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Sat, 25 May 2019

Northeast Today

Understanding Naga Peace Accord

Understanding Naga Peace Accord
January 29
16:10 2018

Cover Story of December Edition, NET Bureau, Partha Prawal

The details of the Naga Framework Agreement or the Naga Peace Accord, which was signed on August 3, 2015, between the Government of India and the Naga armed groups headed by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Issak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) is yet to be made public and much is to be known as what does this agreement actually holds. The talks about the agreement being made public on December 25, 2017, have also gained wings in the recent weeks. If the details published in the NSCN (IM) website is to be believed, then the Naga Framework Agreement which paves the way for the formation of a Greater Nagaland or Nagalim then there is a likelihood that the new ‘state’ will also includes those areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and parts of Myanmar that has a major Naga population and this has led to widespread protests in Assam, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh. However, nothing is final as of it and there is a lot more to be known about the agreement. Northeast Today digs in deeper and brings forth a detailed analysis about the history of the Naga movement and the possible impact the final signing of the Naga agreement might have on the political scenario of the Northeast.

First Few Words

Despite assurances from the Centre that no land either from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam or Manipur will be ceded to Greater Nagaland (Nagalim) as the peace talks between the Government of India and NSCN (IM) have picked up space over the past few weeks, a sense of fear, however, has gripped the people of these states. The main reason for this fear is the NSCN (IM)’s demand to include all the Naga inhabited areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and Manipur in the proposed Nagalim territory encompassing an area of nearly 1,20,000 sq km – more than seven times Nagaland’s 16,527 sq km area. The demand has been endorsed five times till date by Nagaland Assembly between 1964 and 2015.

Even though the government interlocutor RN Ravi has maintained that the settlement won’t alter the maps of any of these states, however, the NSC (IM) has insisted that territorial integration of Naga areas will be part of the settlement.

And in the middle of these conflicting statements, it is the common people from these three states who find themselves in a soup. Several civil society organisations, student bodies, and the political parties have made it clear that no matter what, they will not allow an inch of their land to be ceded into Nagalim. The confusion has surfaced mainly due because the details of the ‘framework agreement’ are still in the closet, far away from public view. It is speculated that the details of the framework might be made public on December 25, 2017, and the over six decade long Naga issue may finally reach to a conclusion. But, at this stage nothing can be said with a certainty.

Peeping into the Past

Prior to the arrival of the British into Nagaland the province had no connection either with Indian mainland or Myanmar (erstwhile Myanmar). The first British contact with the Nagas was in 1832 in the Angami region where the Angamis and the British locked horns in a conflict. With superior firepower, the British defeated the Angamis. In fact, the entire Naga homeland came under the British administrative control in 1866 and after the fall of Khonoma in 1879, an unwritten peace was negotiated between the Nagas and the British. The Naga homeland was excluded from the British India and it came to be known as Naga Hills Excluded Area (NHEA).

India gained its independence in 1947 and accordingly an accord was signed with the then existing princely states and colonies in India. The accord, however, failed to address the nationalist aspirations of several ethnic groups who went on to form numerous independent movement and the movement for an independent and sovereign Nagaland was one of these.

The Naga nationalist aspirations began to take shape much before the World War II. Naga Club was formed and its members and leaders were mainly those who had returned from France and had served in the British Army during the WWI. The Naga Club in January 1929 had submitted a political memorandum (with twenty signatories) to the Simon Commission, demanding for their exclusion from the ‘reformed scheme of India’. The memorandum was debated in the House of Commons and it resulted in the exclusion of the Naga inhabited areas from the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935. Nagaland was made an excluded area and the administration of the Naga Hills was left to the discretion of the Governor of Assam. The prime aim of the Governor of Assam was to protect the Nagas from economic exploitation.

From 1939 to 1945, the Nagas intensively discussed with the British government in India for the independence of Nagaland. The discussions were extensively carried forward by the Naga Club. With an aim to unite all Naga tribes under one political umbrella, Naga National Council (NNC) – a political group- was formed in 1946 under the under the leadership of T Alibi Imti, Angami Zapu Phizo and a few others- all members of the Naga Club. The NNC, after its formation, strongly stated that it would form a sovereign democratic republic called Nagaland.

In June 1947, the then Gov-ernor of Assam Sir Muhammad Saleh Akbar Hydari, negotiated with the NNC on behalf of the Indian Constituent Assembly and signed a 9-point agreement; the last point of this agreement being the most controversial.

The last point of the agreement stated that, ‘after 10 years of the agreement’s implementation, the NNC would be asked whether it would wish to rest the agreement for a further period or would it want to reach a new agreement for the future of the Naga people’.

