- GS-2: Federalism and Challenges
- GS-3: Internal Security
Peace Process for Naga Accord Stuck
Context: R N Ravi (who was earlier also the Governor of Nagaland) has resigned as interlocutor for the Naga peace talks.
- Naga sources have said the NSCN(IM) views Ravi’s removal as Governor of Nagaland and interlocutor as a victory.
What is the Naga peace process?
- It refers to ongoing talks between the Indian government and Naga insurgent groups, in particular the NSCN(IM), since 1997 with the aim to sign a Naga Peace Accord.
- The Naga insurgency, rooted in Naga nationalism, is one of the oldest insurgencies in the country.
- The Naga-inhabited areas of the Northeast never considered themselves part of British India, and on August 14, 1947, the Naga National Council (NNC) led by Angami Zapu Phizo declared independence for Nagaland.
- Phizo formed an underground Naga Federal Government (NFG) and a Naga Federal Army (NFA) in 1952, in response to which the Centre sent in the Army and enacted the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act, or AFSPA.
- After years of talks, the Shillong Accord was signed in 1976 with underground groups of Nagaland, but it was rejected by many top NNC leaders on the ground that it did not address the issue of Naga sovereignty.
- Five years later, Isak Chishi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah, and S S Khaplang split from the NNC and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) to continue the armed struggle
- In 1988, the NSCN split again into NSCN(IM) led by Isak and Muivah and NSCN(K) led by Khaplang.
- In 1997, the NSCN(IM) entered into a ceasefire with the Indian government, which gave rise to hope for a final settlement.
What has happened since?
- There have been nearly 100 rounds of talks. In August 2015, the NSCN(IM) group signed a framework agreement with the Indian government for the Naga Peace Accord. Ravi was appointed interlocutor to take the talks to their conclusion.
- But while both the government and Naga groups said the talks successfully concluded on the government’s deadline of October 31, 2019, no accord was signed.
- Relations between Ravi and the NSCN(IM) unravelled after the talks concluded. In January 2020, the government had IB special director Akshay Mishra step in and continue the engagement.
How did things go wrong?
- Things started to go bad after Ravi realised that the NSCN(IM) and the Indian government differed in their understanding of the framework agreement. The group was insistent on a Naga constitution, and was pushing for a Greater Nagalim stretching beyond the boundaries of the present Nagaland state.
- In November 2017, Ravi signed an agreement with seven groups who had come together under the banner of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), which did not include the NSCN (IM).
- The NSCN (IM), which considers itself the principal representative of Naga aspirations, has been a rival of many of the NNPG groups. In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2020, the IM accused Ravi of attempting to “segregate the Naga civil society”.
- After becoming Nagaland Governor in 2019, Ravi expressed uneasiness at the delay in concluding the deal. He accused NSCN (IM) for delaying the settlement by raising the contentious symbolic issues of separate Naga national flag and constitution.
- Ravi wrote a scathing letter to Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, calling the NSCN(IM) an “armed gang”, and accused it of running a “parallel government” and engaging in extortion.
- Ravi’s open criticism made the NSCN(IM) publicly harden its position. It demanded that the Naga flag and Naga constitution were non-negotiable.
- NSCN(IM) claimed the framework agreement included the idea of unification of all Naga inhabited areas in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur. It accused Ravi of twisting the document by deleting key words that suggested Nagaland would co-exist with India as a sovereign.
- The counter by Ravi that “any misadventure to disintegrate the nation shall not be tolerated” angered NSCN(IM) and called for his ouster as Governor & interlocutor.
Amid all this, what are the real issues?
- The Naga issue is very complex, and the NSCN(IM) is in a delicate position. It is led by a Tangkhul from Manipur, for whom it is difficult to abandon the demand for a Greater Nagalim. But India cannot accept that demand, and a middle path has to be found, which may take some time,
- On the other hand, Naga flag and Naga constitution which is one of the core demands of NSCN(IM) cannot be accepted by Indian Government given the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019.
- The enthusiasm with which the framework agreement in 2015 was announced led to unreasonable expectations of a final Accord.
What is the way forward?
- The government has roped in former IB officer Akshaya Kumar Mishra as the new pointsperson for talks. Mishra, who sources say could be formally appointed the new interlocutor, is known to be a quiet worker, and has been talking to Naga groups since January 2020.
- It is important to understand that there cannot be an accord without the NSCN(IM) because it continues to get young recruits and wields considerable influence in the region.
- The idea is to slowly bring NSCN(IM) to accept what India can give.
- Some demands that need ironing out include
- Bicameral Assembly with at least 40 nominated members representing different tribes;
- Absorption of cadres as local armed forces or in the Indian paramilitary;
- Setting up of autonomous councils in Naga-dominated areas of neighbouring states;
- Use of the Naga flag for at least customary events.
Connecting the dots:
- Article 371
- Schedule V & Schedule VI- Concept of Asymmetrical Federalism