The historic Naga peace accord or a framework agreement was signed on 3 August this year between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) at Prime Minister Narendra Modi&’s residence. The contents of this accord have not been disclosed to the public and it has been perceived that an inclusive Pan Naga Ho-Ho (apex body of Naga tribes) or shared sovereignty may emerge as a result. How do we look beyond this accord? Why was it signed now and not earlier? Does the NSCN(IM) represent the voice of all Nagas? Why have Naga women leaders been excluded while the accord was signed? Have pressure groups like the Naga Mothers’ Association or the Naga Students’ Union expressed their backing for sovereignty or greater Nagalim?
On Naga Independence Day, 14 August 2015, Muivah stated in Hebron, Dimapur, that “the government of India and its ministers have realised the futility of a military solution and trying to suppress us. We, too, have to realise that we will not be able to finish the Indian armed forces. India and the Nagas have agreed to give up a military solution and seek a political solution”. While the giving up of a military solution for a political one means there will be no more bloodshed (hopefully), he also said the NSCN(IM) had not given up on sovereignty and that integration was only the first step to self-determination. Intriguingly, Union minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju clarified on 16 August that Muivah had withdrawn the demand for sovereignty and now wanted “a solution within the Constitution”. Four days after the declaration of the accord, Union home minister Rajnath Singh affirmed that it was only a framework.
The charismatic authority of Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah is waning, especially with the youth. They are too old and may not be in sync with the aspirations of the present generation. They realise the futility of growing less charismatic and their authority does not diffuse a positive energy with regard to bringing about social solidarity among the Naga tribes. The final blow came when a senior Central official stated that “the finer details may take any length of time to be finalised”.
This makes one wonder if the peace accord is actually only a glorified ceasefire extension. Perhaps, it was a contingency step taken by both the Centre and the NSCN(IM) to assuage the rising tension between the Indian Army and the NSCN(Khaplang). The accord is triggered by the new equation of power after the nullification of the 14-year-old ceasefire by SS Khaplang and the fresh attacks he monitors from his location in Myanmar as also the setting up of the United Liberation Front of Western Southeast Asia.
The resistance of civilian Nagas against both NSCN factions owes to the fact that the latter would validate extortion as an ethical practice. For instance, one ex-colonel of the NSCN(IM) said in Dimapur, “A Naga armed captain stayed in the NSCN camp while his young wife and two children stayed in a rented house. While he was fighting for the Naga nation, his family was evicted from the rented house because they could not pay the rent. His two children could not go to school owing to poverty. In such a situation, what would he do to support his family?" He asserted that civilian Nagas did not connect with the plight of that captain and his family. He validated extortion by enforcing a spirit of Naga patriotism. Is it ethical to engage in extortion in order to provide financial support to respective families of NSCN cadres?
When asked about the recent peace accord, a civilian responded, “I would be satisfied if this peace accord leads to the closure of undergrounds.” Such response shows that some people do not have faith in the NSCNs. A top NSCN(IM) official said in an interview that “the end result is to create Greater Nagalim by maintaining a federal relationship with (the) GoI. We would like to have self-governance with aid from India and in return Nagas will defend the international boundaries around Nagaland”.
The problem with this end result is that Nagaland is already a democratic and republic state. The Nagas elect their own leaders and since they have no infrastructure for any kind of revenue, the state government waits for the Centre to send them development and welfare packages, which are often not used for their intended purpose. On the issue of Greater Nagalim, neighbouring Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh have threatened that they will not tolerate any territorial jeopardy. What about the Nagas in Myanmar? They are not even up for negotiation.
It may seem that the Modi government is seeing the Naga situation from the Naga (insider&’s) perspective. Interlocutor RN Ravi said that Isak Chisi Swu&’s ill health and his desire to see his dream being fulfilled seemed to be the driving force for signing this peace accord in haste. As the Modi government builds closer ties with China, it also needs to fortify North-east India against that country&’s dominance and territorial ambitions. Modi looks to the Eastern countries for a model of development because India shares a common bond with Eastern religion. He sees the peace accord as having extraordinary national and international policy gains. For national security, gaining the backing of the NSCN(IM) is a starting point since it is publicly seen as the forerunner of nationalistic movement. As for the peace accord, Modi states, “Since becoming Prime Minister last year, peace, security and economic transformation of the North-east has been amongst my highest priorities. It is also at the heart of my foreign policy, especially the Look East Policy.” This policy stated that the people of the North-east would benefit in rapid development of the region and promised increased trade contacts with neighbouring countries.
The NSCN (IM) and the Centre need to recognise that without the consent and inclusion of Naga civilians and civil society, it is impossible to bring about a peaceful solution. The NSCN (I-M) did not include women while signing the accord because of patriarchal values. The contestation is that the NSCN(IM) cannot reconcile Naga politics alone unless the voices of women and youth are considered and the wedge of distrust with civilian Nagas and other groups is dismantled. In a democracy, the will of the people is the determining factor of their destiny. A plebiscite would be in order (much akin to the one exercised by Scotland recently). Unless a cordial relationship between the NSCNs and civilians exists, the movement will die; perhaps it&’s already dead.
If the current peace accord is a sincere effort of the Centre and the NSCN (IM), perhaps it is time for us, as civilians, to let our voices be heard. Let them know the people&’s aspiration and let them facilitate the kind of self-determination people want for themselves.
Lima Longkumer Is A Ph.D Scholar In The Department Of Sociology, University Of Hyderabad And Ajailiu Niumai Is An Associate Professor, Centre For The Study Of Social Exclusion And Inclusive Policy, Joint Faculty, Centre For Women’s Studies, University Of Hyderabad. They can be contacted At [email protected] and [email protected]