The Naga peace process is still going through ups and downs, with still some miles left to go in finalising an agreement. However, the talks didn’t break down even as the October 31, 2019 deadline passed.
The Union Government interlocutor and Nagaland Governor RN Ravi has given an indication that the National Socialist Council of Nagaland and other Naga groups are still on board, and the final agreement could be signed soon.
The Naga separatist issue dates back to colonial times. With the independence of India, Naga Nationalist Council (NNC), under the leadership of Phizo, also declared Nagaland as an independent state and formed the Naga Federal Government, creating an army for armed struggle. Later, the Government of India imposed the AFSPA for security purposes.
With the government’s efforts, the NNC was brought on the table and the Shillong Accord was signed in 1975. However, factions of NNC broke off as they were not happy with the agreement and formed instead the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Issak Muivah (NSCN -IM) and NSCN – Khaplang (K). These factions kept on demanding Greater Nagalim with a separate state of Naga comprising Naga populated areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Mizoram and even Myanmar.
They kept their armed struggle alive and the area remained in unrest. In the meantime, the Union Government brought the NSCN-IM and NSCN-K into talks. Moreover, NSCN-IM didn’t want the NSCN-K to get much attention because of their internal conflict.
With so many years of efforts, the ceasefire agreement was signed between the Union Government and NSCN-IM in 1997 and later with NSCN-K in 2001. However, the Union Government was not comfortable with NSCN-K demand of getting even Naga Myanmar territory as part of their Greater Nagalim.
In 2015, the Union Government signed a framework agreement with NSCN-IM. NSCN-K felt sideined and broke the ceasefire agreement by attacking an Indian Army Convoy, killing 18 soldiers. The Union Home Ministry banned Naga Insurgent outfit NSCN-K and Indian Army responded with a hot pursuit by destroying NSCN-K camps in Myanmar.
The talks with NSCN-IM had also addressed the demand for a separate flag and constitution. This would be unacceptable to the sovereignty and integrity of India, keen to disallow a situation like Jammu and Kashmir. So, the government interlocutor RN Ravi roped in other Naga political groups under an umbrella organisation called Naga National Political Groups (NNPG) and civil society organisations. This was a smart move and brought pressure on the NSCN-IM. It also helped in not breaking the talks even after the deadline passed.
Now, the government has assured that the final agreement could be signed any time soon. However, states like Manipur and Assam are protesting, as they don’t want to lose their own territory because of the Naga Agreement.
The Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) is spearheading the agitation in Manipur. The Union Government has assured that neighbouring states’ integrity won’t be affected because of the Naga deal.
This makes the task of government interlocutor RN Ravi tougher. At this point, autonomous districts on the lines of Schedule VII appears to be a suitable solution. The need is to bring various Naga groups including NSCN-IM and civil society in for such an understanding that not only is sufficient autonomy assured to the Nagas to preserve their culture and heritage, but also contribute to the nation building process.
Along with these, more efforts should be made to improve the infrastructure of the north east, such as effectively implementing a trilateral highway (Moreh to Mandalay to MaeSot), or giving a push to Kaladan Multimodal Corridor that could flourish economic activities in the north east. This could collectively bring the north east within the functioning of mainstream India and boost it to become a bright spot in the country’s growth.