Connecting Regions of Asia.

Naga Settlement : Still a Bridge too far

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The Indian government has refused to accept two ‘core demands’ of the NSCN-IM , causing huge uncertainity to creep into the process of a final settlement of the country’s six decade old Naga imbroglio.

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah) has been negotiating with successive Indian governments since they signed a ceasefire agreement with Delhi in 1997. Later, other Naga rebel factions were drafted into the peace process which could surely be one of the longest peace negotiations anywhere in the world, having already last 23 years.

But the Modi government’s rejection of two ‘core demands’ofNSCN-IM —  a separate flag  for Nagaland and a separate  Naga constitution or Yezabo as a precondition for signing the Indo-Naga peace agreement — has thrown the whole process in a quandary. Four Christmas has passed since the signing of the Framework Agreement between Indian government and NSCN-IM in August 2015 but a final settlement based on this framework is nowhere in sight.

Two months ago, Indian interlocutor and former Intelligence Bureau’s deputy chief R N Ravi had said a final Naga settlement was round the corner . But that hope is fast evaporating.That has cast a pall of gloom in the conflict-scarred Northeast where the Naga insurgency is seen as the ‘mother of all rebellions’ and its solution is seen to be holding the key to lasting peace in the region. 

“There can’t be two constitutions or two national flags within one sovereign nation. We have just got rid of two national flags in Jammu and Kashmir after Article 370 and Article 35A were abolished. For the first time national flag was hoisted in Jammu and Kashmir after removing the separate J&K flag. There is no question of reopening this saga,” said a senior official of the Government of India on condition of anonymity. 

 The ceasefire agreement was signed in July 1997 and thereafter a series of negotiations were held at difference places with different Naga interlocutors. However, the pace of negotiations was accelerated after Narendra  Modi ook  over in 2014. IB’s retired deputy chief R N Ravi wa first appointed interlocutor and then Nagaland governor to push the final settlement with the Naga rebel group within  within a specific time frame.Subsequently, the interlocutor had made it clear that the Nagas have to forego two of their demands, that is, incorporation of Naga inhabited areas from the neighbouring states and sovereign Nagaland or what they call Nagalim. Rest of the demands can be accommodated through negotiations.

Both sides agreed and later, on August 3, 2015, the Framework Agreement was signed in the presence of Prime Minister Modi, then home minister Rajnath Singh and the NSCN supremo Th Muivah at the Lok Kalyan Marg residence of the prime minister.

 “The ‘inclusive’ word clearly written in the Framework Agreement with the understanding that any future negotiations will be inked within the framework of the Constitution of India. There was no mention of Naga constitution,” said a top IB official familiar with the negotiations.

“Now talks are almost at the final stage when the octogenarian Naga leader made a U-turn reiterating the same old demands of co-existence and shared sovereignty. He is insisting to incorporate two issues — Naga flag and Naga constitution — in the final agreement. That is unrealistic and not going with the spirit of talks, the IB official told SouthAsian Monitor.

“If the Government of India accepts a separate Naga flag and a separate Naga constitution as a precondition before signing the final agreement, it tantamounts to accepting a sovereign Nagaland and then the question of incorporation of Naga inhabited areas within three neighbouring states — Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and a sizeable Naga population living in Myanmar, will automatically figure. Government of India can’t reopen that chapter. That chapter was closed when the present interlocutor Ravi began negotiations with the NSCN-IM collective leadership.” 

On July 28 last year, just  before taking over as the governor of Nagaland, R N Ravi met the NSCN-IM general secretary Muivah in Delhi and explained that the final solution would ensure the inclusion of Nagas in the Indian Union. Ravi also reminded the 86-year-old Naga leader that the word ‘inclusive’ was written in the Framework Agreement. But the NSCN-IM supremo blew his top and charged Ravi with changing the meaning of the term ‘inclusion’ written in the Framework Agreement to fulfill his objective. 

Muivah claimed that the actual meaning of word ‘inclusion’ was to “include all terms and conditions that were agreed upon in the final Accord. A successful solution will provide for an inclusive and enduring new relationship between the two entities.” Muivah apparently told Ravi that “this juggling of word” will take us nowhere. 

