No prospect of breakthrough, but government optimistic, sources say

The Union government began a fresh round of negotiations with leaders of the largest Naga insurgent group on Thursday, hoping to hammer out a political settlement to the decades-old conflict ahead of Lok Sabha elections next year

Former Petroleum Secretary and Nagaland Chief Secretary R.S. Pandey, the Union government’s interlocutor, met with the top leadership of the National Socialist Council of Nagland — Isak-Muviah, or NSCN-IM, represented by its chairman Isak Chishi Swu and general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah — the latest in a series of closed-door negotiations that have continued for more than fifteen years.

Neither side made statements after today’s talks, which are expected to continue for several days. Prior to leaving Kohima, Mr. Swu refused to speculate on the outcome of the negotiations. Mr. Muviah said that “we want a solution as soon as possible.”

The talks, have been shrouded in secrecy, but a senior government official told The Hindu, centred around a deal which would give Naga communities in both Nagaland and Manipur similar substantial rights across State lines — but without territorial concessions from Manipur on Naga-inhabited areas in the districts of Tamenlong, Senapati, Ukhrul and Chandel.

“In essence,” the official said, “the best-case outcome would be a deal which created a institutional mechanism to give Naga communities across the region full recognition and rights, but without redrawing state boundaries.”

“There is no immediate prospect of a breakthrough, but the government is optimistic,” he added.

Pressure on NSCN factions

Pressure has been mounting on the NSCN-IM since early this year, which some experts believe could bring a deal within reach. Notably, there have been growing protests in Nagaland against the parallel taxation structure insurgents use to fund their operations. Thousands defied NSCN-IM calls to rally in Dimapur on November 1 under the banner of the Action Committee Against Unabated Taxation to protest against taxes imposed on underground organisations on salaries, businesses and contractors.

Former Indian Administrative Service officer and social activist K.K. Sema said the protests were organised “not to fight with any underground faction but to reason with them that there has to be the rule of law.”

“Take tax but through rules,” Mr. Sema said, calling for “one government, one tax.”

Formations like the NSCN-IM came under further pressure in May, when the Nagaland government was reported to be considering granting tribal status to the Mao Nagas — a legal decision that brings with opportunities for government employment and benefits. The Maos already have tribal status in Manipur.

However, the move encountered resistance from some Naga tribal groups within Nagaland—a development with direct repercussions for the NSCN-IM, whose leadership are made up of Tangkhul Nagas, whose lands are mainly in Manipur.

Though the State government later denied it was granting the Mao tribal status, the issue led to friction between the Naga Tribal Alliance, a newly-formed association of tribes within Nagaland, and the Naga Hoho, which claims to speak for all Nagas.

Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have passed resolutions in their assemblies that no territory will be given up for a Greater Nagland, and New Delhi fears it could stoke the ethnic-Meitei insurgency in Manipur.

Frequent clashes have taken place over the issue. In 2011, Mr. Muivah was forced to defer a visit to his ancestral village of Somdal in Manipur’s Ukhrul district, after it generated a standoff at the Mao Gate on the Nagaland-Manipur border.