This agreement, however, had a little impact and it can be said it only catalysed the entire naga movement. Hydari, on the very evening of signing the agreement warned the Naga leaders that if the Naga Hills district refused to join the Indian Union, then force would be used against them. Despite the warning the NNC wasted no time in defying it and it declared complete independence of the Naga people on August 14, 1947- a day before India gained her independence. Then with Hydari’s death on 1948, the agreement too died.

Attaining Statehood

In May 1951, the NNC launched a plebiscite in Nagaland and 99 pc of the Naga people supported an independent Nagaland. The issue of the Naga independence and the verdict of the Naga plebiscite were put forward to the then Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on March 11, 1952. Nehru rejected the demand for an independent Nagaland. This rejection resulted in repercussions in Nagaland and NNC launched civil disobedience campaign and refused to pay taxes and boycotted India’s first general elections of 1952. Neither anyone from Nagaland stood for the elections, nor did anyone from Nagaland cast their vote.

Even though Nehru in 1951 had rejected NNC’s plebiscite verdict or refused to talk on the independence of Nagaland, the NNC leaders, however, saw a ray of hope when Nehru decided to visit Kohima and his March 30, 1953 Kohima visit was greatly welcomed by the people of Nagaland as well as the NNC leaders. Nehru was accompanied by the then Burmese PM O Nu and his personal assistant and hostess Indira Gandhi. The visit of two the PMs was seen as an opportunity by the NNC leaders to present their cause and they prepared a memorandum to be presented to both of them. Nehru, however, rejected to receive any written or oral address on the Naga independence issue. This led to the boycotting of Nehru’s programme by a large number of the attendees and Nehru addressed the meeting in front of a handful of people. Following this, there was crackdown on the NNC leaders and a number of leaders were arrested. The entire Naga Hills was declared disturbed and subsequently The Disturbed Area Act was imposed. Nagaland, thus, fell under martial law.

Meanwhile, things took a different turn altogether when Phizo, realising the danger of armed repression, on August 10, 1954 entered into an agreement with the leaders of Free Naga and formed Naga Country Guard-the first armed resistance group- to oppose the Indian armed forces. By 1955, the Indian Army moved into Tuensang. The Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955, was introduced to enable the Assam armed police and the Assam Rifles to act without any legal restrictions whatsoever.

On March 22, 1956, the NNC inaugurated its own Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) – an armed opposition movement amalgamated with the Naga Homeguard, which was later known as the Naga Army.

While the armed confrontation continued, attempts were made to negotiate peace and thus the Naga People’s Convention (NPC) was formed in Kohima on August 26, 1957 to mediate between the warring factions. To work-out a peaceful solution, the NPC drafted out a 16-point plan and it was put before the Indian government. Even though several Naga rebel leaders pointed this plan as a ploy to divide the Nagas along territorial and tribal lines, rounds of talks and discussions for peace, however, continued and the 16-point agreement was finally signed on July 26, 1960 between the representatives of NPC and the Indian government. With the signing of the agreement, it did appear that the issue of Naga statehood was officially recognised. The state was recognised as the full-fledged state of Nagaland under the Indian Constitution on December 1, 1963.

Peace Talks

For the first time in Nagaland, a peace mission was convened on February 24, 1964 and it was initiated by the Nagaland Baptist Churches Council (NBCC), which was made up BP Chaliha, the then Chief Minister of Assam; JP Narayan, Indian politician and Rev Michael Scott, a British citizen who championed the course of anti- apartheid movement in South Africa. On May 24, 1964, the Federal Government of Nagaland accepted the ceasefire agreement and the agreement was signed by BP Chaliha and was sent to Nehru for consideration on May 26. But due to Nehru’s sudden death on May 27, the agreement could not be read by the Prime Minister. After Lal Bahadur Shastri became the Prime Minister, post Nehru’s demise, the ceasefire agreement was finally signed on September 6, 1964. The peace talks, however, failed to yield fruitful results and it finally came to an end on May 4, 1966, after Rev Michael Scott was arrested in Shillong.

When Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister, the India-Naga talks took pace and six rounds of talks were held. She was in direct talk with the Naga leaders; however, she straightaway rejected the notion of Naga sovereignty. This led to the rejection of the ceasefire and it turned to a deadlock and it ensued from October 1967 onwards.

