PM Narendra Modi announces historic peace deal with Naga insurgents

It was not immediately clear whether the agreement meets the main demand of NSCN(IM) for integration of all Naga-inhabited areas in the North East across Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.

Written by Amitabh Sinha , Praveen Swami | New Delhi | Updated: August 4, 2015 11:59 am
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s peace deal with Nagaland insurgents which he announced Monday rests on a breakthrough formula which does not involve redrawing the state’s borders, highly placed government sources have told The Indian Express.

Read: How Atal Bihari Vajpayee won Naga hearts

Instead, the sources said, the deal involves creating a mechanism which would create institutions allowing autonomy to Naga tribes living across the border in Manipur — a significant climbdown by insurgent leaders.

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In addition, the sources said, negotiators had agreed to set up a mechanism to discuss decommissioning of arms now held by the NSCN (IM), the National Socialist Council of Nagaland’s Thuingaleng Muviah and Isak Chisi Swu-led faction, the largest of the Naga insurgent groups. The group had been arguing in talks that it needed to retain its weapons to ward off attacks from rival NSCN factions led by Myanmar-based SS Khaplang and Khole Konyak.

Modi said the agreement did not just mark the end of a problem, but the “beginning of a new future.” He said: “We will not only try to heal wounds and resolve problems, but also be your partner as you restore your pride and prestige. Today’s agreement is a shining example of what we can achieve when we deal with each other in a spirit of equality and respect, trust and confidence; when we seek to understand concerns and try to address aspirations; when we leave the path of dispute and take the high road of dialogue”.

Read: Towards accord, step by step

R N Ravi, Modi’s negotiator for the Naga peace talks, said “the agreement will restore the pride of the Naga people and their dignity. Their linguistic traditions will also be promoted. It is only because of misunderstandings that we have been fighting”.

Video: Significance of Modi Government’s Peace Accord With Nagaland Insurgent Group (app users click here to watch)

Government officials, however, underlined that the agreement was a framework, with many details still to be hammered out. “This deal is without doubt a breakthrough”, said an official involved in the negotiations, “but ensuring it delivers a historic closure to the Naga insurgency will rest on how nimble we are in addressing the many problems that will surface in coming months, especially challenges from rival insurgents”.

Read: Chronicles of conflict and (attempted) peace

Though the text of the agreement remained confidential, with officials saying it would be placed in Parliament before being made public, the Prime Minister is understood to have discussed it with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, and even J Jayalalithaa, M Karunanidhi and Sharad Pawar.

Muivah, who signed the agreement on behalf of NSCN (IM), said the Nagas were entering into a “new relationship” with the government. “Beginning from now, challenges will be great,” he said.

In a statement issued later, he said that “better understanding” had been arrived at and a “framework agreement has been concluded basing on the unique history and position of the Nagas and recognising the universal principle that in a democracy sovereignty lies with the people.”

Though New Delhi has been engaged in a ceasefire with the NSCN (IM) since 1997, there was little forward movement on a political settlement. The NSCN (IM) leadership, made up of Tangkhul Nagas from Manipur’s Ukhrul district, insisted that the area be included in a wider pan-Naga entity they called Nagalim — in political terms, a precondition to giving leaders like Muviah a change of holding power in the entire state.

Ravi, sources said, had held extensive meetings with political leaders and civil society groups in Manipur, where there has been fear that Naga-majority parts of its territory would be ceded to Nagaland in a peace deal. In 2001, tens of thousands of angry protestors burned down the Manipur assembly after the extension of the ceasefire with Naga insurgents, which went into force in 1997.

The agreement, sources said, marked a personal triumph for Ravi, handpicked as the government’s interlocutor on the North-East by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, over objections by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Ravi, a former Intelligence Bureau veteran, served for decades in the north-east states. Interestingly, Ravi’s published work suggests he started off as a sceptic on a peace deal with the NSCN-IM.

In a 2014 article, written soon after his retirement from office, he argued that the “ceasefire with the NSCN (I-M) has resulted in the retreat of the state from the crucial areas of governance and subversion of democratic politics. It is undoing the political and social gains achieved since the creation of the Nagaland State that has been rendered tentative in its aftermath”. He attacked New Delhi’s “abiding faith in the peace process with the NSCN (IM), quintessentially an entity of Tangkhul tribes of Manipur, having little resonance with other Nagas notwithstanding its pan-Naga rhetoric.”

However, a source familiar with the negotiations said, Ravi’s position changed in the course of multiple consultations he held with civil society groups in Nagaland, with New Delhi coming to the conclusion that an agreement with NSCN (IM) was key towards enhancing democratisation.

The foundations for the agreement were laid in October, 2012, when — as first reported by The Indian Express — the NSCN (IM) agreed, in writing, to accept the Indian Constitution. This meant that it had dropped its decades-long demand for a separate country for the Naga people.

Following this, the sources said, RS Pandey, the government’s then-negotiator, suggested a deal not involving a contentious redrawing of state boundaries in November, 2013. However, the NSCN (IM) had insisted on the transfer of Naga-dominated areas of the districts of Tamenlong, Senapati, Ukhrul and Chandel in Manipur.

Events since then may have pushed the NSCN (IM) to settle for a deal short of its Nagalim demand. In December that year, Sumi Naga tribals armed with spears, machetes and shotguns forced the NSCN (IM) to evacuate a camp at Mukalimi in Nagaland’s Zunheboto, burning down down huts, offices and vehicles. NSCN (IM) officials reportedly had to be rescued by Indian Army troops from the mob’s wrath, sparked off by the alleged sexual harassment of two women.

Earlier that year, protests against proposed reservations for Manipur-based Naga tribes living in Nagaland pitted the newly-formed Naga Tribal Alliance, against the NSCN-IM backed Naga Hoho, which claims to speak for the entire tribe. There have also been protests against the NSCN-IM’s parallel taxation structure, used to fund the insurgent group, which places levies salaries, businesses and contractors.

Modi promised the agreement would lay the future for a new Nagaland. “You will not only build a bright future for Nagaland”, he said, “but your talents, traditions and efforts will also contribute to making the nation stronger, more secure, more inclusive and more prosperous. You are also the guardians of our eastern frontiers and our gateway to the world beyond”.

“It is one of the tragedies of Independent India that we have lived with this legacy. There were not many like Mahatma Gandhi, who loved the Naga people and was sensitive to their sentiments”, he said.