The scrapping of Kashmir’s special status by New Delhi has hit an unexpected target－the Naga peace accord, which was slated to be signed and stamped by the end of the month. The talks held last Thursday remained inconclusive. The buzz that the Naga agreement would be signed by the end of the month has now come up against a major bottleneck.
The break down is centred around the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-IM, the main peace negotiator with the Centre’s demand for a separate Constitution and flag for the Nagas. After revocation of article 370 in Kashmir, it is near impossible for the Modi government to concede to this otherwise innocuous demand. A part of Kashmir’s special status involved a flag and a Constitution.
As a party the BJP has from the beginning, when the Bharatiya Jana Sangh was the political face of the RSS, stood for one nation, one flag and one Constitution. So granting a special flag and Constitution for Nagas is now out of question. In fact soon after the August 5 announcement, Naga leaders were concerned that the action would affect the outcome of the peace talks. Their anxiety has been borne out with the Centre refusing to consider the demand. Chances are that the process will take longer or if the Modi government is in a hurry, the main group which had been negotiating with the Centre for over 18 years, the NSCN, may be left out. The sole surviving member of the NSCN-IM, General Secretary Th. Muivah was among the 15-member delegation at the talks held in New Delhi this week.
The NSCN-IM was headed by Isaac Swu and Muivah. It also had the support of the Nagas living in adjoining Myanmar. But that group led by Khaplang, a Burmese Naga, broke away from the peace process and continued to fight the Indian forces. Like Isaac Swu, Khaplang too is no longer alive but the group remains active and is popular among Nagas on both sides of the India-Myanmar border.
In October 24, 2015, a hush-hush framework agreement was signed in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at 7 RCR, his official residence. The contents of the agreement were kept secret. Rumours were that the government was keen to ensure that the two major figures of the NSCN were onboard, to give legitimacy to the agreement. Isaac Swu was too ill to attend and died the next year in a private Delhi hospital. However, Muivah, the other iconic leader of the NSCN was very much alive and was present at the PM’s residence during the signing. But so far no one is privy to the clauses of the agreement.
The Chief interlocutor for the talks, Ravindra Narayana Ravi, a retired IPS officer from the Intelligence Bureau was appointed as governor of Nagaland in August. He is also the chief negotiator for the government in the Naga peace talks. Nagas have always claimed that they are different from the rest of the country. Their culture, language and way of life is unique. Various tribes, distinct from each other, make up a broad Naga identity. Initially the NSCN had demanded that Nagas living in neighbouring states like Manipur, Assam and Arunachal should be amalgamated into a composite Naga state. But each of the neighhbours had cried foul at the thought of giving an inch of their territory for carving out a homeland for the Nagas. Manipur’s hill area of Ukhrul is made up primarily of tribals with Nagas making up the dominant group. Muivah himself is a Thangkul Naga. Any attempt to bifurcate Manipur would lead to massive protests. The Meities or the Manipuris living in the valley would never agree to that. Delhi knows well that the state would burn if the Centre agrees to the NSCN demand.
However, for the NSCN, which has already given up the demand for independence and carving out a greater Nagaland consisting of all Nagas living in different states of the north east, to also drop the demand for a separate flag and Constitution is not easy.
Governor Ravi, with long experience of dealing with the various Naga tribes, also has a few tricks up his sleeves. He has succeeded in breaking up the NSCN-IM by getting some 17 of its members from the Yimchingru region to join the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG) on October 10. This group is made up of seven Naga outfits opposed to the NSCN-IM.
There is some talk of going ahead with a peace agreement without the NSCN. This could be just pressure tactics by the government to force the NSCN hand. The NSCN has been the dominant Naga group for decades and continues to have a large following. A peace accord without the concurrence of the main group could serve little purpose.
The Naga Ho Ho, the organization that represent the 14 Naga tribes is closely aligned to the NSCN. According to the governor, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen to wrap up the negotiations and have a permanent peace agreement in Nagaland. The Naga insurgency is one of the oldest separatist movement in the country. The demand for a separate country was raised before independence. In fact, there was talk of a Crown Colony of the British, soon after indepedence. This was quickly nipped in the bud by the Congress leadership. Negotiations have gone on long enough and one can understand the PM’s impatience. However, without taking the NSCN on board, a peace agreement is unlikely to produce the desired result.
The writer is a senior journalist with expertise in foreign policy and international affairs.