For nearly 16 years, the Government of India and the Naga underground outfit — National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) have been holding peace talks but a final solution to the six-decade old Naga political problem still remains elusive. These talks have kept alive the hopes of a resolution of the long drawn conflict. However, other than the representatives of the two sides engaged in these seemingly endless talks, nobody has any idea when and how they are going to strike the much awaited peace deal, given the complexities of the issues placed on the table. Against Naga underground outfits’ assertion of sovereignty and independence of the Naga people, India’s persistent efforts have been to make the Nagas accept Indian Constitution by weaning away the Naga leaders and masses from the influence of the underground outfits, either by coercion or through persuasion. New Delhi hoped desperately that Naga insurgency would lose steam after the creation of a separate state for the Nagas in 1963. To the utter dismay of the political leaders and bureaucrats in Delhi, the problem was only compounded and the Naga insurgency emerged stronger despite internal feuds leading to multiple organisational splits, when Delhi made attempts to find a military solution to the conflict.
Authored by Harish Chandola, a veteran journalist with vast experience of covering conflicts in Africa and Asia, the book tells engaging stories of engagement of Indian political leaders with the Naga underground leaders as part of efforts by both the sides to draw the curtain on the insurrection in Naga-inhabited areas of northeast India. Translated from Hindi by Raji Narasimhan and Harish Chandola, the book gives the readers a blow-by-blow account of the peace negotiations that took place after the first ceasefire between Delhi and the Naga rebels fighting for independence, from 1964 to 1968 but failed to hammer out a mutually acceptable solution. It has also brought to light the crucial role played by the Indian bureaucracy in shaping the course of peace negotiations, which instead of finding solutions to the vexed Naga political problem made it more complicated and how the talks were bogged down in accusations and counter accusations.
The author gave up his job as a journalist in Cairo in 1964 at the request of the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and went to Kohima to assist the Nagaland Peace Mission comprising former Assam Chief Minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha, veteran political leader Jaya Prakash Narayan and British priest Reverend Michael Scott which tried to broker peace between the representatives of the Naga underground government and the Government of India by bringing about a ceasefire and halt to 10 years of bloodbath. The author, whose association with northeast began in 1955 as a journalist covering the region, has accused the Indian bureaucracy of sabotaging the efforts of the Peace Mission, which, he claims, helped both Delhi and the Naga underground leaders to come together, for negotiations and finding a peaceful solution. He has elaborated how the bureaucrats managed to create a barrier between Naga underground leaders and the Political leaders in Delhi to scuttle the peace talks.
Chapter 15 titled “Delhi Talks” unravels the complexities of the peace negotiations between Delhi and leaders of the Naga underground leaders with Chandola narrating the deliberations between Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the delegation of the underground Federal Government led by self- styled Prime Minister (Ato Kilonser) of the parallel government Kughato Sukhai in detail and throwing light on the various factors that stood in the way of talks yielding fruitful results. The deliberations at the several rounds of talks between Indira Gandhi and Naga underground leaders reveal that the Naga rebels insisted on India accepting that Nagas are a nation and that they have the right to national sovereignty. At the same time they were keen to establish links and relations between India and the Nagas. However, when the Naga leaders insisted on India speaking up its mind on the outline and the contours of the relations between the two, Indira Gandhi evaded a direct reply and told them that the issue needed detailed discussions, which, however, did not materialse.
“The talks had become a formality. Government participants did not pay proper attention to what the Naga delegation was saying. Nagas had reduced their emphasis on Independence and sovereignty and talked about the Peace Mission proposal of self-determination. But the government said self-determination was possible only if the Nagas gave a prior assurance that it would lead to their remaining in India… whoever came to negotiate with the Nagas said just one thing: accept the Indian Constitution. Nobody tried to explain what it contained. The implementation of Indian Constitution in Nagaland had been very brutal, leading to raids on villages, searches, arrests, interrogations, forced labour, disappearance and killings. All these were not in the Constitution..,” observes Chandola when he critically analyses the reasons for the breakdown of the peace talks and the “mistakes” committed by the Indian government in its policy towards the Nagas and Nagaland.
Repetition in the 428-page book, divided into 19 chapters, as admitted by the author himself, distracts a reader but only momentarily as the narratives include details of failed negotiations, and the author’s acquaintances with political leaders including Prime Ministers Lal Bahadur Sastri and Indira Gandhi, officials of the Indian bureaucracy — some of them posted as Assam governors after their retirement from Indian Civil Service, Naga underground leaders, and members of the Peace Mission.
(Sushanta Talukdar is the Hindu's Guwahati correspondent)