Even as Naga peace talks have reached a stalemate- the Govt. is trying to convince NSCN (IM) to sign the pact. It has been over five years since the framework agreement for the peace process was signed with the NSCN-IM by the Union Government, and it was a defining moment as it was widely believed that the path to lasting peace is round the corner. Northeast Today writes
In 1997, the Union Government of India signed a ceasefire agreement with the NSCN-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagaland, Isak & Muivah faction) and started a peace initiative popularly termed as peace talks. Another ceasefire was signed with NSCN-K (National Socialist Council of Nagaland, S. S. Khaplang faction) in 2001 but negotiations failed to move forward.
However, even the negotiations in the last few years have been futile and inconclusive, and since last year there has been a stalemate in the talks, with the NSCN (IM) leadership becoming critical of Nagaland Governor RN Ravi, who is also the interlocutor between the government and the NSCN (IM).
In fact, in August this year, the NSCN (IM) leadership had put out documents related to the framework agreement signed, and had stated that- “According to the papers released by NSCN-IM in August, the 2015 agreement laid the ground for a settlement that involved the Indian government and the Nagas “sharing the sovereign power”. The framework was signed to address the Naga identity and sovereignty issues.”
The Naga group alleged that Ravi had “manipulated” the document in his submission to the parliamentary standing committee to suggest that any solution would be within the limits of the Indian Constitution and concerned only the state of Nagaland. On August 14, in a speech to commemorate ‘Naga Independence Day’, NSCN-IM chief Thuingaleng Muivah declared Nagas would co-exist, but not merge with India.
In Search of An Honourable Solution
The NSCN (IM) has reiterated that it is looking for an honourable solution, and also added that without a separate flag and constitution, the peace deal with the Centre will not be honourable.
“The house had unanimously adopted the resolution to reiterate the stand of NSCN-IM that the Naga national flag and Yehzabo (constitution) must form a part of the Indo-Naga political solution in order to qualify the Naga deal as honourable and acceptable,” NSCN-IM said in a press statement.
A few months back the NSCN-IM leadership even tried to reach out to the office of the Prime Minister and had written a letter where he was critical of Ravi, and the organization recently leaked the letter to the media. “Seven (7) months back, Muivah (general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah) dispatched a letter to the Prime Minister of India. We deliberately withheld the letter from releasing to the media for public consumption as we waited with all confidence that the Prime Minister of India will respond positively. Today, NSCN(IM) being accountable to the Naga people hereby released the letter to inform of the delay and the lack of response from the office of the Indian Prime Minister to our people,” read the statement by NSCN(IM).
“Today, we bring to your notice matters of serious concern regarding the activities of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and its agencies including NIA and Assam Rifles. As you are well aware, 22 years of political negotiation had started at the highest, i.e Prime minister-level talks without precondition and talks outside India in third countries. We had come to India on the invitation of the Government of India. We are totally shocked and surprised that even after more than two decades of political negotiation, the MHA and its agencies have become obnoxious,” it reads.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to ensure that the talks on the peace process don’t derail, the government is holding parleys at different levels and the state government of Nagaland has reached out to various civil society groups in Nagaland, besides reaching out to the Union Government and the leadership of the NSCN to ensure that the process doesn’t derail.
Senior officials of the Nagaland Government who are associated with the ongoing peace talks said that both the state govt of Nagaland and the union govt are keen to ensure that the peace pact gets inked as a lot of goodwill at both the state and the central level is involved.
Regarding the concern of the separate flag and the constitution, the official said that ‘the government is exploring the possibilities’.
Meanwhile, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio recently said that the message from the Government of India is clear that there will be only “one solution” for the Naga political issue, and the chief minister said this while addressing over 150 members of the civil society groups in Kohima who had met to discuss the ongoing Naga peace talks and the Naga political issue.
“Having understood that there will be only one solution, we need to deliberate and support the peace process, strengthen the negotiations and facilitate the journey towards the achievement of this one solution in the earliest time possible. Looking back at history, we must come to an understanding that our achievements and our failures are all collective. We need to cross the bridge of blame and move towards a matured approach of collective responsibility for all our achievements and failures,” he said at the meeting with the Civil Society Groups.
“The central government is working hard to bring a solution to the Naga issue. The Naga people also want peace and unity to come through a permanent solution so that we can have development and open up avenues for youths,” Rio said at a recent meeting.
According to sources those who are associated with the peace process, the union govt was eager to complete the peace process and get the pack inked on August 15 itself, but the Covid crisis delayed the matter.
