Centre to meet Nagaland underground leaders today, kick-start peace talks - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 19 September 2022

Centre to meet Nagaland underground leaders today, kick-start peace talks

For 25 years, the Naga underground has had a ceasefire with the government, but little peace as Naga factions fight one another (Above: PM Narendra Modi with NSCN -IM General Secretary T Muivah in New Delhi in 2015)


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 20 Sept 22


Central government officials are due to meet members of the main Naga underground group on Tuesday, to resume talks on the stalled Naga peace process.


For the last 25 years, there has been a ceasefire between the Government of India (GoI) and the biggest Naga separatist group – the Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah-led faction of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (called the NSCN-IM). Meanwhile, Naga underground factions killed each other in an internecine contest for power and extortion rights.


Nagaland has always been a battleground for the 35 Naga tribes. From the mid-19thcentury, they battled to a standstill British armies seeking to control the Naga Hills. In 1956, they took up guns against the Indian army in the country’s longest-running insurgency.


An hour from the state capital, Kohima, at the gateway to Khonoma village, is a memorial slab engraved with 46 names --- all residents of that one village who died fighting the Indian Army. Close by Khonoma is Nerhema village, which celebrates one of its sons, Captain N Kenguruse of the Indian Army, who won a Mahavir Chakra in Kargil, laying down his life fighting for India.


To New Delhi’s credit, it has intervened pro-actively in Nagaland, unlike in Jammu & Kashmir where it has remained politically passive. In June 1995, Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao met the NSCN-IM’s Muivah and Swu in Paris. HD Deve Gowda met the NSCN-IM in Zurich in February 1997, leading to the May 1997 ceasefire. The Centre’s “special interlocutors” have had almost 100 rounds of successful talks with the NSCN-IM.


Even so, violence has racked the region. In June 2015, a Naga ambush killed 18 and wounded another 18 Indian solders. The Indian Army retaliated by crossing into Myanmar and attacking Naga underground camps. With dialogue renewed with the Nagas, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a Nagaland Peace Accord in August 2015.


In the ongoing talks, the NSCN-IM has dropped two key demands: a sovereign Nagaland with its own constitution, army and currency; and the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas, including in the neighbouring states of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.


The breakthrough came when Swu and Muivah accepted it was impossible to peel off territory from Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam to create a “Greater Nagaland”, or Nagalim. Even if New Delhi were to agree to this, Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution of India require the concerned state legislatures to accede to the proposal. 


The NSCN-IM, therefore, settled for an autonomous administrative mechanism for Naga-inhabited areas, of the kind already created for other hill areas, such as the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils created for Leh and Kargil. In the long term, the NSCN-IM could hope for a Nagalim through the mechanism of a States Reorganization Commission, as was done in the 1950s.


Since then, the NSCN-IM has been unhappy with successive special interlocuters – RN Ravi and AK Mishra, both former Intelligence Bureau officials – for omitting important political concessions that New Delhi had allegedly made. These include allowing Nagaland its own flag and anthem and will form much of the agenda for the meeting.

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