On August 31, 1972, the NNC, FGN and Naga Army were declared as unlawful association under the Unlawful Activities Act, 1967. On the same day, the Government of India imposed Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. Imposition of this Act, hence, vested immense power to the army men and they could now shoot without having to take permission from seniors, and also conduct house raids and arrests any person any person against whom there exist an iota of suspicion. And these could be carried out even without having the required documents or warrants. In 1974, Indira Gandhi launched an internal state of emergency and the Indian army was ordered to a fierce crackdown on the underground Naga resistance.

The Shillong Accord and Thereafter

The crackdown on the Naga resistance thus put the NNC and the FGN under immense pressure with the office to negotiate with the Indian government remaining open. A delegation comprising of the NNC and FGN members met with the then Assam Governor Lallan Prasad Singh at Shillong in November 1975. The delegation agreed to accept the Indian Constitution and lay down arms and lead a normal life. The Shillong Accord was signed on November 11, 1975.

However, terming the Shillong Accord as a betrayal and the signatories as traitors, it was denounced by the then NNC Vice President Isak Chishi Swu and Secretary General Thuingaleng Muviah. The Shillong Accord, in fact, led to differences among the various underground groups and as a result the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed in 1980 with SS Khaplang teaming up with Isak and Muivah. The armed conflict between the GoI and the NSCN continued and the group also took over a company of the Assam Rifles at Oinam village in July 9, 1987.

The Indian army counterattacked launching ‘Operation Bluebird’, which incited communal discord- mainly between the Nagas and the Kukis. In April 1988, the NSCN split into two factions- NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K). Khaplang accused that Isak and Muivah had collaborated with the GoI to reject naga sovereignty. An attack on the NSCN headquarters followed where a number of NSCN members were killed. Isak and Muivah, however, survived the attack and gradually the NSCN faction led by them emerged as the strongest Naga resistance force.

NSCN (IM) leaders gained recognition at an international level and they began to participate in various UN gatherings. In 1997, the then Indian Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, initiated a dialogue with the NSCN (IM). On May 30, 1997, a statement was issued endorsing peace process was issued by Isak and Muivah. And as a result on July 24, 1997, a threemonth ceasefire was announced with effect from August 1, 1997. Peace dawned at last!

Greater Nagalim

NSCN (IM) secretary general Thuingaleng Muivah, endorsing for a unified Nagaland has always said that there is no greater or smaller Nagaland and that there is just one land which is theirs. “We do not have greater Nagaland, nor do we have smaller Nagaland. We have just the land that belongs to us: nothing more than that, or nothing less than that. Our land was compact and still it is compact. It has been divided by the external forces, against the wishes and aspirations of the Naga people. There is nothing wrong on the parts of the Naga people to live together as brothers and sisters. So there is no greater or smaller Nagaland. But the problem is that India wanted to keep the Nagas divided. This is the issue,” Muivah said while speaking for a documentary titled ‘Naga: A Cry for Freedom’.

Similar views echo even now and a majority of people in Nagaland thinks that the areas that are inhabited by the Nagas should come under one administration.

“Look into the history and then you would know that we were never a part of the Indian subcontinent. We were tricked and forced to be a part of the Indian land. Demanding a separation is not wrong. Even Assam wants to be independent. And then there are several other regions as well. I don’t think we are wrong in demanding a separate land for the Nagas,” said EL Jamir, a student from University of Delhi.

“The land was divided without our concern and sooner or later, all the Naga inhabited areas should come under one administrative rule. I am hopeful that this will happen soon and once the Naga Framework Agreement signed on August 3, 2015 is out, I think there will be a lot to rejoice for the people of Nagaland who have lost a lot in the past five-six decades,” he further added.

Reactions Galore

As reports pour in that the Naga Framework Agreement signed on August 3, 2015, between the Government of India and the Naga armed groups headed by the NSCN (IM) draws towards its conclusion, fresh fears have gripped the people of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur as they feel that Naga inhabited areas of these areas may just be ceded into the Greater Nagalim territory. Reactions have started to flow in and right from civil body organizations to the respective governments of these states clearly stating that they will not allow an inch of land of their states to be included into Greater Nagalim.

Speaking to Northeast Today on behalf of the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU), organisation’s deputy spokesperson Nepha Wangsa, said, “It has been learned from reliable sources the protracted Indo-Naga Political dialogue is nearing its final phase. The dialogue is shrouded in secrecy with no information coming out from any quarters, though the state of Arunachal Pradesh is one among the stake holders along with North Eastern state like Assam and Manipur. Therefore, in this regard AAPSU, while reiterating its earlier representation to the Government of India once again make it clear that any decision that is detrimental to the territorial integrity of the state will not be accepted in any eventuality.”

