THE CONTEXT: After killing civilians by the arm forces in Naga is a major setback for a peace talk between Naga and Government. Earlier, in October 2021, the interlocutor for the Naga peace talks, Tamil Nadu former Governor R N Ravi, resigned from its post. This article analyses the issues in the talk and suggests a way forward for them.
HOW WILL THE PRESENT DEVELOPMENT IMPACT THE PEACE TALK?
- The government is engaged in discussions with the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) and seven Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) to find a solution to the Naga political issue.
- But the Isak-Muivah faction, the key player in the Naga peace talks, described the recent incident killing as a “black day” for Nagas.
- After that, they will strongly demand the formation of Greater Nagaland’.
- The NSCN-IM, one of the largest Naga groups, has been demanding ‘Greater Nagaland’ or Nagalim, an extension of Nagaland’s borders by including Naga-dominated areas in neighboring Assam Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh and uniting 1.2 million Nagas.
- The Centre has said there would be no disintegration of the States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur to merge Naga-inhabited areas with the existing State of Nagaland.
- More than a hundred rounds of talks spanning over 24 years have taken place so far. The NSCN(I-M) first signed a ceasefire agreement in 1997. The group was formed in 1980 to oppose the Shillong Accord signed by the then Naga National Council (NNC) with the Central Government to bring peace in Nagaland.
TIMELINE OF NAGA CONFLICT AND PEACE TALKS
- 1826: The British had annexed Assam.
- 1881: The Naga Hills district was created.
- 1918: Various Naga Tribes united to form Naga Club.
- 1929: The Naga Club famously told the Simon Commission “to leave us alone to determine for ourselves as in ancient times”.
- 1946: The Club formed its political unit – the Naga National Council (NNC), thus beginning the fight for freedom from foreign rule.
- 1947: On August 14, 1947, the NNC, under the leadership of Angami ZapuPhizo (called the Father of the Nagas), declared Nagaland an independent state.
- 1951: NCC claimed to have conducted a referendum in which an overwhelming majority supported an independent Naga state. They even formed the Naga Federal Government (NFG) and the Naga Federal Army (NFA), which sparked the scuffle with the government.
- 1958: The Government of India sent in the Army to crush the insurgency and enacted the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
- 1960: The A16-point agreement was arrived at whereby the Government of India recognized the formation of Nagaland as a full-fledged state within the Union of India.
- 1963: Nagaland was formed out of the Naga Hills district of Assam and the then North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) province (now Arunachal Pradesh).
- 1975: A section of NNC leaders signed the Shillong Accord, under which this section of NNC and NFG agreed to give up arms. A group of about 140 members led by ThuingalengMuivah, who was at that time in China, refused to accept the Shillong Accord and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN )in 1980.
- 1988: The NSCN split into NSCN (Isak-Muivah)/(IM) and NSCN (Khaplang)/(K). The former faction was led by Isak ChishiSwu, ThuingalengMuivah, demanding to establish a Greater Nagalim based on Chinese communist revolutionary Mao Zedong’s model. The Khaplang offshoot wished to establish Greater Nagalim based on ethnicity and merging of Naga-dominated areas.
- 1991: Phizo died, and the NSCN (IM) came to be seen as the “mother of all insurgencies” in the region.
- 1995: Peace talks started with NSCN(IM), as then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao met Muivah, Swu, and others in Paris.
- 1997: The NSCN (I-M) had signed a ceasefire agreement with the Centre. The group had assured that there would be no insurgent offensive against the Army, while the Centre agreed not to launch counter-insurgency operations against rebels.
2015 NAGA PEACE ACCORD
In 2014, the NDA government sought to fast-track the Naga political issue that had slackened since the NSCN-IM-declared truce in 1997.
- The Nagas are not a single tribe but an ethnic community that lives across the Naga Hills spanning the present-day Indian state of Nagaland, certain areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, along with the Naga hill areas of Myanmar.
- Nagas belong to Indo-Mongoloid Family.
