The Naga peace treaty: Why everyone is still keeping fingers crossed

By Chandan Kumar Sharma

The signing of a draft treaty between the Government of India (GoI) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) in New Delhi on 3 August has created a fresh possibility to bring to an end the oldest insurgency in India. It was signed in the presence of both the prime minister and the home minister and the top NSCN (IM) leaders led by its general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah. The draft treaty is defined as a "framework of agreement" that includes the broad parameters under which a final accord would be written and signed. According to media reports, the final accord will be ready in around three months of time.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi witnessing the exchange of historic peace accord between Government of India & NSCN (IM) in New Delhi on 4 August. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi witnessing the exchange of historic peace accord between Government of India & NSCN (IM) in New Delhi on 3 August 2015. PTI

The Nagas have been fighting for a separate homeland (Nagalim) unifying all Naga-inhabited areas for the last several decades. The draft truce reportedly includes various aspects which address not only the demands of the Nagas but also assurances to the neighbouring states about their territorial integrity. The demand for the unification of all the Naga-inhabited territories in the proposed Nagalim has been one of the most nagging issues in the resolution of the Naga imbroglio as states with the 'Naga-inhabited areas' have been strongly opposed to ceding any territory to Nagalim. This assumes a critical proportion in Manipur, where four districts have been demanded to be included in the proposed Nagalim. Reportedly, however, this contentious issue has been resolved in the draft treaty with provisions being made for more autonomy in the Naga hills of Manipur. Understandably, therefore, the boundaries of Nagaland and other Naga-inhabited areas of the neighbouring states will not be redrawn.

The Naga struggle for a separate, sovereign homeland began soon after Independence under the Naga National Council (NNC) led by Angami Zapu Phizo, the roots of which can be traced back even to the pre-Independence period. There have been a number of efforts at resolving the conflicts through the instrumentalities of the Hydari Agreement in 1947; the creation of a separate Nagaland state in 1963; the peace process initiated by church leaders with a team consisting of Jayaprakash Narayan, then Assam chief minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha and the Reverend Michael Scott in 1964; and the Shillong Accord of 1975. But, peace in the Naga hills remained elusive. The subversion of the provisions of the Accords as well as highhandedness on the part of the government of India led the situation in Nagaland slip from bad to worse.

In fact, the Shillong Accord itself was the cause of the split within the ranks of NNC. Leaders like Muivah, Isak Swu, and SS Khaplang bitterly opposed the Shillong Accord and described those who signed the accord as betrayers of the Naga cause. They formed NSCN in 1980, breaking away from NNC. Since its formation, however, NSCN has split a number of times, thanks mainly to the role played by Indian intelligence agencies by often exploiting the inter-group rivalries among various Naga tribal groups.

The first major split in the NSCN occurred in 1988 when it was divided into two factions, one led by Swu and Muivah, and the other led by Khaplang. It is to be noted that while Muivah is a Tangkhul Naga from Manipur and Swu is a Sema Naga from Nagaland. Khaplang, a Hemis Naga, hails from Upper Myanmar.

There had been more splits subsequently. However, NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) have remained the most dominant factions. The conflict with the Indian state leading to large scale human rights violations by the security forces and the Nagas’ own internecine conflicts turned the Naga Hills into zone of violence and bloodshed. Hundreds lost lives in the process, women raped, property destroyed, and social life went into disarray.

The proposed Nagalim includes various ‘traditional’ Naga-inhabited areas which are spread mainly over three states of the North-East, including Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, and also Upper Myanmar. Colonial cartography and other political-administrative exigencies associated with a modern nation-state segregated the ‘traditional’ Naga-inhabited areas. However, their demand for ‘Greater Nagalim’ has been a cause for concern and disquiet for the neighbouring states whose territories it subsumes.

The recent draft treaty is a product of negotiations between the NSCN (IM) and the government of India, which started in the mid-1990s. Both parties a declared ceasefire to hostilities in 1997. The NSCN (IM) led by Muivah has held several rounds of talks with interlocutor RN Ravi, appointed by the present Union government, and his predecessors through the last 18 years. Muivah and Swu must be given credit for sticking to the process of dialogue despite going through many provocations and obstacles during this period. The treaty has been hailed as ‘historic’ by the government of India. The NSCN leaders led by Muivah have also expressed optimism about it. In fact, speculation was rife about a treaty for some time, especially after PM Modi’s announcement in the Hornbill festival in Nagaland last year that a resolution to the Naga problem would be found within a year-and-a-half.

Responses to the Accord

Interestingly, the negotiation leading to the draft treaty took place in utmost secrecy. Since the details of the accord have not been publicised, political and civil society leaders in the North-East have been guarded in their responses to the treaty. Even in Nagaland, nobody seemed ready to make any specific comment on the final outcome without knowing the exact details of the agreement. According to media reports, Chief Minister TR Zeliang refused to guess what the treaty portends. The president of Naga Hoho, the Naga apex body, also preferred to wait to see the details of the agreement before making any comment.

The response to the treaty is so guarded that no celebration has been observed even in Nagaland or Naga-dominated areas of Manipur. The fact that agreements such as these have failed in the past has kept many Nagas circumspect about its outcome. Moreover, the fact that no Naga civil society organisation was involved in the peace process has also not gone down well with them. If the only result of the accord will be greater autonomy apart from some financial package, then questions could be raised as to whether all the sacrifices of the Naga struggle were rendered irrelevant. It is also important to note that the NSCN (K) has abrogated its ceasefire with the Indian government, which had been in force since 2001. Its cadres are already active again. The recent attack on the army in Manipur is a pointer to that. Then there are other factions as well. In such a situation, how durable peace could be secured in the Naga hills is another critical question.

The Congress party has already expressed its dissatisfaction with the government for not taking it and other political parties into confidence before signing the draft treaty. The chief ministers of all the three Congress-ruled states of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam have been summoned by the Congress leadership to Delhi for discussions on the present development. The chief ministers of Manipur and Assam have already expressed their unhappiness about being kept in the dark about the contents of the treaty.

The Nagas are looking for a respectable resolution to the protracted "Indo-Naga" conflict. Understandably, the biggest challenge relates to integrating all Naga-inhabited areas in neighbouring states with Nagalim without actually changing borders. How this is worked out in the final treaty to the satisfaction of all parties concerned will be critical to the effective implementation of the final accord. A satisfactory resolution of the Naga insurgency should go a long way in dealing with other insurgencies in the north-eastern region as well. Any outcome to the contrary might prove quite detrimental to other peace initiatives in the region. As for now, everybody is looking at the final treaty with their fingers crossed.

Chandan Kumar Sharma is a Professor of Sociology at Tezpur University, Assam.

Updated Date: Aug 11, 2015 15:53 PM

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