Even as the NSCN (IM)-New Delhi dialogue begins afresh with a new interlocutor in A.K. Mishra, a stock-taking exercise may be undertaken about the dialogue and the broad contours it would resemble. After all, very little about such a structure has been exhibited, spoken of or showcased in public domain. But, it would in all probability be based on the 30-points that have been forwarded to New Delhi by NSCN (IM).
The article wishes to both examine some of NSCN (IM)’s demands and make some recommendations in the direction:
- Granting of demands such as independent armed forces, ostensibly only for internal security duties, a la a “Naga Army,” would create a wrong precedence for other insurgent groups in the region. Since NSCN (IM)’s charter of demands have stated that external defence would be the responsibility of Government of India, it stands to reason that the Indian army would have to perforce be deployed in Nagaland. Furthermore, NSCN (IM) already has a standing security force. Creation of a “Naga Army” that is expected to be more in line with a police/paramilitary force, responsible for internal security duties, therefore, already exists in NSCN (IM). So, what NSCN (IM) is seeking is the non-disbanding of the existing force, which at any rate it would not have consented to. Government of India must, however, put forward a concrete set of condition by which only an arsenal that is essential for internal security duties can be employed by such a force. All urban and heavy weaponry—the likes of which NSCN (IM) possess, including explosives, RPGs, mortars and anti-aircraft guns—must be either handed over to Government of India or destroyed in full view of Indian security observers. This would be clearly in keeping with NSCN (IM)’s demand that a force is required only for internal security duties, and no dissonance must be expected as a result.
- If customs and taxes are expected to be the sole purview of the “Government of Nagaland,” then a condition must be set by which the “Government of Nagaland’ must not expect any monetary grant, aid or subsidy from Government of India whatsoever. In effect, since its demands disallows Government of India from levying custom duties, and seeks exemption of excise duties and sales tax even “for goods manufactured in India and destined for Nagaland,” the economic realities and undertakings should squarely fall on the doorsteps of only the “Government of Nagaland.” The negotiations must also state that Nagaland’s economy would have no bearing on India’s, and the former must have its own banking and market system with independent regulatory mechanism.
- As for the question of integration of contiguous areas, New Delhi must make it clear that it has no options available to facilitate it in the face of the opposition that Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have exhibited. It must inform NSCN (IM) in no uncertain terms that the latter’s dream for a Greater Nagalim is unreal, as not only have the state legislatures of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur passed resolutions against the giving up of territory, but even the Government of India is against any further territorial demarcation of the North East. The contentious issue must, therefore, be worked out by NSCN (IM) independently with the concerned states after it attains “governance” in Nagaland. While, one understands the situation Thuingaleng Muivah would be in were he to leave his Tangkhul brethren behind in the hills of Manipur, the sheer impossibility of the situation must be driven home to the NSCN (IM) leadership. Muivah and the Nagas of Manipur must, therefore, have to be contented with the “enhanced autonomy” that would be granted to them by way of the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Councils Bill 2021 after its passage.
- However, one possible way out that may be suggested to Muivah is that the Tangkhuls and other Naga groupings of Manipur may be en masse moved to the territory of Nagaland, albeit with the consent of the indigenous and resident tribes of present day Nagaland. A plebiscite of sorts can be facilitated by Government of India to ascertain whether the Aos, Angamis, Semas and other tribes of Nagaland would consent to the entry of Tangkhuls and other Manipuri and non-Nagaland Nagas into their state. After all, one aspect that has not been taken into account—despite the relative success of the reconciliation move between the various groups that make up pan Naga society—is the presence of innate difference, if not hostility, between the various Naga tribes. Therefore, the question that must be put to Muivah is whether the dream to integrate the Naga-dominated districts of Manipur into Greater Nagalim is only that of Muivah? Has an intensive study been embarked upon inside NSCN (IM) in order to find out what the Semas, Aos, Angamis, Lothas and other tribes inside Nagaland feel about incorporating Tangkhul dominated areas of Manipur into Greater Nagalim, or for the matter about the proposed Tangkhul entry into present Nagaland? This is notwithstanding the fact that the late president of NSCN (IM), Isaac Chisi Swu, a Sumi Naga, is also a signatory to the “Framework Agreement” that seems to indicate an all-inclusiveness character of the Naga people. It is also reported that Tangkhul domination in NSCN (IM) is not a feature that is appreciated in Nagaland, and certainly inside NSCN (IM). Indeed, after Nagaland has begun to identify and register the indigenous people of Nagaland, it is reported that the Nagas of Manipur are reportedly selling off their land in places such as Dimapur or Kohima and purchasing land in Imphal.
- Government of India must make it clear that it would have no role to play in facilitating a demand for the integration of Naga-inhabited areas, and all such role would fall under the purview of “Government of Nagaland” after its constitution. It must also cull a solemn pledge that NSCN (IM) and their proxies would leave the territories of the three said states pending a correct “working-out” of modalities with the respective three states. In effect, it must stop the war of attrition in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur before the formation of “Government of Nagaland.”. The geo-political engineering that NSCN (IM) is carrying out in Manipur is in ample evidence, the time tested NSCN (IM) approach being to hold the state to ransom by putting on an economic blockade, and severing it from the rest of India. In Arunachal Pradesh, it engages the populace with NSCN (IM)’s “Operation Salvation,” a clear strategy to grab territory by converting the animistic tribes in the districts of Tirap and Changlang into Christianity. In Assam it courted the DHD (J), having signed a “Hebron Agreement.” End of hostilities with DHD (J) has in no way lessened the former’s alliance with the Naga outfit, or brought permanent peace to the newly created Dima Hasao.
- An important aspect that may drive the negotiations must be about NSCN (K) and its demand for the integration of Naga-inhabited areas in Myanmar, which in NSCN (IM)’s charter of demands states “will not form part of the present negotiations.” Government of India must make it clear that it will not permit civil war inside Nagaland on the lines that had been taking place in the past, and that a political reconciliation process in Nagaland must be a comprehensive affair. NSCN (IM) must be told to sort out the problem relating to Myanmar with NSCN (K) before cartographical resolution can take place.
- Government of India must also receive both assurance and attendant safeguards from NSCN (IM) that it will not have any links with China, Pakistan or unfriendly regimes of Bangladesh. Since—by NSCN (IM)’s admission—foreign affairs of Nagaland would fall within the purview of Government of India, all visits by foreigners, including Indians would be regulated by Government of India, even if it means that an MEA residency is set up in Nagaland’s capital. In effect, visa regulations for entry and exit into/from Nagaland, including that of Nagas to foreign countries, including India would be the sole responsibility of the Republic of India.
(Jaideep Saikia is an internationally acclaimed conflict analyst and author of several books including the bestselling “Terror Sans Frontiers: Islamist Militancy in North East India”. He is also a Fellow, Irregular Warfare Initiative, USA)