The story so far: The Naga peace process appears to have hit a roadblock after 22 years of negotiations. The Centre’s push for a solution to the vexed issue by October this year and the non-flexibility of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) on the “Naga national flag” and “Naga Yezhabo (constitution)” are said to be the primary reasons. But the issue is more complex than the twin conditions, as it affects Nagaland’s neighbours in northeast India.
What triggered the present situation?
Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi — also the Naga talks interlocutor — had in August said the Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed the need for the Naga peace process to be concluded early with the Centre having resolved “all substantive issues” in the last five years. On October 18, Mr. Ravi held a consultative meeting with various tribe-based and church organisations of Nagaland that purportedly favoured working on a separate flag and constitution after inking the peace deal. In a statement, he said a mutually-agreed draft comprehensive settlement was ready to be signed but for the “procrastinating attitude” the NSCN-IM has adopted to delay the settlement. He also said the extremist group had “mischievously” dragged in the Framework Agreement to impute “imaginary contents” to it — a reference to the flag and constitution.
What is the Framework Agreement?
The Bharatiya Janata Party, underlining its “commitment” to reaching out to the northeast after coming to power at the Centre in 2014, sought to fast-track the Naga political issue that had slackened since the NSCN-IM-declared truce in 1997. Mr. Ravi and NSCN-IM general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah signed the Framework Agreement on August 3, 2015 in the presence of Mr. Modi. This agreement, after nearly 80 rounds of talks, acted as a balm for the Nagas who were beginning to get restless about Delhi’s seriousness in solving the issue; both sides maintained secrecy about its contents. The optimism among a section of the Nagas eroded a bit when the Central government brought other Naga armed groups on board. An agreement on the political parameters of the settlement was worked out with the working committee of these groups, clubbed the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), on November 17, 2017. This agreement ostensibly made the peace process inclusive but it bred suspicion about Delhi exploiting divisions within the Nagas on tribal and geopolitical lines.
How did the Naga issue start?
The Naga Hills became part of British India in 1881. The effort to bring scattered Naga tribes together resulted in the formation of the Naga Club in 1918, which told the Simon Commission in 1929 “to leave us alone to determine for ourselves as in ancient times”. The club metamorphosed into the Naga National Council (NNC) in 1946. Under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo, the NNC declared Nagaland as an independent State on August 14, 1947, and conducted a “referendum” in May 1951 to claim that 99.9% of the Nagas supported a “sovereign Nagaland”.
On March 22, 1952, Phizo formed the underground Naga Federal Government (NFG) and the Naga Federal Army. The government of India sent in the Army to crush the insurgency and, in 1958, enacted the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. The insurrection petered out by the mid-1970s but returned with more intensity in the form of the NSCN led by Mr. Muivah and S.S. Khaplang.
Is the peace process with the NSCN the first?
No. The first peace process started before India’s independence, setting the tone of cold-shouldering the main leaders. In June 1947, Assam Governor Sir Akbar Hydari signed the Nine-Point Agreement with the moderates in the NNC but Phizo rejected it outright. A 16-point Agreement followed in July 1960 leading to the creation of Nagaland on December 1, 1963. In this case too, the agreement was with the Naga People’s Convention that moderate Nagas formed in August 1957 during a violent phase and not with the NNC. In April 1964, a Peace Mission was formed for an agreement on suspension of operations with the NNC, but it was abandoned in 1967 after six rounds of talks. The Shillong Accord of November 11, 1975, followed, under which a section of NNC and NFG agreed to give up arms. A group of 140 members led by Mr. Muivah, who was in China then, refused to accept the Shillong Accord and formed the NSCN in 1980. The outfit split in 1988 with one faction led by Mr. Muivah the other by the Myanmar-based Khaplang.
How have the divisions impacted the peace process?
The current impasse has led to speculation that the Central government has been exploiting tensions in Naga society to renege on the principles of “shared sovereignty” for co-existing as two separate identities. This has been attributed to the “nationalism-driven” axe on Article 370 that had allowed a separate flag for Jammu and Kashmir and the credo of “one nation, one constitution”. Ahead of Mr. Ravi’s discussions with the stakeholders, the NNPGs said it was time for Nagaland tribes and inhabitants to “wake up from slumber and pinch themselves... when a Naga from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam or Manipur after 22 years of political talks, declares that Nagaland will cease to exist and it will be replaced by a ‘people’s government of Nagalim’.” It was a reference to the NSCN-IM’s composition — most of its members are Manipur-based Nagas, primarily Tangkhuls. While the NNPGs want a solution for Nagas within Nagaland, the NSCN-IM seeks integration of Naga-inhabited areas beyond the geographical boundary of Nagaland.
Why are Nagaland’s neighbours restive?
Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur are wary of the NSCN-IM’s concept of Nagalim or Greater Nagaland that could lead to a redrawing of their boundaries. Manipur has begun protesting with Assembly Speaker Y. Khemchand Singh telling Mr. Modi in a petition that any compromise with Manipur’s territorial integrity would not be tolerated. The other two States are “waiting and watching” following reports that the final peace deal could yield a pan-Naga cultural entity and territorial councils beyond Nagaland. Meanwhile, the Nagaland government’s order cancelling leave of administrative and police personnel and advice to stock ration has triggered panic buying of essential and fuel — in Nagaland and Manipur — with the worst expected if the talks fail.