The possibility of any early settlement of the Naga peace process is receding rapidly, as the Centre progressively loses the plot.
The unravelling began with the hastily drafted framework agreement between New Delhi and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland–Isak-Muivah. The framework was pushed forward in August 2015 because NSCN-IM chairman Isak Chisi Swu was terminally ill and general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah was also ailing. There was a sense that the two wished to be part of a historic agreement and, without hammering out the complexities of the settlement, some sweeping declarations were made. Even before the theatrics of the framework agreement could be finalised, the Khaplang faction of the NSCN pulled out of its ceasefire agreement and launched a series of attacks against security forces.
Today, divergent interpretations of the yet-to-be-made-public framework agreement have created a conflicting situation. The Centre’s interlocutor RN Ravi paints a rosy picture, arguing on March 1, 2019: “Naga Peace Talks is at the concluding stage (sic). Political principles of settlement, substantive issues of competencies and structural issues of governance have all been mutually agreed.
The peace process has become truly inclusive with seven Naga groups coming on board. We have mutual understanding with NSCN-IM that they would not oppose the NNPGs’ (Naga National Political Groups) constructive cooperation in the peace process and their participation in the final agreement. The peace process could conclude any day.”
Naga groups, however, have contested almost all of Ravi’s claims. In February 2019, when he sought to meet civil society groups and NNPGs in Kohima, they refused. Naga Hoho president Chuba Ozukum complained that the Centre’s “behaviour speaks volumes of their insincerity and the lack of political will towards solving the problem…”
Muivah has argued that the government of India “want(s) to use the NNPGs as a parallel force…” He has repeatedly said “there will be one Nagalim, only one government, our flag and our constitution must be there…” While describing as sticky the last set of issues, Ravi says, “We will sign the agreement as soon as these are resolved.”
New Delhi’s position is that “the Naga flag should be located in the pan-Naga cultural body, which would be a common platform of all the Nagas. Similarly, the final agreement, which would have to be duly incorporated in the Constitution of India, could be the Naga ‘Yehzabo’ (constitution)”. Muivah has explicitly rejected these proposals, saying, “There has to be a national flag, not symbolic cultural flag, and own constitution.” Far from settling substantive issues, it appears there is little agreement even on basic issues.
In a report to the home ministry on February 7, a Rajya Sabha committee voiced apprehensions that a further delay in arriving at a settlement “may harm the progress achieved during the last few years”. It also warned that an adequate rehabilitation programme for cadres of insurgent outfits needed to be devised and steps taken “to prevent the emergence of any splinter groups” The committee cautioned that “the government should… stay prepared for any scenario that may emerge in the aftermath of this agreement, and keep security forces on the alert”.
Nagaland is peaceful, when compared to the period before the ceasefire agreement was worked out. Turf wars, however, continue between Naga factions in neighbouring states. Naga armed groups, most prominently NSCN-IM, run parallel governments in their areas of dominance. They maintain large armies that range out of their designated camps in violation of the ceasefire agreement to impose “taxes” on the general population and run their “administration”. Despite the NSCN-IM’s dominance, the presence of Naga factions, with disparate interests, makes a clear agreement with this single entity difficult.
New Delhi continues to believe–perhaps rightly in some measure–that it can simply wear out the residual resistance by interminably delaying a resolution. This is a gamble and, naturally, fraught with risk.
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