Anxiety is refusing to die down among the people of Nagaland, as the peace deal to the Naga problem still remains inconclusive. Naga insurgency is often described as the oldest in India. Although the Naga separatist movement dates back to the British period, the State has witnessed bloodshed that mostly started in the mid 1950s, when the secessionist movement under Naga National Council (NNC) led by hardliner leader A.Z. Phizo turned violent, battling against the Indian state. At times, there were many peace deals between the various Naga rebel groups and the Centre and 1975 Shillong Peace Accord is one. However, due to differences within the Naga rebel groups, every time a peace deal was signed, one or some other group emerged to oppose it, thus negating effects of the peace deals signed earlier.
Another peace deal was to be signed on October 31 between the Centre and Naga groups that included the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah)-(NSCN-IM). However, the deadline was given a miss. The insurgent group NSCN-IM, which was formed in 1980 by Nagaland born Isak-Swu and Manipur born Th. Muivah, has been involved in peace talks with the government of India since 1997, when it signed a ceasefire agreement. However, the other faction, NSCN-Khaplang formed by Myanmar born SS Khaplang has refused to join these efforts and is a big insurgent group. Presently, only Muivah is alive as both Isak and Khaplang passed away in 2016 and 2017 respectively.
The October 31 date was set by the Centre after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s return to power with a huge mandate. To fasten the process, Modi dispensation also appointed the government’s interlocutor for Naga peace talks N Ravi, as Governor of the State. However, NSCN-IM’s demand for a shared sovereignty with a separate Naga constitution and Naga flag emerged as a deadlock for the peace talks. Especially, by modifying Article 370 of erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir that had the provision of a separate Constitution and State flag, Modi government has already made its stand clear that there will be one Constitution and one flag across the country.
Obviously, no doubt there is a shadow of Kashmir on the Naga Peace talks with the Modi government being adamant on its stand. Apart from that, Modi government’s urgency to pull off a historical achievement seems to have also worked against bringing a lasting solution to the decades’ old insurgency.
It must be noted that NSCN-IM and the GoI led by Modi had signed a historic framework agreement in 2015 that sought to end the insurgency for restoring peace and paving the way for prosperity in the northeast. However, the government hasn’t shared the details of the framework despite calls from various quarters. The dispensation has maintained that since the peace talks are on, it would not be right to share the details in public. Although, later Ravi had said that NSCN-IM signed the framework “by giving up the demand of Naga sovereignty and agreeing for a settlement within the Indian federation”.
Apart from a separate Naga constitution and Naga flag, NSCN-IM also wanted a greater Nagalim — much bigger in size than the present Nagaland comprising the Naga inhabited areas of neighbouring States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. This demand has only extended the issue beyond the borders of Nagaland. The three neighbouring States have clearly stated the Naga peace deal shouldn’t be at the cost of their territorial integrity. Particularly, the Meiteis of Manipur are concerned about it. The hills of the State are inhabited by Nagas, while the plains by the Meiteis, who often keep demanding for Inner Line Permit in the State. However, besides Nagas, Kukis too reside in the hills of Manipur.
So, the demand for greater Nagalim is far away from ground realities and NSCN-IM too now has softened its stand over the issue. But, there are clamours that the Naga inhabited districts of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur would be provided some kind of autonomy — though it is not yet clear about the type of autonomy. That’s the reason that the apprehensions of Meiteis of Manipur and civil society groups of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are refusing to wither away.
Nevertheless, the positive thing is that despite missing the deadline, both the Centre and NSCN-IM have agreed to continue the peace talks. There have been reports that the rebel group has even agreed to use its own Naga flag only at cultural events. However, the issue with the separate Naga constitution still remains to be resolved.
The reality is despite positive hopes there are still hurdles that can wash away all the efforts, dealing a big blow to the peace aspirations of the Nagas. One hurdle to the solution is the urgency of the Modi government to clinch the peace deal as soon as possible by setting unfeasible deadlines. To achieve this, it is alleged by many that the government is using Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), an umbrella coalition of seven armed groups, which is quite flexible to the various contentious issues, including the separate flag and constitution, to pressurise NSCN-IM. The government should understand that such acts will only backfire as happened in the past, when the peace deals signed with one particular group failed to deliver the required results.
Second obstacle is the NSCN-IM itself. Their demands should be practical. Agreeing to the demands of separate Naga constitution is not possible for the Centre as it will ignite calls for separate constitutions from other States too. Given the current situation of Kashmir, it would be disastrous for Centre to agree over such impractical demands. NSCN-IM leadership should understand this, as now they too agree that separation from India is a closed chapter. So, they should also be aware of the ground realities of India. Instead, the rebel group should settle for whatever greater autonomy is possible for the Nagas within the ambit of the Indian constitution.
Also, the Centre should focus on the concerns of the communities belonging to the neighbouring states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur — all ruled by BJP. Moreover, in Nagaland, BJP is part of the coalition led by Chief Minister Neuphio Rio’s NDPP. Politically this comes as an advantage for the BJP-led Modi government to allay their worries born out of Naga peace deal, and the onus lies on the Centre to definitely utilise this.
After all, securing a permanent peace deal is the major requirement. Nagas are tired of decades’ old insurgency and are aspiring for permanent peace, while considering separation from India as a closed chapter. All they want is peace and tranqulilty and proper security of their culture and identity in India. Beside this, an end to the Naga insurgency will also help in the prosperity of the entire northeast region. Responsibility now lies on the shoulders of both the Modi government and NSCN-IM.