However, Ravi reportedly did not budge from his stand. Another contentious issue was the arrest warrant against five top-ranking NSCN leaders by the National Investigation Agency and arrest of a few leaders.

Muivah is believed to have expressed his displeasure and asked the interlocutor why the NIA has been interfering when the peace talks are on and why as the interlocutor he was not able to protect the NSCN leaders and cadres. Ravi is reported to have pointed out the gross violation of ceasefire ground rules and the setting up of camps and hideouts outside the designated ceasefire zone. The heated exchange continued between them and apparently that meeting ended on a sore note. 

Ravi took over as the Nagaland governor on August 1 and in a public reception he disclosed that the prime minister wanted to finalise the 22-year-long peace negotiations in three months time, that is by November this year.

However, unhappy with the with “body language” of the interlocutor, the NSCN-IM leadership sent a communiqué to the prime minister urging him to appoint a new interlocutor as they were opposed to continuing negotiations with the governor of Nagaland.

Although Ravi has been continuing as the interlocutor of the ongoing Indo-Naga peace talks, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has recently been given the additional task of supervising the ongoing Indo-Naga peace talks. 

Meanwhile, the NSCN-IM supremo rushed to the designated camp headquarter Hebron and a held series of talks with almost all leaders and groups to explain the new developments in the peace negotiations. 

He asked all leaders and groups to always be prepared for the worst. 

However, on September 2, the new governor of Nagaland and interlocutor Ravi had a one-on-one meeting for nearly one hour with NSCN-IM boss Th Muivah at the Chumukedima police complex. And it appeared that the ice melted there. Both of them have apparently tried to clear the confusion and agreed to have a fresh round of talks .

It is reliably learnt that both sides have agreed to work an ‘alternative way out’ to make the solution acceptable and honourable to all. Now it remains to be seen what happens to the two core issues.  But no progress has been made after the two sides stopped discussions in the rundown to the Christmas, which is the biggest festival in Christian-dominated Nagaland.Interestingly, the seven NSCN factions which formed a combo called the Naga National Political Groups, has been blaming the NSCN-IM for creating confusion and in the process delaying the signing of the peace agreement with the Government of India. 

The NNPG is of the view that NSCN-IM had already agreed to forego its two core demands, incorporation of Naga inhabited areas of neighbouring states and sovereignty issue, before beginning the peace negotiations. But now the NSCN-IM leadership is raising this issue to assuage the sentiments of the Naga people. 

Leaders of 14 Naga tribes recently asked the NSCN-IM leadership to expedite the peace process and settle the issue once and for all. They also advised the collective leadership to keep aside the core issues and iron out a workable solution to put an end to the seven decades old Indo-Naga political problem. 

Some suspect that Ravi, Doval and their juniors in the IB have managed the other Naga factions with promises of creating new states in keeping with tribal boundaries in Eastern Nagaland and are now trying to isolate the NSCN-IM . An isolated Muivah may finally call it a day, the Indian intelligence operatives believe, since age is not on his side. But this writer knows Muivah intimately and was the first to interview the China-trained guerrilla veteran in 1986 .  Muviah is a master strategist and his success in turning a breakaway rebel faction like the NSCN (after 1975 Shillong Accord) into the ‘fountainhead of all Northeastern insurgencies’ cannot be wished away. One should not forget he was ‘politically trained’ in China at the peak of the Cultural Revolution and later honed his negotiating skills over the last 23 years dealing with the mandarins in Delhi. But the Naga rebel movement is nowhere near its past strength due to frequent splinterisation on tribal lines. No wonder, Delhi would try play on the fissures. But if Delhi believes it will manage the Naga problem by signing up within the smaller rebel factions b leaving out the 7000-strong NSCN(IM), it will end up curing footsore but leave out cancer.  Are we looking again at a repeat of 1975 when the Shillong Accord was signed with the Naga National Council but leaving out the China-returned fighters led by Muviah and the late Issac Swu led to return of insurgency within a decade.

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