“The peace talks after the signing of the framework have been going on since 2015 and the union govt wants an early end to this, and that is one reason why the interlocutor Ravi, was also appointed as the governor of Nagaland. The union government doesn’t want it to drag for long and wants a lasting peace accord,” said the official.
On this line, at a recent meeting Chief Minister Rio said that, regarding having a ‘Naga Yezahbo’ (constitution), the Article 371(A) of the Constitution grants special provisions, but to frame a separate constitution for the Nagas, a committee would be set up.
The chief minister also said that he is hopeful that the 16-Point Agreement, signed between the Naga People’s Convention (NPC) and the government of India in 1960 will be upgraded by increasing the number of its seats in Parliament and in the state assembly.
According to senior officials of the Chief Ministers Office of Nagaland, the incumbent chief minister is himself taking a lot of interest and initiative in the peace process and he has a high stake on the current situation as he is part of the NDA alliance which is in government in Nagaland.
“This conflict has been on since decades, and the peace talks have also been going on since decades- now since it is on the verge of a solution- it has become a historic moment. The incumbent chief minister is aware that a peace pact at this moment will be historic, and for this, he himself is putting a lot of effort and initiative,” said the official.
Meanwhile, with the situation going out of the way, according to senior officials, the union govt. has asked Ravi to bring the process back on the track.
“The union govt. is also not interested to sign a peace pact with is inconclusive and wants a peace pact which is holistic and addresses everyone’s concerns. In one word, the Prime Minister wants a peace pact which should bring about lasting peace and should permanently solve the Naga issue. At this point in time, the government doesn’t want to take the risk of signing an inconclusive accord,” said the official.
Hurdles in the path towards Peace
There are however hurdles ahead of the peace process, as adjoining states to Nagaland, are apprehensive whether the territorial areas of the states will be changed. This apprehension has resulted because of NSCN (I-M)’s idea of Greater Nagalim — a homeland encompassing all Naga-inhabited areas in Nagaland and beyond, as apart from Myanmar, where many of more than 50 Naga tribes live, the Greater Nagalim map includes large swathes of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur.
Even the BJP led governments of the adjoining states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh are apprehensive on this issue.
Apart from the state governments, even opposition political parties and civil society organizations of the adjoining states have warned against any territorial changes in the state while exploring a solution.
The opposition political parties in all the adjoining states and various civil society groups have also sought a statement from the Prime Minister Office regarding that there will be no compromise on the territory of any of these states.
The opposition Congress party has also hit out at the BJP led NDA Government for the lack in transparency in the peace process. Speaking to media recently, senior Congress leader and former union minister Jairam Ramesh slammed the Centre for alleged lack of transparency in the ongoing Naga peace talks and said the party will oppose any agreement that changes the geography of any northeastern state.
“There is no transparency regarding Naga peace talks on the part of the central government,” Ramesh said.
“During the tenure of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Centre had signed Assam, Mizoram and Tripura accords without changing the geography of any state,” said Ramesh.
The other opposition political parties in the region have also expressed their displeasure over the opaque situation regarding the peace process and have sought more transparency from the government, and have also said that the opposition political parties should be taken into confidence.
“The entire Naga peace process is complex and the demand for Nagalim has always made it more complex. No state will compromise on the territory of their state, and at the same for lasting peace the accord will have to be honourable and will have to take everyone on board,” said an official associated with the office of the Chief Minister, Nagaland.
The Naga insurgency is one of India’s oldest armed conflicts, and though it started as a peaceful agitation in the 40s and early 50s turned into a violent conflict in 1956 as the Naga National Council (NNC) went underground to build an army. Since then the conflict has been ongoing and it has led to violence and bloodshed over the decades.
In 1975, a peace accord was signed in Shillong in which the NNC leadership agreed to give up arms. However, this led to the formation of Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland or the NSCN (IM). The NSCN (IM) didn’t agree with the peace accord.
Then in 1997, the NSCN (IM) signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1997. The NSCN (IM) mentioned that the ceasefire agreement was signed to seek a lasting political solution to the problem.
Since 2015, the NSCN (IM) has been one of the key representatives of the Naga interests in the peace process. However, the inability of the Government of India and the NSCN (IM) to reach conclusive grounds has led to the emergence of Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), an outfit which is more flexible in its demands.
The general public in the state is, however, looking ahead to be a breakthrough and a final settlement in the form of a peace pact, as everyone wants an end to this.