New Delhi: These days, there is an element of grave uncertainty in several parts of the Northeast with the fate of the Naga Framework Agreement hanging in the balance. The August 2015 consensus was inked between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) (NSCN-IM)) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah and government of India interlocutor and current Nagaland governor Ravindra Narayana Ravi in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The agreement is suddenly in jeopardy over reports of Modi’s insistence on concluding the comprehensive draft comprehensive settlement by October 31 and rejection of NSCN-IM’s demand for a separate flag and constitution by the centre.
Meanwhile, seeing an opportunity to create dissonance, vested interest groups have also jumped in to queer the pitch for New Delhi. For instance, in September, Islamist and pro-Khalistan groups extended their support to a rally organised by a prominent Naga student group in the national capital.
Divided into over 50 tribes and with an estimated population of 45 lakh, the Nagas are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Northeast region. Other than the eponymous state of Nagaland, the tribal community has a significant presence in parts of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in India, and in Kachin state of the neighbouring Myanmar. Often considered to be the oldest separatist movement in the world’s largest modern democracy, the Naga insurgents seek the creation of Nagalim or Greater Nagaland by bringing all Naga inhabited areas in India and Myanmar under one flag. However, peace has prevailed after a ceasefire agreement between NSCN and the government of India in 1997.
Amidst the brewing crisis, EastMojo reached out to one of the most revered members of the community and MP Dr Lorho S Pfoze for his views during a recent football tournament in New Delhi. As teams from the region readied to battle it out for the trophy in the early Delhi winter, the very concerned first-time Lok Sabha MP from the Outer Manipur constituency stressed on the Central government to exercise transparency and sobriety in the negotiations for a stable and long-lasting peace agreement.
Excerpts from interview:
Of late, there is so much confusion around the fate of the 2015 Naga Framework Agreement with some reports indicating that talks have reached a dead end. What in your view is the actual situation on the ground?
As an observer, I have always hoped that given the huge mandate received by the present government at the Centre, it would definitely be able to bring about a very reasonable, meaningful and amicable solution to the Indo-Naga peace talks that have dragged on for the last 22 long years. Ever since the signing of the Framework Agreement in 2015, it’s been another four years. That is long enough time for us to be able to find a solution.
But, unfortunately, in the recent past, there has been a lot of talk about certain conditions being put, whereby, we would choose to rather not see it in the spirit of a true negotiation. Imposition of any condition won’t set a healthy precedent. As a Naga, I know that most of us want peace and development in our land and do not wish things to drag on any further. But unless the core issues are resolved and the main stakeholder, i.e., NSCN-IM is taken into confidence and something hammered out with them, a solution would be temporary in nature. And, I am sorry to say, but it won’t bring the kind of peace that all of us have hoped for. Therefore, I am sure that the government of India in all its wisdom will attempt to discover the best solution possible.
So, what would be the best way forward?
It came as a shock even to us when three months were given to conclude the talks. That was largely seen as an ultimatum. We only hope that in a negotiation like this more time would be given. Other than that, the general public and even people like us who are either active politically or working with social organisations, were kept in the dark about the Framework Agreement and other discussions that were held. It was only in the last stage that some of the things became public. And when that happened, we really didn’t know how to react.
So, it would be good if the government of India is magnanimous in its approach and gives ample time to the general public to understand and absorb things that were discussed to fully comprehend the situation and react. What gives one hope is the fact that even the public is hungry for peace and development. Moreover, the NSCN cadres also desire peace and there has been a transformation in their attitude. They have started settling down in an attempt to become part of the mainstream. Unless the situation is addressed with greater sensitivity, everything else would be meaningless. So, I am hoping for something good to come out.
Do you feel that more time is required to arrive at a stable solution?
At this juncture, when a lot of revelations have been made regarding the Framework Agreement, a little more time is required for the public also to understand and deliberate to formulate an opinion. Even if the government has chosen to be rigid on the options available, allow us time to also think over other options. Our people are reasonable and they are not afraid. However, we don’t want any misunderstanding to lead to a bad outcome.
What are those other options in your view?
That I wouldn’t really know. We need to sit down and deliberate to explore them.
Dr Pfoze, you have always been very emphatic on the role of civil society groups in discovering a lasting solution. Also, do the church groups also have a role to play here?
The church is praying for peace, while the civil society groups are deliberating on solutions. I think the civil society, church and those of us in active politics, all of us need to sit down together to find out the alternatives. The posture adopted by the government of India is leading to a stalemate and we fear for the worst. But we also hope that eventually better sense will prevail.
There is a demand for a separate flag and constitution by NSCN (I-M). But we are living in a time when not only is the world a lot more globalised but new geopolitical realities have also emerged.
I know there are some challenges. But in the world of politics demands of one group may be viewed and interpreted differently by another group. So, unless some concessions are reached, it won’t be considered a negotiation in true sense of the word. In any negotiation the parties have to understand one another, with a room being made for some amount of and give and take. However, the imposition of any pre-conditions might lead to something very ugly at a later stage.
When the centre annulled some of the discriminatory provisions of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir, comparisons were drawn between the similarity in the situation between the erstwhile state and the Northeastern region. But don’t you think that the two are poles apart?
After the abrogation of Article 370 there are a lot of apprehensions even in the Northeast, particularly in parts of Nagaland, Manipur and a few other areas. We know that these are issues that we are yet to understand fully. We are keeping an eye on the developments. Giving us more time would definitely help us understand the issues at stake and find a solution.