A reconciliation process to end the NSCN (IM) impasse which was gaining in ground has hit the proverbial “bump on the road”. Indeed, until the stalemate even the most acerbic of Doubting Thomases were of the view that a “beginning of the end” was in sight and a full-bodied resolution would soon see the light of day, especially with the signing of the “Framework Agreement” in 2015. However the geniality that had characterised the atmospherics when the “Agreement” was signed disappeared immediately after it had being inked. Indeed, during the UPA regime, when R.S. Pandey was the interlocutor, a high level of trust and respect existed between the two sides. Extensive negotiations husbanded by guidance from New Delhi ensured that there was agreement on almost 95 % of the issues. Indeed, the only two issues that had remained to be ironed out was the degree of autonomy that was to be provided to the Naga dominated hill districts of Manipur and the manner in which the Pan Naga Council that was to be set up to preserve the culture of the Naga people.
The trust factor continued even with the change of guard in 2014 and the appointment of R.N. Ravi as the interlocutor. The “Framework Agreement” of 2015 which was signed at the request of the NSCN (IM), since its chairman, Isaac Chisi Swu, a Sumi Naga, was critically ill and the organisation wanted his signature on the document primarily to proclaim that the NSCN (IM) was not just a Manipur based group but an all-inclusive one. New Delhi’s gesture was appreciated by the Nagas.
Two developments, thereafter, created misunderstanding and eroded the trust. One was the abrogation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir. This led the NSCN (IM) to feel that any understanding, even if it came by way of a constitutional amendment, had no real meaning if New Delhi could unilaterally alter it at a later date. The second was the appointment of Ravi as the Governor of Nagaland. Indeed, Ravi’s comments as the Governor completely undermined his position as the interlocutor. Fissures, therefore, began to appear. The last straw on the camel’s back was when Ravi termed the NSCN (IM)’s activities as “extortion by armed gangs”. The talks had come to a grinding halt.
Finally the dialogue process broke down with the NSCN (IM) and Ravi was replaced. Indeed, Ravi’s “ouster,” ignominious as it was, heralded an altogether different set of rules of engagement between the two parties, one which has willy-nilly forced New Delhi to go on the defensive. New Delhi and its agencies in the North East, at present, have their hands full trying to douse fires of inadvertence as also to regain lost ground by way of goodwill.
Muivah Speaking at the “Framework Agreement” Signing Ceremony
In any event a fresh beginning has been made with a new interlocutor. While it is expected that the dialogue process hereafter would progress in cordiality, the NSCN (IM) must comprehend that New Delhi would never countenance demands such as a separate flag, constitution and a Nagalim that seeks to incorporate Naga dominated areas of other states in the North East. A grant of autonomy which was on the cards during the earlier dispensation can still be a possible way out. But much of the pitch has been queered during the course of the last year.
At any rate, Muivah continues to be adamant about the Naga dominated areas of Manipur. After all it is his homeland and that of his primary parish, the Tangkhuls. But neither New Delhi nor Imphal would ever countenance a balkanisation exercise. Nor has a comprehensive autonomy plan been charted out whereby the hills of Manipur would lend itself to both the NSCN (IM)’s and Imphal’s agreement. The situation, therefore, presents itself as a debilitating stalemate.
It must be understood that the key to a successful negotiation is trust, respect and sincerity between those engaged in the process. Unfortunately, as aforesaid, some of the goodwill was lost, especially after the signing of the “Framework Agreement” and the appointment of Ravi as the Governor of Nagaland. Therefore the way forward would perforce have to involve the rebuilding of confidence and trust with the Naga leadership. It would also need to focus on bridging the chasms and ironing out the two thrust areas as indicated above on which there was no finality during the earlier negotiations. Moreover there has to be complete transparency with Manipur as also Nagaland. The civil societies of both the states, too, have to be taken into confidence. The process would unfortunately be slow, but patience marked by goodwill, deference and mutual trust are going to be decisive factors that would one day herald the end of the longest standing insurgency in post independent India.
[G.K. Pillai is a member of the IAS of the 1972 batch and a former Union Home Secretary of India. Jaideep Saikia is an internationally renowned conflict analyst and author of several bestselling books on security and strategy]