One of the longest insurgency problems in the country, the Naga political issue, seemingly continues to be virtually nailed at square one despite over 23 years of peace talks following the ceasefire between the Government of India and the Naga rebel outfit the NSCN (IM) in 1997 at the initiative of then Prime Minister HD Gowda. Although, over the years, the Centre had appointed several so-called interlocutors to sort out a solution to the imbroglio, acceptable to all sections of the Nagas, in reality it turned out to be an entry and exit parade of such government appointed peace negotiators.
After the Narendra Modi government took over the reigns at the Centre, one fine morning about five years back the union government took the nation by shock with the announcement that a ‘Framework Agreement’ was signed with the NSCN(IM) and that it would usher lasting peace to Nagaland.
Over the last few years, since the ‘Framework Agreement’ was signed, the people of Nagaland and for that matter the peace-loving people of the Northeast have been waiting
with bated breath for the final peace settlement between the Naga rebels and the Government of India. While the ‘Framework Agreement’ has been kept a closely guarded secret by the government all these years, the general impression was that great progress had been made on the peace front prior to the ‘Framework Agreement’ and that lasting peace could be round the corner in the extreme northeastern state.
The ‘Framework Agreement’ has now come to light and is in public domain. The document makes it clear as daylight that it is nothing more than a piece of political thrash devised by the Centre to hoodwink the people of Nagaland that the government was upto serious business of ushering peace with acceleration. The so-called ‘agreement’ has nothing of substance that may be considered as paving the way for a solution to the decades-old Naga political issue.
The document only makes it clear that it accepts the ‘unique history’ of the Nagas as had earlier been the stand of the Centre. Yet the Delhi God-fathers and some regional saffron heavyweights went hammer and tongs over the fictitious and toweringly trumped-up so-called ‘agreement’.
Thus, it is no wonder that despite the hoax-like ‘agreement’ being in place for almost five years, the elusive lasting peace in Nagaland continues to be in the back burner while the peace process apparently froze in the cold storage. Indeed with the ‘Framework Agreement’ collecting dust in the corridors of power in Delhi, it was clearly a dupery masterpiece propped up by the Centre to the regional as well as the national gallery to project its image as highly efficient and effective.
A framework lays down certain parameters on which to work in future. May one have the audacity to ask the Sultans of Delhi to specify the parameters on which post ‘agreement’ peace talks were proposed to proceed? The Centre may be told that high voltage rhetoric and political bombardment sans substance is synonymous with vacuum.
Such approach can only amplify distrust and complicate matters beyond repair. Mere statements couched in fabricated, fabulous, fantastic and flamboyant words can only emit smoke sans any fire. The need is to raise at least a solid foundation for permanent peace and not ornamentation. Peace talk is not a designer’s paradise but a hard nut-cracking process laced with some measure of diplomacy and foresightedness.
Interestingly, with the backdrop seemingly directionless, vague and the ground shaky, shaggy, bumpy and littered with deadly potholes and cracks, the Centre has since sometime been talking about being close to striking a peace deal in respect of the Naga political problem.
Indeed, the preliminary parleys have reportedly begun in the national capital between some NSCN (IM) leaders and IB officials. However, an ordinary common sense question that surfaces at this juncture is that the last round of Naga peace talks ended on October 31, 2019 (deadline as set by the Centre) and the Centre’s version was that virtually all major issues were sorted out and what was left was the formality of signing the deal.
There were also reports that the draft agreement was ready. If that be so, the present round logically should have no room and the focus should simply be on signing the final agreement. However, beyond any logic in light of the October 31, 2019 deadline, peace talks are reportedly in progress between the government and the Naga rebel groups. The Centre must understand that politics means serious business involving lives of crores of people and not a glossary of political jokes.
Present media reports, based on inputs received from the Central government sources, states that New Delhi is planning to ‘complete’ the Naga peace talks within September. One report states that the Centre has turned down the demand of the NSCN (IM) for a separate flag and constitution. However, as per the same report, the government has attached a troublesome rider to it which seemingly may only serve as an ulcer and source of smouldering discontent in the years to come. While turning down the NSCN (IM) demands for a flag and a separate constitution, the Centre has reportedly said, “those issues can be discussed further peacefully even after the signing of the agreement.”
Be it now or at a later stage, if the Centre agrees to accede to the demand for a flag and separate constitution for the Nagas, there is the possibility of the Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) political cauldron erupting into an inferno. Till the Article 370 was scrapped by the Parliament, J&K had its own constitution and flag. However, with the separate flag and constitution status of J&K being withdrawn by the Centre, a similar status to Nagaland may only tantamount to setting the northern state on fire. The Centre must adopt uniformity in respect of both J&K and Nagaland. It must be ‘yes’ to both the states or ‘no’ to both the states. One, of course, wonders if the Centre has the political sagacity to place the interest of the nation above everything else.
