- The deadline set by the Centre for wrapping up the Naga peace talks, October 31 has ended up.
- While the Centre’s interlocutor and now Nagaland’s Governor, R N Ravi, has stressed that some key issues remain unresolved with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN(I-M).
Rise of Naga nationalism
- The British had annexed Assam in 1826, in which they subsequently created the Naga Hills district and went on to extend its boundaries.
- The assertion of Naga nationalism, which began during British rule, has continued after Independence, and even after Nagaland became a state.
- Along the way, the unresolved issues gave rise to decades of insurgency that claimed thousands of lives, including civilians.
The Naga assertion through History
- The earliest sign of Naga resistance dates back to 1918, with the formation of the Naga Club.
- In 1929, the Club famously told the Simon Commission “to leave us alone to determine for ourselves as in ancient times”.
- In a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929, representatives of Naga tribes demanded that Nagas be left free after Independence and not be included in the Indian Union.
- Ahead of Independence, a nine-point agreement was signed between the Government of India and the Naga National Council.
- This included an experimental coexistence with India for 10 years to be reviewed at the end of that period.
- While the Nagas saw this provision as temporary, with a right to self-determination after 10 years, Naga historians say the Indian government has interpreted the “trial period’’ as accession to the Indian Union.
- In 1946, A Z Phizo formed the Naga National Council (NNC), declared Naga independence on August 14, 1947, and then, in 1951, claimed to have conducted a referendum.
- The referendum got an overwhelming majority in support of an independent Naga state.
- By the early 1950s, the NNC had taken up arms and gone underground.
- The NNC split in 1975, the breakaway group being the NSCN, which split further in later years, most prominently into the NSCN(I-M) and NSCN (Khaplang) in 1988.
What are the Naga peace talks?
- The talks seek to settle disputes that date back to colonial rule.
- The Nagas are not a single tribe, but an ethnic community that comprises several tribes who live in the state of Nagaland and its neighborhood
- One key demand of Naga groups has been a Greater Nagalim that would cover not only the state of Nagaland but parts of neighboring states, and even of Myanmar.
And how have the peace talks played out in recent years?
Before the ongoing talks, which followed a framework agreement in 2015, there were two other agreements between Naga groups and the Centre. 1975:
- A peace accord was signed in Shillong in which the NNC leadership agreed to give up arms.
- Several NNC leaders, including Isak Chishi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and S S Khaplang refused to accept the agreement and broke away to form the NSCN.
- In 1988 came another split, with Khaplang breaking away to form the NSCN(K) while Isak and Muivah headed the NSCN(I-M).
- The NSCN (I-M ) signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1997, preceded by rounds of talks since 1995.
- The key agreement was that there would be no counter-insurgency offensive against the NSCN(I-M), who in turn would not attack Indian forces.
- The NSCN (I-M) had then announced to “every citizen of Nagalim wherever they may be”, that a ceasefire agreement was entered into between India and the outfit to bring about a lasting political solution.
- In August that year, the Centre signed a framework agreement with the NSCN(I-M).
- PM Modi described it as a “historic agreement” towards settling the “oldest insurgency” in India. This set the stage for the ongoing peace talks.
- In 2017, six other Naga armed outfits under the banner of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) joined the talks.
- Today, Muivah remains the senior-most Naga rebel leader. Isak died in 2016. In the NSCN(-K), its leader Khaplang died in 2018.
What was in the framework agreement?
- The government has not yet spelled out the details in public.
- Following the agreement, the government had said in a press statement: “The Government of India recognized the unique history, culture, and position of the Nagas and their sentiments and aspirations.
- The NSCN understood and appreciated the Indian political system and governance.
- On the other hand, the NSCN(I-M) issued a statement earlier this year which said that Nagaland State does and will not represent the national decision of the Naga people.
- The statement was in opposition to the proposal for a Register of Indigenous Inhabitants of Nagaland (RIIN) in the state of Nagaland.
Where does the territorial demand currently stand?
- The accord being finalized “does not change the boundary of states; it provides autonomous Naga territorial councils for Arunachal and Manipur; a common cultural body for Nagas across states.
- It provides for specific institutions for the state’s development, integration and rehabilitation of non-state Naga militia and the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
- The map of Greater Nagalim in the NSCN(IM) vision, on the other hand, covers a 1,20,000 sq km sprawl across the Northeast and Myanmar — the area of Nagaland state itself is only 16,527 sq km, a fraction of this vision.
- Amid the anxiety this has caused among citizens in neighboring states, state governments have assured them that their respective states’ territorial integrity would not be compromised.
What are the other issues?
- The government and the NSCN(I-M) have failed to agree on issues relating to a separate Naga flag and a constitution.
- In its latest statement, the NSCN(I-M) has said it will not budge from the demand for the flag and the constitution — and that it is looking for a lasting solution.
- However, the NSCN(I-M) has adopted a procrastinating attitude to delay the settlement raising the contentious symbolic issues of separate Naga national flag and constitution.
I. Independence celebration
- The tallest leader of the Naga struggle, Dr A Z Phizo, met M K Gandhi in Delhi on July 19, 1947.
- According to Naga historians, Gandhi agreed that the Nagas would celebrate their independence a day ahead of India, on August 14, 1947.
- To this day, Nagas across Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh celebrate August 14 as Independence Day.
II. The Naga flag
- In the Naga narrative, passed down generations by word of mouth, the Naga flag was not designed by a mortal but is of divine origin.
- As Naga groups battled the Indian armed forces, the legend goes, Phizo and his closest colleagues had a vision — a rainbow, in a startlingly blue sky that had appeared after a storm.
- A woman of the Rengma tribe, one of the tribes under the Naga umbrella, was commissioned to weave the flag.
- It was hoisted for the first time in Parashen in Rengma on March 22, 1956.
- The flag has a blue background, representing the sky. A red, yellow and green rainbow arches across the centre.
- The Star of Bethlehem adorns the top left corner of the flag; Nagas are predominantly Christian.
- The flag remains a symbol of the Nagas’ struggle for over 60 years, of their religious faith, of the aspirations of the Naga people, and their identity.
- It helps bind all the different Naga tribes together.
- Outside Nagaland state, in particular, the flag continues to elucidate strong emotions of identity from Nagas.
- Inside the state, common citizens are today divided on it. Certain sections believe that with secession from the Indian Union no longer possible, the Naga flag has lost some of its relevance.
Status of secessionist tendencies
- The moderates have supported a complete inclusion in the Indian state, for access to the latter’s development project, infrastructure, and its education and health facilities.
- But a large section of the Nagas still holds dear the idea of the Naga identity and their tribal roots.
Impacts of disagreement
- The statement from the Governor’s office has given rise to speculation that the government is ready to sign a final peace agreement with other groups without the NSCN (I-M), the largest group.
- Civil society groups in Nagaland are divided in their opinion.
- Some have said the talks should be wrapped up with whatever is offered now and keep other issues open for later negotiations.
- Others believe all issues should be settled and the NSCN (I-M) should be on board, even if it takes longer than the deadline.
- The Naga struggle claimed thousands of lives over decades and devastated countless homes, all over the idea of a sovereign Naga nation.
- If the NSCN (I-M) accedes to economic and political packages alone, without a separate flag and constitution, it remains to be seen whether it will be seen as a solution, or as a defeat.