Understanding the ‘Indo-Naga’ peace talks

OVER SEVEN years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a promising statement, “Today we marked not merely the end of the problem, but the beginning of a new future. We will not only try to heal wounds and resolve the problem, but also be your partner as you restore your pride and prestige”. It was said on signing of the Framework Agreement (FA) between the Government of India (GOI) and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) on 3rd August, 2015 in New Delhi. If spoken words have meanings then perhaps his statement seemed lost its purpose and intent in its translation into action.

India is a land of truth seekers and believers. Seeking truth for liberation is an act of ingenuity. The principle of truth is not based on size, number or perceptions but facts and justice. The Naga peoples’ political issue is based on that principle of truth and liberation. Not only in the power corridors of North Block & South Block but people at large deserve to know the truth why Indo-Naga peace talks continues since July, 1997. Unfortunately there seem to be less truth seekers and believers in India of 21st century. Few media outlets are reporting different contradictory views and opinions which has generated lots of confusion.

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A backgrounder: The Naga political problem precedes India’s independence. When the elites of India were organizing the first session of the Indian National Congress in 1885, the Nagas were battling the great British Empire. The battle began ever since the British encroachment on the Naga territories in 1832. After the British conquest, the Naga hills were kept under the ‘Excluded Areas’. When the British left Indian sub-continent, the republic Indian state claimed that it was the legal heir of everything left by the British, a position not acceptable to the Nagas. This historical fault-line is the crux of political contestations between India and Nagalim.

The Naga peoples’ position is that Nagalim was never a part of India either by conquest or consent. It was a historical accident that British imperialism brought the Nagalim into British-India administration towards the end of 19th Century. So when the British left Himalayan sub-continent Naga people wanted to liberate themselves from the subjugation of India and Myanmar. Naga people’s quest for right to self-determination is based on their distinct historical, political and cultural identity which are subjects of concern for humanity. As such their right to self-determination is a matter of their inherent rights. On the contrary, the GOI sees the Naga issue as law and order problems or an issue that can be settled for better political position within the framework of Indian constitution. The two contesting narratives are not mere perceptions but of factual fundamental differences that need to be addressed if parties to the negotiations are meant for lasting solution.

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Practical approach: Politics being an art of making the impossible possible, the Frame-work Agreement was signed between the two parties on 3rd August, 2015 regardless of their fundamental differences. FA is a broad parameter of terms of agreement between India and Nagalim to co-exist as two distinct entities sharing sovereign powers of a state. Therefore, Naga Flag and constitution are matters of fait accompli as per the FA. This move can be seen as paradigm shift from the original positions of irreconcilable political differences towards a peaceful solution. The signing of the FA was considered as a practical choice to move forward that can give new course of direction by both the parties. Agreements of the past such as 9 Point Agreement of 1947, 16 Point Agreement of 1963 and the Shillong Accord of 1975 were flawed in nature and such asymmetric arrangements do not fit into smooth sailing of India-Nagalim peaceful co-existence.

India’s challenge: If the Naga political solution cannot be achieved even after more than two decades of negotiations there is no reason to believe that India is a respectable partner to the peaceful solution. This message is not only for the Nagas but any other ethnic communities who are fighting for their political rights in India. To prove as a trustworthy partner to peaceful solution India needs to exhibit her political magnanimity and generosity. If it is only for economic package and re-affirming the 16 point agreement (Art.371A) with some cosmetic changes, that will amount to committing cardinal mistake again. Naga people cannot afford to miss the woods for the trees.

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NSCN’s burden: The NSCN being the principle negotiator representing the Naga people has enormous responsibility to bring home honorable and acceptable solution. Any agreement that does not protect the Naga national identity, land, history and their culture then Naga people are of the view that NSCN has no future in the Naga society. Therefore, NSCN has no choice but to stand for the Naga Flag and the Naga constitution to safeguard Naga peoples’ identity and to guarantee their legal position. If the same is denied FA is a sham and the Indian sub-continent problem in the eastern front is not solved and will pass on to future generations.

Delay in the peace process: In-spite of prime time big picture breaking news announcement at the time of signing of the FA, India seems to have ran away from its original position. The official interlocutor of the GoI’s divisive policies and misinformation campaigns within the Naga societies and hobnobbing with other splintered Naga underground groups (Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), branding NSCN as a terrorist gang, apprehending cadres of NSCN and prosecuting them under draconian laws such as Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act etc. proved detrimental and delayed the peace process. The Naga intellectuals construed it as de-constructing process of the FA and peace negotiations. Running away from implementing the agreement which you are party to it and at the same time if your conscience is not pricked you are an untrustworthy party to do business with, a nation without self-esteemed.

The incessant naming and shaming of NSCN and the Naga national movement patriarch Th. Muivah will only weaken the peace process. It is true that Muivah is getting old and age may not be at his side yet his politics of co-existence with India without compromising Nagas’ political identity is gaining more common grounds than ever before. Muivah is going to outlive many of his critics. His politics will continue to live even long after he is gone.

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Neighbour’s consent: GOI represents the whole of India as one single entity. It doesn’t actually need consent of any provincial state when it comes to taking any sovereign decision of a sovereign state. The legal position is cleared about it. Therefore, GOI resorting to rhetoric of taking consent of states before signing of final agreement with NSCN is an avoidable delay mechanism to frustrate the NSCN to wean out their patience and succumb to the pressure of accepting the constitution of India.

Dynamism within the Naga society: Naga people are very insular in general; very slow to bring change. But once given commitment they are always true to their words. Of late, two groups of people have come to pass. The first group represents the composite interest of the Naga people and stands for honorable and acceptable solution. The other group represents the sectarian interest and Naga intellectuals aptly called them conformist fringe elements in the society. The conformists are ready to sign an agreement within the framework of Indian constitution. They are liabilities for both India and Nagalim and have no qualms to switch side on the verse of tide. The silent majority of the Naga people and their resilient nature which is deeply embedded in their blood cannot be taken for granted. Naga people comprised of all grass-root civil societies have taken 8 times political consultative meeting on the Indo-Naga peace talks before and after signing of the FA. It is a testimony of peoples’ mandate given to the NSCN to represent the Naga people in the political talks with GOI. This cannot be discounted just because there are some critics to NSCN. Naga people stands-by with the NSCN. In the absence of political consent India cannot fit the entire issue into one sided narrative of silly little logic to blame NSCN for refusing to accept the constitution of India.

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Conclusion: History is the witness that India has committed all sorts of war atrocities and human rights violations against the Nagas. The notorious and draconian law Arm Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 has failed to dampen the spirit of Naga people’s resistance. Further resorting to hamhanded military approach has the potential to push the Nagas further and farther away to unwanted block. Certainly, that is not going to bring positive change. The world expects political maturity and magnanimity from the helmsman of 21st century Indian politics Prime Minister Narendra Modi to solve the long pending Naga problem.

The article was first published on Nagaland Post.

R. A. Worso Zimik is a lawyer based in New Delhi. Views are personal. He may be reached at worsozim@yahaoo.com

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