- There are nineteen major Naga tribes, namely, Aos, Angamis, Changs, Chakesang, Kabuis, Kacharis, Khain-Mangas, Konyaks, Kukis, Lothas (Lothas), Maos, Mikirs, Phoms, Rengmas, Sangtams, Semas, Tankhuls, Yamchumgar, and Zeeland.
- In August 2015, the Centre signed a framework agreement with the NSCN (I-M). The agreement paved the way for the ongoing peace talks by derecognizing the outfit as a militant organization. There was a broad understanding of a settlement within the Indian constitutional framework regarding the uniqueness of Naga history and tradition. However, both sides maintained secrecy about the contents of the accord.
- On agenda for discussion issue on AFSPA, demographic changes due to cross-border migrations, a separate Naga flag, and constitution, etc.
- In 2017, the Centre clubbed various divisions among the Nagas on tribal and geopolitical lines into the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) to smoothen the talks.
- The Khaplang faction died down in its political significance with the death of its leader SS Khaplang in 2017. Isak ChishiSwu from the NSCN (I-M) also passed away in 2016, making Muivah the most senior Naga rebel leader.
- The key demand of Naga groups has been a Greater Nagalim(sovereign statehood) i.e redrawing of boundaries to bring all Naga-inhabited areas in the Northeast under one administrative umbrella. It includes various parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam, and Myanmar.
- The demand also includes the separate Naga Yezabo(Constitution) and Naga national flag.
WHY HAVE THE NAGA PEACE TALKS STUMBLED?
NATURE OF DEMAND: The movement itself had two major strands: Recognition of Naga sovereignty and the integration of all Naga-speaking areas (particularly of Manipur) into a Greater Nagaland. These were demands that no government in Delhi could meet. The first — sovereignty — would undercut India’s claim over the region and the second — integration — would create a backlash in Manipur.
CONCERNS OF OTHER STATES: Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur are sceptical about the demand for the creation of Greater Nagalim because it could lead to the redrawing of their boundaries. The final outcome may affect the states in terms of trade and commerce and cultural and ethnic unity. In Manipur, Meiteis(form a majority in the Imphal Valley) and the Nagas and Kukis, dominate the tribal districts of the hills. Protests organized by Meitei groups echoed a long-running fear: that a solution to the Naga problem would come at the cost of Manipur’s integrity. The governments and civil society organizations in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur, have made it clear that they would not compromise on their territorial integrity.
EXISTENCE OF ARTICLE 371A: Article 371A states that no act of Parliament shall apply to the State of Nagaland in respect of the religious or social practices of the Nagas, its customary law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law and ownership and transfer of land and its resources. An amendment to this Article is critical to the ongoing Naga peace process in order to resolve another substantive issue of settling the question of whether Nagas have the right over land and resources, both above and beneath it.
DIVISIONS AMONG NAGAS: The optimism among a section of the Nagas over the 2015 peace accord eroded a bit when the Central government brought other Naga armed groups on board. On November 17, 2017, 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). This agreement ostensibly made the peace process inclusive, but it bred suspicion about Delhi exploiting divisions within the Nagas on tribal and geopolitical lines. 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.
SIMILAR DEMAND FROM OTHER GROUPS: Political instability has undermined the role of democracy in the state and has fuelled apprehensions leading to separate agendas and demands by various factions and organizations. In talks with the government, Kuki groups fear the Naga solution would carve up their imagined homeland.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Providing autonomous Naga territorial councils for Arunachal and Manipur.
- Common cultural body for Nagas across states.
- Specific institutions for state’s development, integration, and rehabilitation of non-state Naga militia.
- Removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
- Special status on the lines of Article 371-A will be explored for Naga areas outside Nagaland.
- A constitutional body to investigate issues related to Nagas in their whole territorial spread.
THE CONCLUSION: With a clever mix of engagement, coercion, co-option, and inducements, the Central government has managed to neutralize the Naga extremists. A peace agreement will be most welcome. Nagas are culturally heterogeneous groups of different communities/tribes with different problems from mainstream populations. To achieve the long-lasting solution, their cultural, historical and territorial extent must be taken into consideration. Therefore, any arrangement to be worked out should lead to social and political harmony, economic prosperity and protection of the life and property of all tribes and citizens of the states.Spread the Word