Further one also hopes that in the interest of unity and integrity of the nation, Delhi would have the political wisdom to apprehend a volatile scenario that granting separate constitution and flag to one or both the states is likely to set the ball rolling for the demand for flag and constitution by other states in succession. Unity of the country demands that the Centre must adopt uniformity – vote bank or no vote bank, saffronisation or no saffronisation.
Again, as per media reports, one of the parameters laid down by the Centre is that the rebel groups must surrender all weapons in their possession before the signing of the formal agreement. Historically speaking, it is possession of weapons by rebel groups that leads to peace talks anywhere in the world and positive conclusion of talks and surrender of weapons take place simultaneously.
While the Centre has reportedly stated that the issues of separate flag and constitution for the Nagas could be discussed after the signing of the agreement and that surrender of arms is reportedly one of the conditions to be fulfilled by the rebel groups before the agreement is signed, one is all at sea in view of the dynamics of history as to how could there be any further effective talks on the issues of flag and a separate constitution after the agreement is signed and arms are surrendered.
The approach only reminds one of the English phrase “putting the cart before the horse”. If the Naga peace talks are to move forward, the cart must be tied behind the horse. While media reports based on government sources appear to be loaded with optimism like the newly formed National Naga Political Groups (NNPG), which also includes several rebel outfits besides civil society bodies, are all set to sign the agreement, the NSCN (IM) continues to stick to its guns for flag and separate constitution as per latest reports being flashed in the media.
Again, as per the Centre’s plan the peace process also involves the issue of cooperation from neighbouring states. The Centre proposes to set up the likes of autonomous councils for the Nagas in some border states and in this context the names of Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur have come to the forefront. Reports also state that talks with the governments of the two states are already in progress although Manipur government has denied the same.
While in the case of Arunachal Pradesh it may be a cake walk for Delhi, in the case of Manipur the Centre may bang head-on on something as hard and fixed like the Rock of Gibraltar. The brave people of Manipur are a warrior race and the glorious history of Manipur, replete with thousands of sacrifice for the motherland over the centuries, is written in red.
Perhaps nowhere in India the British faced as tough a challenge as they did in Manipur. Hence, in the case of the Naga peace talks the Centre may find itself caught on the wrong foot. The question also arises if in such an eventuality the Centre would eye for Assam.
Meanwhile, several Naga organisations are of the view that at the ground level “no tangible solution is emerging nor is there any progress in the political talk” even though five years have elapsed since the signing of the ‘Framework Agreement’. Further, a majority of the organisations, including the Naga Hoho, are extremely displeased with the interlocutor and Nagaland governor RN Ravi in the matter of his ‘autocratic’ approach towards the problem.
Some of his statements have been vehemently criticised and condemned. Some organisations, including the NSCN (IM) are demanding that Ravi should be replaced by a new interlocutor. As of now no talks has taken place between the NSCN (IM) leadership and Ravi. Another report making the round is that two more interlocutors from the IB may be appointed by the government.
Now that NSCN (IM) and several other Naga groups are targeting for the head of inoculators Ravi himself, the emerging scene on the government front in every possibility may be shaky and bombarded with jolts. It is clearly a matter of total distrust towards the interlocutor as exhibited by the Naga groups who are vitally instrumental if the ongoing negotiations are to end on a positive note.
Leave alone distrust, even a faint undercurrent of distrust in any talks has the potential tearing the talks to shreds. In such an eventuality, one may be of the view that the September deadline may finally come to a naught.
Another factor is that the powers that be in Delhi rely heavily on IB/security officials in negotiating for a deal in such matters. The ground reality that such issues are inseparably linked up with several other factors like social and political history of the region, culture and heritage, customs and conventions, lifestyle of the folks besides legal rights, land rights and the like. When the entire gamut is to taken into account, one feels that a matured politician of a different region, who had been in the midst of his people for long years and is aware of their hopes and aspirations may fit into the shoes of interlocutor to deal with situations like the Naga political issue.
Today, the big question pertains to the direction, trust and ground reality of the ongoing talks. The government may seemingly be caught between the devil and the deep sea in the matter of the demand for Ravi’s replacement. In case Ravi continues as interlocutor, the talks may be repeatedly jolted by growing trust deficit. Can deficit trust lead to any positive result? Or are we in for another period of uncertainty?