Centre, NSCN-IM peace pact on the brink of collapse; separatist demands, unconstitutional expectations make negotiations with North East insurgent groups hard

It is clear that the Centre and the armed group are not on the same page while interpreting the Framework Agreement signed between the parties on 3 August 2015 which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had termed as historic.

Sunzu Bachaspatimayum March 05, 2020 15:18:37 IST
Centre, NSCN-IM peace pact on the brink of collapse; separatist demands, unconstitutional expectations make negotiations with North East insurgent groups hard
  • It is clear that the Centre and the armed group are not on the same page while interpreting the Framework Agreement signed between the parties on 3 August 2015 which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had termed as historic.

  • Even as the law and order situation in Manipur has shown signs of improvement, the border state still remains the most violent state, accounting for 50 percent of the total violent incidents reported across the northeastern region.

  • The ongoing Indo-Naga talks seem to be giving the wrong signals, especially to the Manipur insurgents.

Since independent India in 1947, North East India has been witnessing a bewildering line-up of insurgencies gripping states such as Nagaland, Mizoram Manipur, Assam, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. Even after several ceasefire agreements and SoO or Suspension of Operation Agreements, there are at least over 50 armed outfits operating in the North East region with their presence in the upper Sagaing region of Myanmar. Out of these, at least eight are separatist organisations. It must be said that the Naga insurgency which first took birth as ‘Naga hostiles’ is without a doubt, the ‘mother’ of insurgencies in the region.

Centre NSCNIM peace pact on the brink of collapse separatist demands unconstitutional expectations make negotiations with North East insurgent groups hard

Headquarters of the NSCN(IM) near Dimapur, Nagaland. Firstpost/Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Fortunately, the hostilities with most of the Naga armed groups have ended since 1997 through a series of ceasefire agreements and dug-in on a never-ending spree of peace negotiations. It is another matter that the ‘talks’ with the Nagas is impeded by cryptic ceasefire ground rules and the complex question of the feasibility of integrating all the Nagas, scattered across the northeastern states, particularly Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, under one political unit, the core demand of the principal Naga armed group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaak-Muivah group), NSCN-IM.

It is a fact that many viewed the on-going ‘Indo-Naga Political Peace Talks’ as the forerunner to resolving all of the divisive armed movement going on in the region. On the positive side, the Indo-Naga Talks has yielded at least a ‘Framework of Agreement’ in the 23 years of negotiating and just when words were doing the rounds that the ‘talks’ is coming close to culminating into an accord, the tone and substance of a statement made by the peace talks interlocutor-turned Nagaland Governor RN Ravi, revealed the fragility of the talks as it stands today.

In an interview to a local daily of Nagaland, the Nagaland Post, Governor Ravi accused the NSCN-IM of delaying the peace pact by making ‘mischievous interpretation’ of the agreed positions on contentious issues. The interlocutor-turned governor was quoted as saying that, “Framework Agreement is a commitment to settle the Naga political issue on the basis of power sharing with due regard to the contemporary realities.” The governor further accused the “NSCN-IM of trying to mislead the people by imagining things which are not in the Framework Agreement.”

While stating categorically that the Naga political issue belongs to the Naga people and not a single entity has franchise over it, Ravi hinted the possibility of dropping NSCN-IM to deliver a peace pact together with other stakeholders if necessary.

Meanwhile NSCN-IM, through a press release by its publicity department said that the political solution which would be worked out with the Government of India shall be a ‘Naga solution’ of the Nagas wherever they are, hinting at the contentious Pan Naga entity. The emergency meeting of its functionaries, including the collective leadership, Kilonsers, Tatars, heads of departments and its Army officials further asserted that the Naga National Flag and the Constitution is an inalienable right of the Nagas for an honourable political solution.

Anthony Shimray, the military chief of the NSCN-IM is quoted as saying that the Government of India had conceded that the history of the Nagas was ‘unique’ and that there would be ‘shared sovereignty’ with the rest of India.

It is clear that the Centre and the armed group are not on the same page while interpreting the Framework Agreement signed between the parties on 3 August 2015 which Prime Minister Narendra Modi had termed as historic.

