Naga peace process deserves a logical conclusion, soon
The Naga peace process has been one of the most long-standing issues that have seen over a hundred rounds of talks between the government of India and NSCN (IM). Over the last two decades, the Indian government represented by RN Ravi and the Nagas, marshaled by Thuengaleng Muivah has been engaged in wide-ranging consultative talks but to no solution.
Ravi, a retired Special Director of the IB was appointed the interlocutor in 2014 and since then has engaged with stakeholders apart from NSCN (IM) and has won the confidence of the leadership. His titer has been appreciated by one and all in both Nagaland and Naga dominated areas of Manipur.
Ever since the historic Framework Agreement was signed between 86- year-old general secretary Muivah and Ravi in the presence of Prime Minister Modi, his important cabinet Ministers and NSA Ajit Doval on August 5, 2015, there have been efforts on to resolve the three contentious issues — flag, constitution, and territory and close a final accord before this year’s Independence Day. The 2015 agreement was touted to be the foundation of an emerging relationship between the rebel Nagas and Indian govt.
Over the next two years, high profile dignitaries led by the PM visited Nagaland and assured the Nagas that the final Peace Accord was round the corner and only minor obstacles needed to be removed before ushering in a new era of peace and tranquillity in the Northeast. However, that was not to be as true to their colors, NSCN (IM) started to question the intentions of the well-meaning and widely respected Interlocutor who was also appointed as the Governor of Nagaland in August 2019.
This sudden volte-face by the NSCN (IM) leadership was possibly due to the inclusion of other Naga rebel factions who were rightly united under the umbrella organization of Naga National Political Groups, popularly known as the NNPG.
NSCN (IM) saw a definite encroachment on their status as the sole leaders of all Nagas, irrespective of their state of home (Nagas inhabit large tracts in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Assam apart from Nagaland).
Over the last one year, NSCN (IM) has embarked upon a very aggressive and hostile media campaign against Ravi by stating that he is an agent of division amongst Nagas who are attempting to marginalize NSCN (IM) leadership by dividing the Nagas based on the states which they inhabit.
The NSCN has gone to the extent of getting the civil society organizations to write memorandums to the PM to remove Ravi from the appointments of both the interlocutor and the Governor.
Understanding the impediments to the Peace Accord and identifying the inimical interests of various stakeholders, especially the NSCN (IM) which is trying to impose a theologically motivated and Tangkhul dominated regime by legitimising their criminal syndicate is an essential prerequisite.
It is, however, worth pondering as to why Ravi, who gained tremendous popularity amongst the Nagas during the initial years from 2014 to 2017, suddenly became their enemy number one.
Ravi is a no-nonsense police officer who has spent the majority of his career in the IB dealing with rogue elements and possesses a keen sense of judging the character of a person by this training and specialisation.
He probably realises that the NSCN (IM) is really not serious in executing a Peace Accord and wants to continue the status quo of the ceasefire and expand its crime and extortion syndicate by legitimising it in the name of an underground govt.
As the Governor of the state where he has extraordinary powers to deal with law and order under Article 371 A, he could not remain a mute spectator to the lawlessness being normal and cracked the whip on the rebels who indulged in unlawful activities.
Here lies the pitfall of having only one interlocutor who also doubles up as a constitutional higher-up. To make the negotiations meaningful and result-oriented, it is necessary to rearrange the process of negotiations.
This is important because negotiations cannot carry on endlessly as it has the perils of mass disillusionment of Nagas who may again resort to an armed rebellion.
To get the NSCN (IM) to give up the status-quoist agenda, the govt must appoint a negotiating panel to replace a single interlocutor as the Naga issue may not find the appropriate precedence in the scheme of affairs that the govt has to grapple with on a day-to-day basis, thus delaying the decisions to critical issues arising in the course of negotiations.
The recommended negotiating panel of Indian govt must have a Cabinet Minister, a retired bureaucrat from the Home Ministry, a retired Police officer from the IB, a retired High Court Judge, and most importantly a retired senior army officer.
This panel should be given adequate leverage to negotiate with the Nagas who should be represented by five former Chief Ministers, prominent citizens, and leaders of all rebel groups.
While selecting the Naga representatives, it must be ensured that they have the mandate of all Nagas irrespective of their state and are people of honor and repute.
The negotiating panel must be given a definite period to conclude the negotiations and iron out all outstanding contentious issues and present its case to a Parliamentary Committee. Similarly, the Nagas must also be allowed to present their case to the nominated Parliamentary Committee.
Accordingly, constitutional legitimacy to Naga Peace Process is in all likelihood going to act as a great confidence-building measure for the Nagas.
At the same time, a balanced composition of govt’s negotiating panel with easy and timely access to the Union Cabinet is likely to give great impetus to the conclusion of negotiations which is mutually favorable, durable, and sustainable in the long term.
(Views expressed are personal)