Just yesterday the Army spokesman reminded us of the heroism of Capt Eric James Tucker of Maratha Light Infantry, who won his Ashok Chakra fighting Naga rebels on this day in 1957. Look at it this way: It was a good month before I was born, and I will be 57 this year! That gives you an idea of how old the Naga insurgency is. It was India's first. It tested Nehru, was patronised by the Chinese once our border dispute became contentious. It was the inspiration for all other insurgencies in the Northeast, most significantly the Mizo, in very early 1966 when Indira Gandhi had just taken over.
Nagas are ferocious fighters and both tested, and battle-trained the Army over these decades, developing healthy mutual, soldierly respect. Insurgency defied peacemaking efforts of Nehru and later of the Centre even through the good offices of Jaya Prakash Narayan (JP) and Vinoba Bhave. Zhapu Angami Phizo, the 'president" of the so-called Naga Federal Government, controlled the rebellion from exile in London.
Nagas are far from being one tribe. They are at least 28 major tribes each with its own language. They have developed a lingua franca of sorts called Nagamese, which is derived from Assamese. But the major tribes are Angamis (Kohima-Dimapur area), Semas (Zunheboto), Lothas (Wokha), Aos (Mokokchung) and the Tangkhuls in slightly distant Ukhrul district of Manipur.
The first four tribes pretty much came overground with the Shillong Peace Accord of 1975. Former rebels, Generals (Mowu Angami), Lt-Generals including Zuheto Sema and Thinoselie, all came overground, their arms handed over and kept in safe custody by the Sarvodaya people. Of course, those of us on the beat those days referred to their ranks with the prefix "self-styled" (or "ss" in Army language). So we had our own SS General or Lt-Gen so-and-so, though they were not at all like the Nazis who had made that awful prefix notorious.
They were warm, soldier-like, big-hearted, generous and had giant livers--they would drink any of us, much younger, under the table. Zuheto, a legendary Sema fighter, continued to be a soldier commanding not one but two new BSF battalions, consisting of his former rebel comrades. A less known story: he was trusted with full charge of the security of Indira Gandhi when she came visiting subsequently.
The story of the rebellion and the first round of peacemaking was brilliantly chronicled by the Late Nirmal Nibedon with his sadly out of print classic, Nagaland: The Night of the Guerrillas.
Thungalin Muivah and close comrade Isak Chishi Swu were then more ideologically left, younger, and unwilling to make peace. They were also much closer to the Chinese and wanted a sovereign socialist Nagaland. They continued insurgency, though never on the same scale as before. Since the Tangkhul are from Manipur, they also opened another front there.
Today's agreement ends this chapter. There are no major groups left now. The NSCN (K) faction is Myanmar-based and even they are negotiating with their government to join the political mainstream.
There are many challenges with governance in NE. But the Naga separatism is now history and the sacrifice of Capt Eric James Tucker and thousands more after him, has borne fruit. It's a truly wonderful day for India.
The author covered the Northeast for three years during the insurgency years. Follow Shekhar Gupta on Facebook.