Governor Ravi had stated categorically that there would be no separate flag and constitution for the Nagas under the peace deal. Ravi stated that the NSCN-IM has “adopted a procrastinating attitude to delay the settlement raising the contentious symbolic issues of separate Naga national flag and constitution on which they are fully aware of the Government of India’s position.”

Significantly, the Centre’s stalemate with the NSCN-IM peaked after the abolition of Article 370 of Jammu and Kashmir. All of a sudden, the Modi government abolished the provision under which the state had a separate flag and a constitution. This swift move by the Centre has fuelled a strong air of apprehension about the possibilities of similar action against the special provisions that are enshrined in Article 371A for the Nagas.

Article 371A states that no Act of Parliament — with respect to religious or social practices of the Nagas, their customary law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law, ownership and transfer of land and its resources — shall apply to the state unless the Assembly decides by a resolution.

Notwithstanding the decline of violent activities in the last one decade and several ‘political talks’ between a number of armed ethnic groups who are on 'Suspension of Operation Agreements' with the government, the ongoing Indo-Naga talks seem to be giving the wrong signals, especially to the Manipur insurgents. They seemed to have hardened their stance by saying that there are no options other than to endure on the armed struggle against India.

Even as the law and order situation in Manipur has shown signs of improvement, the border state still remains the most violent state, accounting for 50 percent of the total violent incidents reported across the northeastern region. Primarily, Manipur is affected by activities of the Meitei, Naga, Kuki, Zomi, Hmar and Muslim armed groups with the Meitei insurgents accounting for about 57 percent of insurgency-related incidents.

Irengbam Chaoren, the elusive guerrilla leader who leads one of Manipur’s most potent armed outfit, the Revolutionary Peoples’ Front (RPF), in a press release, emailed to mark the outfit’s 41st Rising Day, ruled out getting into any peace parley with the Government India, saying his party will never compromise on the question of Manipur’s freedom.

Centre NSCNIM peace pact on the brink of collapse separatist demands unconstitutional expectations make negotiations with North East insurgent groups hard

Recruits at Revolutionary Peoples’ Front People's Liberation Army military training camp somewhere along Indo-Myanmar border. Image courtesy Bona Meisnam

In his press communique, Chaoren said that “under the current situation it will be impossible to come to any form of agreement on the liberation of Manipur through dialogue between the Government of India and the revolutionary groups of Manipur".

Explaining his position, the rebel leader termed “India’s initiative for dialogue is basically about merging the revolutionaries into the Indian mainstream, make them real Indians; disarm the revolutionary groups and bring a solution within the Constitution of India".

Giving reference to the NSCN-IM and Government of India peace-talk, Chaoren said that India’s approach has been “testified repeatedly by the accords signed earlier and the on-going political dialogues.” The RPF president emphasised that RPF’s armed movement to liberate Manipur is a response to the call of the over 2,000 years old national history of independence and freedom. He said that RPF’s armed movement is now over 40 years old and is fundamentally against the Government of India’s colonial rule.

He further rejected the views of the Indian security analysts who reasoned that the lack of development and unemployment brewed insurgency in the North East. “The armed movement is not a manifestation of grievances against administrative or economic policies formulated by the Government of India for the people of Manipur. The armed movement is a movement to liberate Manipur and establish self-rule,” Chaoren said.

Centre NSCNIM peace pact on the brink of collapse separatist demands unconstitutional expectations make negotiations with North East insurgent groups hard

UNLF cadres at one of their base camp sometime along Indo-Myanmar border. Image courtesy Bona Meisnam

He then went on to say that the revolutionary movement for the liberation of Manipur will evidentially attain the ‘Ultimate Victory’ given its long written national history and the fact that Manipur was forcefully annexed.

This strong-worded ‘message’ from the chief of RPF whose armed division, the People’s Liberation Army, PLA, is a headache for the Indian Army comes at a time when Manipur is gripped in the tense atmosphere emitted by the post CAA or the Citizenship Amendment Act. The Coalition for Indigenous Rights Campaign, CIRCA, a citizens' organisation of Manipur had termed the passing of CAB 2019 as "an act of declaring war on the indigenous people of the North East”. Following the CAA related unrest, social observers in the state have said that insurgency in the northeast may get a fresh lease of life with the Modi government bend of enforcing the CAA.

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