Five years back, the Framework Agreement was signed between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaac-Muivah) amidst great fanfare. This was done in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and General Secretary of the NSCN (I-M) Thuingaleng Muivah with R N Ravi, the interlocutor signing the agreement on behalf of the Union government. It was hailed as a “historic” agreement for ushering in an era of peace and tranquility in a region that had been rocked by violence for nearly five decades.
The reason for the haste in chalking out a Framework Agreement and rushing through it was the deteriorating health of Isak Chishi Swu, who was under treatment in a hospital in New Delhi. Unfortunately, Swu could not attend the event of signing of the agreement due to ill health. He died on June 28, 2016.
The peace talks were to be given a final touch for implementation this year, but things took a different turn when the interlocutor Ravi, who also happens to be the governor of Nagaland, took a jibe at the NSCN(I-M) ranks in June this year calling them “armed gangs” that are challenging the legitimacy of the state government. To add salt to the wound, he ordered that all government employees disclose the names of their relatives who are members of underground outfits, triggering anger among the Nagas. The die was finally cast when the governor in his Independence day address attacked the state government, in which the BJP is a partner, stating that “it has the dubious distinction of the worst performing state in the country, including the North-east region, on almost all significant indicators of human development”. He added that there was mayhem and miscarriage of dreams and expectations of the people of Nagaland, which was “unendurable and unacceptable”.
What has complicated the situation is the subtle manipulation of the Framework Agreement by the interlocutor, which had been kept under wraps since it was signed on August 3, 2015. In one particular paragraph of the agreement where it is stated, “that dialogue between the Government of India and the NSCN has successfully concluded and we are confident it will provide for an enduring inclusive new relationship of peaceful co-existence of two entities”, the word new has been removed thereby altering the meaning of the agreement itself. This has irked the leaders of NSCN(I-M). They no longer trust Ravi, and have demanded that he be replaced as interlocutor.
Meanwhile, since Muivah was already in New Delhi for his health-related treatment, it was expected that a final agreement would be arrived at before Independence day. But with the relationship souring between NSCN(I-M) and the interlocutor, any further talks became impossible. The Prime Minister’s office intervened and directed the Director of Intelligence Bureau, Arvind Kumar and the Special Director, Akshay Kumar Mishra to carry the talks further.
For reasons best known to the government and the NSCN(I-M), the Framework Agreement was veiled in secrecy for the last five years. It was only when the tampering in the agreement was noticed, did the NSCN (I-M) decide to bring it out of the closet and disclose to the world.
The three factors that are stalling the agreement are the Constitution, the flag and the amalgamation of certain areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur adjoining Nagaland to form a greater Nagalim. In their initial demands, parts of Myanmar were also insisted upon to be merged with Nagalim — an impossibility. In his Independence day address to the people of Nagaland on August 14 last, Muivah briefly traced the history of Naga movement and stated that “the Framework Agreement recognises the sovereignty of Nagas”. He further stated in unambiguous terms that “the Nagas will co-exist with India sharing sovereign powers as agreed… But they will not merge with India.”
The flag and the constitution are important for the final agreement. The Nagas have their own flag and constitution and it is up to the government to recognise these as they are “the symbols of Naga nationhood,” according to Muivah. With the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir divesting the state of its constitution and flag, the task for the Centre has turned difficult. Nagaland too enjoys the special privileges like Kashmir under Article 371(A).
The fact that representatives of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur were invited to attend the talks serves as an indicator to the fact that the Nagalim factor too is to be discussed as these states would be affected if territories within their boundaries are to merge with Nagaland. Fortunately, with the NDA government at the Centre and its appendage, the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), in the affected Northeastern states, the Centre may exert some pressure on these governments. However, it may cause an upheaval among the denizens of the affected states. How this issue will be sorted out needs to be seen.
With these three crucial demands of the NSCN(I-M) being so complex and affecting other states, one is bound to question as to how the Framework Agreement was drafted without taking the affected states on board. Article 370 could not have been ignored while arriving at an agreement with NSCN(I-M). Was it for this reason that the agreement was kept under wraps for the last five years in a bid to bide time so that the NSCN(I-M) stalwarts could mellow down and subsequently agree to the Centre? Tampering with the Framework Agreement has further complicated the issue leading to a trust deficit.
Breakdown of the final agreement may lead to return of insurgency not just in Nagaland but in the adjoining states too, as NSCN(I-M) has been playing a lead role in keeping the insurgency pot boiling in that part of the country. All other insurgent groups look up to NSCN(I-M) as a big brother for carrying on with their nefarious activities. The Chinese too are looking out for opportunities to jump into the fray. We need to be on the guard.
Written by M P Nathanael The writer retired as Inspector General of Police, CRPF