The Naga ethno-nationalist movement that started before India’s Independence from British colonial rule took a violent turn in the early 1950s. Since then, the Government of India (GoI) signed three major ceasefire agreements with Naga armed opposition groups – with the Naga National Council (NNC) in 1964, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) in 1997, and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) in 2001.
These ceasefire agreements have many similar as well as dissimilar factors1. They drastically reduced violent outbreaks although the agreements of 1964 and 2001 did not yield solutions. The ongoing ceasefire with NSCN-IM appears to headed nowhere despite the NDA Government’s assurance in November 2014 to resolve the issue in 18 months. The abrogation of truce by NSCN-K on March 27 has added to the hurdles, though GoI officials declared otherwise2. Any wrong move at this hour from both GoI and NSCN-IM would cost the hard-earned truce dearly.
Defection, merger of different groups and emergence of new ones are not uncommon in all the cases. Most recent instances are the formation of the NSCN-R (Reformation)3, and the defection of the entire Zeliangrong and Shepoumaramth region of the NSCN-K to NSCN-R. With each passing year, the support of the people is retracting for some reasons highlighted below.
The unending talks
Political dialogue involves tedious process and demands strong political will, patience and flexibility from the negotiating parties for achieving the objectives. But prolonged negotiations for almost two decades with negligible engagement of the people they claim to represent have impelled immense apprehension and resulted in disillusionment with the process. Initial rounds of consultative meetings involved leaders of various communities, civil society organisations and churches. Such meetings were gradually discontinued. This was further aggravated by factors such as the cadres’ indiscipline, unabated taxation, and inability to reconcile with rival factions.
It can be argued that the politics of peace talks as one of the success stories of India’s security strategy towards armed opposition groups in Nagaland and Northeast India. With the signing of the ongoing truce in 1997 and the subsequent agreements with other groups, the GoI unleashed a virus for a slow death of the armed groups and erosion of their support base without pitching itself against the adversary directly.
Till the mid 1990s, swanky cars, palatial buildings and anything luxurious were invariably associated with corrupt politicians, top bureaucrats and first class contractors. A fair number of people from obscure backgrounds joined this club in the last decade.
Prolonged peace talks have created a situation for top functionaries of the armed groups, corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, contractors and businessmen to forge a strong nexus. This has led to concentration of wealth and monopoly of a few individuals over business establishments – legitimate and illegitimate – and contract works. Almost all business establishments such as hotels, resorts, educational institutions, private healthcare facilities, and major franchises are owned by a few elites. Picturesque mansions with high walls in and around Dimapur contrast with pathetic roads, poor public healthcare system and lack of other basic amenities.
Fragmentation of the armed opposition groups and burden of taxation
The Naga ethno-national movement has suffered chronically from factionalism since its nascent stage. Reasons for fragmentations range from ideological differences, tribalism and trust deficit to personal differences among the leaders. The emergence of mass-based movements such as Against Corruption and Unabated Taxation (ACAUT) in 2013, are triggered by the angst and frustration of the general public caused by multiple taxes imposed by various Naga armed groups besides rampant corruption in the state.
Many view the junking of truce by NSCN-K and the ensuing resurgence of violence as repercussions of New Delhi’s insincerity and lack of political will to resolve the problem. In the absence of any meaningful engagement and dialogue between the negotiating parties, frustration and indignation are increasing equally among the cadres in designated camps and the masses.
Immediate cascading collapse of ceasefire agreements among the Naga armed groups is not expected. However, the military response to the violence will to a large extent determine the situation in the days ahead. Post-Chandel attack, innocent civilians were tortured and subjected to illegal detention, contrary to 3 Corps Chief Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat’s assurance of “people-friendly” operations. Such incidents have evaded the attention of the mainstream media. Further, incidents like the brutal assault of five student leaders by Assam Rifles personnel in Kohima on June 8 indicates that their approach to such situation has not changed. Experiences show that high-handedness and excesses by military forces are counterproductive and help the armed groups win back sympathy and support of the people.
Need to have all stakeholders on board
The insistence of GoI to negotiate within the ambit of the Indian Constitution and the rigid stance taken by the Nagas for sovereignty led to the collapse of the 1964 ceasefire agreement. Rigidity no longer seems to threaten a settlement with the NSCN-IM, though its talks with New Delhi kicked off with sovereignty on the agenda. Neither, reportedly, is the issue of political integration of the Naga-inhabited areas of the Northeast. This indicates the bargaining power of the NSCN-IM has been thoroughly weakened.
It seems impossible at this juncture to vouch for sovereignty. This could give reasonable excuse to rival factions to repudiate any solution arrived at with the NSCN-IM. Questions will be raised for failing to even bargain for the political integration of Naga-inhabited areas, as stated in Clause 13 of the 16-Point Agreement between GoI and Naga People’s Convention in 1960. Moreover, this could have been achieved through democratic means without taking up arms. The creation of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Telengana states underscore the flexibility of the Indian Constitution to alter existing state boundaries.
At a conference of Naga Students’ Federation at Khonoma, RN Ravi, the interlocutor for Indo-Naga peace talks, said most outstanding issues have been resolved. More than 80 rounds of talks in nearly two decades without having all the stakeholders onboard contradict his claim of an “inclusive” solution to the “protracted Naga political problem”.
(K. Kokho is Assistant Professor, Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)