Naga rebel groups and a powerful section in the Indian bureaucracy and BJP leadership have intensified the pitch for a change of the Indian government’s interlocutor for Naga peace process, RN Ravi.
They also want a change to the way the negotiations are being conducted.
Ravi, a former Intelligence Bureau officer like National Security Adviser Ajit Kumar Doval, is now Nagaland governor, a position he was given to seal the deal on the Naga peace process already into the 23rd year.
Quite the opposite has happened. Not only has the talks hit an embarrassing stalemate, but Ravi’s arm twisting of the NSCN (I-M) has also been counter-productive.
Despite threats and pressure, the NSCN leader Thuingaleng Muivah has stuck to his guns of not signing a final settle unless the Nagas get a separate flag and a Constitution.
Muivah refused to give an interview to Northeast Now when it was sought to clarify to what extent the rebel group is prepared to climb down since some of the smaller factions of NSCN, separately cultivated by Ravi, appeared keen to get the final deal done on the broad autonomy parameters conceded by the Indian government.
“These smaller factions clubbed together as the Naga National Political Groups are impatient because the protracted negotiations lasting for 23 years must be the longest ever peace process that’s not produced a result,” said retired IB official Benu Ghosh, with extensive experience of Northeast.
He said this speaks volumes about the lack of smart qualified negotiators who have handled what should be India’s most important peace process, because the Naga rebellion was India’s first ethnic insurrection and is called by many as the “Mother of Northeastern insurgencies”.
“The Naga peace process should be seen as not just the solution to the Naga imbroglio but also the kickstart of a comprehensive process to resolve the outstanding ethnic rebellions in Northeast, without which Act East remains a cliche and no real progress can be made to use the region to connect to the neighborhood,” said Subir Bhaumik, an author on Northeast.
He said if the ‘special federal relationship’ agreed to as the bedrock of the settlement in the 2015 Framework Agreement was played into the final settlement, it could serve as an ‘ideal federal model’ for conflict resolutions in multiple areas.
“How can a government signing the 2015 Framework Settlement allow its principal negotiator Ravi to say this is a law and order and not a political issue. There could be some law and order issues like extortion which could and should be sorted out by tough policing since the Naga people are fed up with fleecing by multiple rebel factions, but to say this problem is not political is a joke,” said Bhaumik whose books “Insurgent Crossfire”, “Troubled Periphery” and “Agartala Doctrine” outline the need for a genuine federal solution to hold India together, resolve the conflict levels within the Indian nation-state system and finally get the frontier regions to play a meaningful role in India’s neighborhood diplomacy.
With Ravi’s muscle and arm-twist approach backfiring and reports of at least NSCN columns reaching or stationing themselves on the Myanmar -China border, Delhi is clearly worried.
Many say that NSCN(I-M) may on its own call for a gala celebration of Naga independence Day on August 14 and boycott the Indian independence Day on the next day to drive home the point that the Naga peace process has not only faltered but may fall off if not handled with care at this juncture.
If the NSCN(I-M) boycotts the Indian independence day, along with the likes of ULFA and the Manipuri groups, it may send a dangerous message to the battling ethnicities in the region.
Not only Muivah but also a part of India’s national security bureaucracy feels that India needs a new interlocutor for the Naga peace process.
In contention are former IB-RAW officer AB Mathur, convenor of National Security Advisory Board, who has pulled a brilliant multi-faction Bodo accord as the interlocutor of the Assam-based peace processes.
As a young Assistant Director of the Intelligence Bureau, he helped pull off the MNF’s return to the mainstream in 1986.
“He is the best negotiator available in the National Security set-up now, someone of the calibre of the likes G Parthasarthy or Rajesh Pilot,” said a former analyst with the National Security Council.
But since Mathur has still to deal with the ULFA, the main Assam group, some feel it is time a man from Northeast and not someone like Ravi with ‘no prior experience of Northeast’ should be drafted in to handle the Naga peace process and if possible expand it to Meitei groups in Manipur.
The choice is zeroed in on Lt Gen Himalaya Singh (retd), who hails from Manipur and is the first three-star General of the Indian Army from Northeast.
Singh is an erudite analyst and someone who might enjoy the confidence of both the NSCN factions including Muivah (because he is from Manipur) and the Meitei groups who may emerge as China’s big calling card in the region following the conflict in Ladakh.
“I am completing my memoirs ‘the Making of a General’ but if given any responsibility, as a soldier I cannot turn it down,” said Singh when contacted by Northeast Now, but he insisted: “I have not heard anything.”
Singh and Mathur can actually be a great team, says the former National Security Council analyst who is also an author on Northeast but is not willing to be identified.
“One can manage the police and intelligence, the other the army and both can actually turn the whole thing into a comprehensive Northeastern peace process on the lines of Myanmar, so that we end the group to group bilateral, peacemaking model and replace it with a one all-encompassing regional peace process,” the analyst said.
The NSCN is not formally reacting but its leaders have told Delhi in no uncertain terms that Ravi must go.
“If Delhi values the Naga peace process and wants to extend it to Northeast, seeing as political and not a law and order problem will help and someone more mature than Ravi must step in,” said a top NSCN leader but unwilling to be identified.