Delhi’s insistence on negotiating with only one entity in a process that has many stakeholders has driven the wedges deeper in Nagaland

Come Assembly elections in Nagaland, orchestrated noises claiming that peace is within reach are bound to get louder. Political actors know that traumatised by decades of external and internal bloodletting, the Naga craves nothing more than peace. The recent demonstrations of competitive eagerness by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and Nagaland’s legislators to support the ‘peace’ purportedly being cooked between Delhi and the NSCN (IM) were nothing but drama. In a political two-step, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has assured the Nagas of a ‘peace’ gift before the elections early next year.

The Naga public, however, is all too familiar with this periodic show. They know that peace is a distant dream — not inherently distant but because Delhi, by design or default, makes it so. They know that by ignoring the crucial stakeholders and pampering a set of gun-toting men who have little resonance with the broad Naga family, Delhi might cobble together a deal — one that will bring anything but peace.

The polemics of the fractious Naga politics have been rendered more complex by Delhi’s reckless interventions. Instead of appreciating the intricacies of the Naga polity — comprising over 25 tribes, each a proud owner and inheritor of a distinct culture, language, tradition and geography, espousing a distinct world view, falling within the broad rubric of the Naga family — Delhi deals with it as if itwere a homogenous collective with common aspirations. Thus it believes that making a deal with one set would satisfy the rest. How else to explain its abiding faith in the peace process with the NSCN (IM), quintessentially an entity of Tangkhul tribes of Manipur, having little resonance with other Nagas notwithstanding its pan-Naga rhetoric?

Powerful groups ignored

There are other potent Naga militias aligned along tribal lines not in the orbit of the Centre’s peace enterprise. The NSCN (K) holds sway over almost the entire eastern Nagaland — nearly half the State and its people — and resonates well with the locals including the Konyaks, the largest of Naga tribes.

The NSCN (KK) — essentially a militia of the Sumis, one of the larger Naga tribes — control a large swathe of Nagaland adjoining Manipur and also has heavy presence in Dimapur district. The Naga National Council (NNC), the mother of all Naga militias though now a rump of its older self, deeply resonates with the Angamis, the second largest Naga tribe, and their kin tribes in Kohima and adjoining regions. Besides these militias, the traditional bodies that carry much weight with their respective tribes, are also not in the reckoning of Delhi’s peace enterprise.

The peace project, thus severely truncated, got further undermined with the exclusion of the Nagaland State government. I.K. Gujral, the Prime Minister who presided over the formalisation of engagement with the NSCN (IM) in 1997, decided to ignore the State government. He did it, in the face of professional advice to the contrary, to placate the belligerent Th. Muivah, the NSCN (IM) supremo. To Mr. Muivah, the popularly elected Nagaland government was illegitimate and S.C. Jamir, the then Chief Minister, was his bête noire. Nagaland and Delhi had different political dispensations at the helm then, making it easier for Mr. Gujral to ignore Mr. Jamir. Subsequent governments in Delhi preferred not to rock the boat and nonchalantly carried on with the charade.

Having achieved exclusion of the State government from the process, Mr. Muivah insisted on Mr. Jamir’s removal. He knew his biggest challenge was not managing a distant Delhi but an inconvenient Naga government at home. In the run-up to 2003 elections — the first after the ceasefire — he threw tantrums seeking Mr. Jamir’s dismissal and holding elections under President’s Rule. K. Padmanabhaiah, the Centre’s interlocutor, played along and sought to influence L.K. Advani, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister. Mr. Advani was not moved, but the Assam Rifles — a Central force with the mandate to enforce the ceasefire rules and ensure that armed NSCN (IM) cadres remained confined to designated camps and did not interfere in the elections — turned a blind eye to widespread violations by the outfit.

Tactical alliance

Mr. Muivah’s boys had the field to themselves. They targeted candidates not aligned with the NSCN (IM). Popular cries for reining them in went unheard. Mr. Muivah had propped up Neiphiu Rio, a renegade Congressman turned acolyte who had forged a tactical electoral alliance with the BJP, the ruling party in Delhi.

Mr. Rio came to power and his government became a proxy for the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagalim (GPRN), of which Mr. Muivah is the self-styled ‘prime minister’. Many a times it became difficult to determine who ruled the State — Mr. Rio or Mr. Muivah.

With the State government’s backing, the NSCN (IM) sought to enlarge its footprint in Nagaland. Its manoeuvres provoked a fierce backlash from other Naga militias. Bloody clashes ensued. The State witnessed an unprecedented spike in violence until the rivals undid the military gains of the NSCN (IM) and restored the balance of power in their favour. Over 800 people were killed in about 1,500 bloody clashes with the NSCN (IM). Though constitutionally mandated to maintain public order, Mr. Rio extricated himself from his responsibility on the plea that the State government was not a party to the ‘peace process’ with the militias and it was for the Centre to rein them in.

Excluded from the ‘peace-process’ and its obligations, Mr. Rio was free to give currency to the ‘revolutionary’ vocabulary of ultra-Naga nationalists. He reversed previous State governments’ policy of ‘equidistance’ from all militias and advocated a policy of ‘equi-closeness’. He debunked the 16-point agreement between the Centre and the Naga People’s Convention in 1959 and called the Nagaland State, its product, illegitimate. Indeed, he tried to turn the clock of Naga history back to the 1950s, negating all the gains since then.

Misery in Manipur

Another crucial stakeholder excluded from the ongoing peace project is the Manipur government. Delhi’s hush-hush deal with the NSCN (IM) has devastated Manipur and brought untold miseries to its people. Since the professed objective of the outfit is to dismember the State and take away two-thirds of its territory, a protracted negotiation with it without the Manipur government on board has given room for wild speculations and stirred visceral existential fears among Manipuris. It resurrected the Metei insurgency. It has turned neighbours — the plainspeople and the hill people — into bitter enemies.

It is impossible to expect a sustainable peace from the ongoing process between Delhi and the NSCN (IM). An endeavour for peace that excludes crucial stakeholders is a travesty.

(R.N. Ravi is a retired Special Director, Intelligence Bureau. E-mail: ravindra.narayan.ravi@gmail.com.)

More In: Comment | Opinion