“AAPSU had made its representation to the Union Home Minister in his visit to Arunachal Pradesh on the occasion of Statehood day celebration on February 20 earlier this year and in May that the indigenous people strongly oppose any move of GoI against the territorial integrity of Arunachal Pradesh,” he further said, adding, “The AAPSU and the people would oppose tooth and nail against the settlement of Naga issue if any of the provisions affects the land and people of the state. The AAPSU and people of Arunachal Pradesh support the early solution to the long pending issue of Nagas of Nagaland but not at the cost of Arunachal Pradesh.”

A journalist from Manipur seeking anonymity owing to professional obligations, said, “What the agreement signed in 2015 actually holds is still a mystery. But what we have learned from the media and other sources and the map of Greater Nagalim, which was circulated, it is clear that land from Manipur along with Assam and Arunachal Pradesh will be included in the new state. This again is a violation of rights of the people who have been residing either in Manipur or in Assam or in Arunachal. The Naga inhabited areas in these three states are made of non-Naga people as well. And including them in the new Nagalim territory will be a violation of their rights.”

Samson Konyak, a resident of Naga Village in Sivasagar district of Assam, while speaking on the issue, said, “Even though we are Nagas by birth and still have our clan back in Dimapur, Mon and Kohima, we take pride in introducing ourselves as Assamese. So there is no point in saying that Naga inhabited areas of Assam will join the Greater Nagalim.”

“When I have discussed about the issue with my Naga friends in Dimapur and Kohima, they always feel that at this juncture the historical account of what Nagaland was some 100 years back cannot be taken into account. Nagaland lacks the resources to sustain as a separate country, he says,” added Samson.

“I am a Naga. I support a Greater Nagalim and the unification of the Naga areas. But the question here is as how should one proceed with this unification? I have visited areas in Assam and Manipur where there is a sizeable Naga population. But most of them say that they want to be a part of the Greater Nagalim,” said a Dimapur-based activist seeking anonymity.

Media Coverage

Speaking on the issue, a Guwahati-based journalist seeking anonymity owing to professional obligations, said, “The entire Nagalim issue has been made very complicated by the mysterious secrecy maintained by both central and state governments. As there is absolutely no information available on the contents of the framework agreement, people are free to speculation. These speculations are fuelling rumours like Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh will have to concede a large chunk of their land to Nagalim.”

“Our media is also giving air to these rumours to get ignited into a full-fledged communal clash. Media should be responsible while reporting on such a sensitive issue. The truth is barring those in power, none of us really know what the framework agreement consists of and speculating about it would make situation worse. There is no dearth of bad blood between communities in Northeast and media should work towards improving the scenario and not making it worse. Right now, I will hope that our media will report this issue as it happens and not speculate too much,” he concluded.

Brooding Over

The secrecy that has been maintained over the 2015 Naga framework agreement has thrown out several questions. Leaders, academicians, and scholars of the Naga issue are forced to wonder as what the frameworks agreement actually amounts to? NSCN (IM) has been accused of selling out to the government on the Naga cause. Some are sceptical about the entire issue and feel that the FA is just an empty piece of paper, with nothing promised. A few is also believe that there is actually no resolution in sight.

There is again a growing perspective among many who have been studying the Naga issue that the framework agreement enables the NSCN (IM) to continue with parallel governments, including recruitment and training, procurement of illegal weapons and running extortion networks.

Another section of the scholars of the Naga issue feels that in settling this decades old issue, there is also an issue of representation. Even though the NSCN (IM) remains to be the dominant armed group, but there are also other groups like the NSCN (K) and the NNC who claims to represent the Nagas. Moreover, there also exists a difference of opinion among the Nagas, while some support the NSCN (IM), some NSCN (K) and another section supporting the NNC. Even if the details of the 2015 framework of agreement is made public on December 25 or somewhere in the near future, this divisive issue is certainly going to be a thorn in the flesh.

However, the main issue that concerns right now to the three states- Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur- is about the possible change in their geography. The Centre, time and again has assured that there will not be a change in the geographical demography of the region due to the Naga Framework Agreement and that the geographical sovereignty of the region will remain as it is and that there is nothing much to worry.

Clouds of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and a lot of speculations shroud the 2015 agreement and things will be clearer only after the Pandora’s Box opens. If the geographical boundaries of the state chage, we may stand witness to another political and armed uprising. Centre will certainly not want this. It will certainly like an amicable solution to this decades old issue.

(References: Naga: A Cry for Freedom; Huffington Post, The Indian Express, The Hindu, Hindustan Times)

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