The Naga Accord Is A Great Leap Forward

The Naga Accord Is A Great Leap Forward

by Jayant Chowdhury - Aug 7, 2015 10:33 PM +05:30 IST
The Naga Accord Is A Great Leap Forward

The agreement between the Union Government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) can be a game changer for North East India. Those criticizing this are just playing petty partisan politics.

The signing of a historic agreement between the Union Government and the dominant National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) faction led by Isak Chisi Swu and Thiungaleng Muivah has ramifications beyond the boundaries of Nagaland.

In fact, it has the rich prospects of being a game changer for the entire North East India which has lagged behind the rest of the country in terms of development, thanks largely to the many insurgencies that fester there.

The agreement recognizes the “unique history and distinct identity of the Nagas” and provides administrative and other arrangements to them on this basis. It can, thus, usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for the entire region and lead to the fruition of Modi’s ‘Act East’ policy.

Despite this, the Naga agreement has spawned much criticism, and it would be in the fitness of things to reply to them. Critics from the North East – especially Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, have termed it as ‘opaque’ and demanded details.

They fear a loss of territory to Nagaland, though the Union Government has categorically said such fears are unfounded.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi has waded into this issue—one she knows precious little about—in her usual partisan and petulant manner. She criticized the agreement on the ground that the Chief Ministers of the above-mentioned three states were not taken on board.

That these three are Congress-ruled states and the Chief Ministers, there are essentially her minions doesn’t need much mention and elaboration. Many other rabble-rousing organizations from the North East have also raised their voices against this agreement.

What all of them, Ms. Gandhi included of course, haven’t been able to comprehend is that this agreement is actually a framework of agreements. It is a broad outline or a roadmap of exactly how the two parties—the Government of India and the Naga leadership—would go about resolving issues that would ultimately conclude in an accord at a future date.

Thus, negotiations are still at a critical stage, but this agreement commits the two sides to reach a comprehensive consensus within a stipulated time frame.

The import of the August 3 agreement (it is not an accord, as many in the media have termed it) is that it ties down the two sides to reaching the aforementioned comprehensive accord on all the issues. And that includes bringing the Nagas in the three neighboring states under one umbrella without compromising on the territorial integrity of the three states.

Thus, the drift that had come to characterize the Indo-Naga peace talks over the last 18 years has been halted. A new and fresh direction has been given to the negotiations.

This drift has, for obvious reasons, been causing a lot of distress among the Nagas. Many among them had come to believe that the Government of India’s objective is to tie down the NSCN (IM) leadership in endless rounds of talks and wait for the two leaders—Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah—to pass away.

There was thus the real and imminent danger of the NSCN faction led by S.S.Khaplang, a Myanmarese Naga, emerging as the dominant one since it abrogated its ceasefire with the Government of India and carried out some daring attacks on Indian security forces earlier this year.

Had the talks with the NSCN (IM) leadership been allowed to meander aimlessly, the NSCN (K) would have gained pre-eminence and attracted many a disgruntled Nagas. Thus, it was necessary to arrive at some sort of agreement with the Naga leadership immediately.

Another driving factor behind this immediacy was the failing health of Swu, who belongs to the Sema tribe from Nagaland. The Government of India was keen to have Swu included in this ‘framework of agreements’.
Muivah belongs to the Tangkhul tribe of neighboring Manipur and, symbolically, it is always better to have a Naga of Nagaland as a signatory to any agreement.

The March 3 agreement will, in time to come, become the ‘mother agreement’ for the future comprehensive peace accord.

As for the criticism that this is not an actual agreement, it needs to be emphasized that even accepting to arrive at an agreement within a stipulated time frame and according to some set guidelines is also an agreement. Given the way the Indo-Naga peace talks have been floundering over 18 long years, it is a great achievement in itself.

As far as the charge of opacity is concerned, it must be remembered that till the final accord is reached the details must be kept under wraps. That is how negotiations are conducted all over the world.

The process of consulting civil society and all the stakeholders in the Indo-Naga issue, including the neighboring states, has been a continuous and informal one. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has categorically said time and again that the concerns of everyone will be taken into account and will surely be accommodated in the final accord.

All that Ms. Gandhi and the others are indulging in is petty partisan politics when they level baseless charges of opacity and ‘arrogance’ against Modi. They ought to wait for the accord to be signed and not jump the gun by voicing uninformed and baseless criticism.

The major concern of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh is the idea of ‘Greater Nagaland’ that the NSCN has been demanding. The integration of Naga inhabited areas in these three states, as well as Myanmar, has been the NSCN’s stated objective.

But bringing all these areas under one administrative set up is impossible since the three states are vehemently opposed to conceding even an inch of their territories.

Modi would be foolish to overrule the three states. What is being contemplated is a broad, overarching cultural body of Nagas that would have statutory (and maybe even Constitutional) recognition and that would include the Nagas dwelling in Manipur, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh.

Along with this, the Nagas of these three states could also be given greater autonomy to administer their own affairs under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

Over the next few weeks and months, the governments and civil societies of the three states would find themselves being consulted frequently. Once the final accord is signed, they will surely see that their interests have been adequately safeguarded.

To voice premature criticism just for criticism’s sake is totally uncalled for at this stage.

The Nagas are a proud people who rightly believe in their unique identity and history. That they have never been part of the greater ‘Bharat’ sub-continent and civilization is well-known and a fact they are acutely aware of.

Thus, as has been seen through the decades-long Naga insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives, efforts to forcefully integrate the Nagas into India is well-nigh impossible.

Instead, a Naga sub-nation within the greater Indian nation is the solution to the issue. Such an arrangement would take care of the concerns of the Nagas and everyone else.

The Nagas need to be accorded their rightful place within India and giving them the respect and unique identity that they deserve is of primary importance.

Prime Minister Modi said as much at his speech at the end of the signing of the agreement between Muivah and India’s interlocutor for the talks R.N.Ravi.

There is no doubt that the sentiments he expressed towards the Nagas will find adequate representation in the final accord. It will definitely give the Nagas a “sense of pride, self-confidence, and self-respect” (to quote Modi).

Ms. Gandhi is sulking because she has not been able to do in 10 years (under UPA I and II which she presided over) what Modi did in just one!

Jayant Chowdhury is an avid observer of and commentator on politics and society in Bengal and eastern, including north-eastern, India.
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