ^ Baruah, Sanjib. “Ending India’s naga conflict.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. 40, no. 3, 2020, pp. 434–443,
  11. ^ Chaube, Shibani Kinkar (1999) [1973]. Hill politics in Northeast India. Orient Longman. pp. 153–161. ISBN 81-250-1695-3. OCLC 42913576.
  12. ^ The Naga Nation and Its Struggle against Genocide: A Report. International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, 1986.
  13. ^ The Naga Nation and Its Struggle against Genocide: A Report. International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, 1986.
  14. ^ Mukherjee, Kunal. “India’s Fractured Northeastern Frontier: An overview.” Asia-Pacific Review, vol. 21, no. 2, 2014, pp. 149–171,
  15. ^ Roy, Rameshwar. “Naga Peace Accord: Dilemma for the Rest of India’s Northeast.” Claws.In, CLAWS Journal, 2018,
  16. ^ The 16-point Agreement arrived at between the Government of India and the Naga People’s Convention, July, 1960
  17. ^ "State-Wise Voter Turnout in General Election 2014". Election Commission of India. Government of India. Press Information Bureau. 21 May 2014. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
  18. ^ "Nagaland tops in Lok Sabha voter turnout". The Times of India. 22 May 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2015.