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The Hindu Explains | What has made the Naga peace process wobble?

Why is the main rebel outfit upset? What is the government interlocutor’s stand on the ‘framework agreement’?

August 16, 2020 12:02 am | Updated 01:47 pm IST

The story so far: Fresh hurdles have emerged in the road to peace in Nagaland. After a framework agreement was signed in 2015 between the Centre and the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, or the NSCN (I-M), the largest of the extremist groups in the peace process since 1997, there have been more than 100 rounds of talks and several twists and turns. The latest involves the demand by the NSCN (I-M) to remove Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi as the Centre’s interlocutor for the 23-year-old peace process and his alleged tweaking of the original framework agreement.

What has made the peace process wobble?

Talks, fatigue and growing impatience across the Naga domain gave way to optimism when Mr. Ravi was made Nagaland’s Governor in July 2019 . His appointment was seen as a message from New Delhi that the solution would be found soon. As the Centre’s interlocutor, Mr. Ravi had signed the framework agreement in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But in October 2019, he issued a statement blaming the “procrastinating attitude” of the NSCN (I-M) for the delay in a mutually-agreed draft comprehensive settlement. He also said the NSCN (I-M) imputed “imaginary contents” to the framework agreement while referring to the government’s purported acceptance of a ‘Naga national flag’ and ‘Naga Yezhabo (constitution)’ as part of the deal. In June 2020, the NSCN (I-M) took offence to Mr. Ravi’s letter to Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio in which he referred to them as “armed gangs” running parallel governments. The NSCN (I-M) reacted by demanding Mr. Ravi’s removal from the peace process but the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), a conglomerate of seven rival groups, and some social organisations want him to stay.

Also read | R.N. Ravi no show at NSCN-IM informal talks

What is the ‘framework agreement’?

On August 3, 2015, the Centre signed a framework agreement with the NSCN (I-M) to resolve the Naga issue, but both sides maintained secrecy about its contents. The optimism among some Naga groups eroded a bit when the NNPGs were brought on board the peace process on November 17, 2017. This agreement ostensibly made the peace process inclusive but it created suspicion about Delhi exploiting divisions within the Nagas on tribal and geopolitical lines. It was also a throwback to the first peace deal, the Shillong Accord of 1975 that Naga hardliners rejected. That had led to the birth of the NSCN in January 1980. Differences surfaced within the outfit a few years later over initiating a dialogue process with the Indian government. It split into the NSCN (I-M) and NSCN (Khaplang) in April 1988 who often engaged in fratricidal battles.

Why is the ‘agreement’ in the news?

A few days ago, the NSCN (I-M) released the contents of the framework agreement . The outfit said Mr. Ravi had “craftily deleted the word ‘new’ from the original” line that referred to “shared sovereignty” between India and the Naga homeland and provided for an “enduring inclusive new relationship of peaceful co-existence”. The NSCN (I-M) claimed “new” was a politically sensitive word that defined the meaning of peaceful co-existence of the two entities (sovereign powers) and strongly indicated a settlement outside the purview of the Constitution of India. The group said it had refrained from publishing the contents of the framework agreement respecting the “tacit understanding reached between the two sides not to release to the public domain for security reasons”. But, it claimed, Mr. Ravi took undue advantage and started manipulating the framework agreement to mislead the Nagas and the Centre. The Governor said the framework agreement was an “acceptance of the Indian Constitution” by the outfit.

What are the other hurdles?

In his ‘Naga Independence Day’ speech on August 14, NSCN (I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah insisted the Nagas “will never merge with India” . But States adjoining Nagaland, where the peace headquarters of NSCN (I-M) is located, are apprehensive of the sovereignty issue . This is because of the NSCN (I-M)’s idea of Greater Nagalim — a homeland encompassing all Naga-inhabited areas in Nagaland and beyond. Apart from Myanmar, where many of more than 50 Naga tribes live, the Greater Nagalim map includes large swathes of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. The Assam government has vowed not to part with “even an inch of land” , the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union warned against any “territorial changes” while finding a solution. Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh said he has received the Centre’s assurance that the peace deal with the NSCN (I-M) will not affect the territorial integrity of Manipur . But non-Naga groups are suspicious since the Tangkhul community, forming the core of the NSCN (I-M), is from Manipur and the outfit may not accept any agreement that excludes areas inhabited by them. The NNPGs , whose members are primarily from Nagaland, are also a factor; their inputs for a final solution could be at variance with those of the NSCN (I-M).

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