The first of the payoffs of the accord is the fact that the biggest militant group of the North East has formally accepted its allegiance to the Indian Constitution.
The longer a political issue involving land, rights, self-determination and socio-economic space festers, the more difficult it is to comprehend it. Nagaland’s problems with the Union of India symbolize the larger problem of the North East. The first reactions to a potentially successful agreement generally perceive that this should be the harbinger and trigger for greater integration and political messaging for the North East that India has been aspiring for long.
A short recapitulation is necessary to set the tone for a brief analysis of what such a landmark event, no doubt a major feather in the NDA government’s cap, can be expected to deliver.
There are distinct phases in the history of the discord that the Naga people and their leaders have had with the Indian state. Right from 1947 the desire for independence was strong. The Naga Nationalist Council (NNC) under Angami Phizo conducted its own referendum and with strong backing of the people fought an insurgency which was contested in earnest by the Indian Army 1956 onwards.
As in most insurgencies and especially those in jungle infested, remote and highly underdeveloped areas, military solutions were never possible. India and its Army realized this early and attempts at negotiations with moderate elements were always a part of the narrative, interspersed with phases of intense counter-insurgency.
1963 saw the grant of statehood to Nagaland with a degree of autonomy. In 1975, the Shillong Accord was signed with the NNC but as is usual there was an immediate resistance by younger leaders and splinter groups broke away to continue the violent struggle. In 1980, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was set up by Isak Chisi Swu (himself present at the Prime Minister’s residence on 3 Aug 15), Thuigaleng Muivah (currently unwell) and SS Khaplang (now heading the renegade group). It became the natural successor of the NNC as the generations of political leadership changed. It further splintered in 1988 into NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) with the alphabets now well recognized to denote the three original leaders. The split was violent and almost irreconcilable and remains so to the day.
One of the major demands of the Naga leadership of every hue was the desire to merge all contiguous territories with Naga presence in other states and create the Greater Nagaland or Nagalim which is almost four times the land mass of current Nagaland. These states include Assam, Manipur and Arunachal who have all been extremely wary of this demand. The complexity of the issue can be appreciated from the fact that even the elected assembly of Nagaland under the Indian Constitution has from time to time passed resolutions on the need for all Naga inhabited contiguous areas of neighboring states to be brought under Nagalim. The latter has been a bone of contention even as the broad contours of understanding emerged about an accord under the Indian Constitution.
The ceasefire with the NSCN(IM) was signed on 25 July 1997 and with NSCN(K) in 2001. These were preceded by a series of meetings abroad under different governments at the Center underlining the fact that there was a level of continuity and political maturity which majority of the people in India are unwilling to recognize in our political system. Almost 80 meetings took place after the signing of the ceasefire accord.
In Mar 2015, the NSCN (K) broke off the ceasefire and formed the morphed group United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia comprising elements of the ULFA, Bodos and Manipur militants. It executed the strike against the Indian Army in Chandel district of Manipur on 4 June 2015. The NSCN(IM) leadership is essentially from the perceived Nagalim area of Manipur while Khaplang is a Hemi Naga from Myanmar.
Through the period of the ceasefire for the last 14 years with the K faction and 18 years with the IM, there have been intermittent and sporadic inter faction duels/clashes between the two which the Indian Army has attempted to intervene in. Both factions carried their weapons although these were never supposed to be openly displayed in public. The IM faction has a huge headquarter at its well-known camp called Hebron. It conducts all business from this facility. Given the extremely long period of negotiations with many interlocutors and monitored by a Ceasefire Commission, the IM faction has undoubtedly displayed sincerity and steadfastness in intent. Such political dispensations with militant leanings are extremely vulnerable to generational change when young blood tends to perceive the fading energy of the older generation in its cause. The IM faction too may have faced this but its sincerity must be greatly appreciated.
Details of the accord are yet sketchy and will be available in due course but even without them a peripheral analysis on implementation and pay-offs is still possible.
The first of the payoffs is the fact that the biggest militant group of the North East has formally accepted its allegiance to the Indian Constitution. Since NSCN-IM was responsible for spawning many other separatist militant groups across the North East, the idea of allegiance to India can be seeded once again. This is the most significant message going out from the agreement brokered by RN Ravi. The smaller groups in Manipur’s hill tracts must be taken into the ambit of the agreement with the assistance of the goodwill of the IM faction.
Secondly, the skepticism of NSCN-IM for all these years allowed the proliferation of a militant industry with illegal taxation and disallowance of development footprint by the state. Hopefully, with the IM faction now on board, governance will play a greater role, allowing the energy of the state to be transmitted to the people. The state, too, now has even greater responsibility. Investments must be monitored and accountability must be complete lest state corruption becomes the stumbling block.
Thirdly, it is unlikely that larger separatist militant groups such as the K faction, ULFA and Bodos will readily accept any steps to come to a peaceful settlement. In the process of attempting to woo the K faction nothing must be lost from the agreement with IM faction which has been the saner and more mature group all along. The protection of the IM cadres and leadership undoubtedly will be one of the major aspects under consideration. What remains to be seen is if the state is expected to provide protection or will the NSCN-IM be permitted to retain its weaponry for self-defense.
Pragmatism rather than dogmatic ideas of allegiance to the state must dictate the discourse.
Fourthly, it is yet early to say but the agreement must be looked upon as the beginning of opportunities. The infrastructure for opening India’s access to South East Asia could finally get underway if militancy in the areas along the potential alignments in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur is steadily addressed with the resolution of the larger issue of Nagalim.
The initial statements speak of a framework agreement regarding the Nagalim issue, the most contentious aspect. What should be expected is that there will be measures to grant greater autonomy to the Naga dominated areas in other states without compromising on territory. This will mean some system of dual control and funding, the detail of which must have been documented by Mr Ravi and Mr Muivah (Mr Isak still being in hospital but having given assent). Included in the detail must be some relevant aspects of the retention of the unique Naga culture and languages. How well will this be taken by the other states remains a moot point but considering the quiet parleys that have gone on, it is possible that they are on board in the larger interest of economics for which the time has finally come in the destiny of the North East.
It is hoped that the agreement would have included suitable measures for the eventual demobilization of the NSCN-IM cadres and their absorption. The Mizoram model, although much smaller in quantum, offers the required guidance. The Indian Army’s Territorial Army (Home & Hearth) as well as the Assam Rifles which is under expansion will be ideal entities to consider for absorption. The challenge of security due to the K faction still being outside the ambit of ceasefire and its long drawn history of feuds with the IM will be a major issue of consideration.
The NDA government has shown energy, tact, decisiveness and political maturity in pursuing the talks with the NSCN-IM and convincing the latter of India’s sincerity. Of course this has been work in progress under previous interlocutors who deserve credit but RN Ravi’s presence along with the guiding hand of Mr Ajit Doval plus the deep understanding they possess has added much weight. Is it possible to have such an approach towards militancy in other parts of the country including J&K? That will take a separate analysis to answer.
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