On January 25, Rh Raising, the steering committee leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah faction) and the second-in-command after general secretary Th Muivah, gave a rousing speech at the joint council meeting of the outfit at its Camp Hebron headquarters. “When we say solution, we don’t an mean election… Election is the anti-thesis of solution. Solution is about the future of the Nagas, whereas election is about the Indian Constitution. Solution is about the unique history, culture and identity of the Nagas, whereas election is about India. Solution is about the land of the Nagas, whereas election is about Indian territory. Solution is about the principle of self-reliance, whereas election is about dependence on others. Solution means Naga people will be the epicentre of Naga politics, whereas election means Delhi will be the high command of Naga politics.”
Raising then went on to equate election with slavery, saying, “Let us therefore decide whether we choose solution or election… freedom or slavery…”
In New Delhi, no statements were issued after this speech; only a studied silence.
Though a big section of people — NSCN(IM), civil society organisations, the apex tribal body of Naga Hohos, women’s groups and political parties — had demanded the postponement of elections to the Nagaland Assembly unless a “final peace settlement” is reached, most of them have since backed down and agreed to contest. The NSCN(IM), however, is sticking to its boycott call.
These contradictions seemed to have been laid to rest on August 3, 2015, when the Government of India and the NSCN(IM) signed a ‘Framework Agreement’ on the longstanding Naga problem. People rejoiced, civil society groups and traditional tribal bodies congratulated the two sides, and all looked forward to the beginning of a new era in the Naga Hills.
But a little less than three years later, with Nagaland scheduled to hold elections to its state Assembly on February 27, the unsettled agreement of 2015 has come back to haunt the state and its politics.
Three years is not a long time in a protracted insurgency that has its origins in the 19th Century — the British annexed Assam in 1826, and in 1881, the Naga Hills became part of British India. After Independence, the demand has taken on many forms, first in the form of “independence” from the Indian Union to the present demand for a ‘Greater Nagalim’ state that will be carved out of contiguous Naga-inhabited areas.
Neither the Centre nor the NSCN(IM) has yet disclosed the contents of the Framework Agreement. Last Wednesday, while in Shillong, Congress president Rahul Gandhi claimed that even the Union Home Minister, who was present during the signing of the Agreement on August 3, 2015, was not aware of its contents. “A day after the Agreement was signed, Prime Minister Modi called up the then Congress president (Sonia Gandhi) and informed her that the government had signed an agreement with the NSCN(IM). The Congress president in turn asked me to find out if the (then) three Congress chief ministers of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur were consulted on this. On calling them up (Tarun Gogoi, Nabam Tuki and Okram Ibobi Singh), I found out that they were not. They tried to find out from the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs), which didn’t know either. The three then tried to find out from the home minister. He too said he was not aware of the contents,” Rahul Gandhi said in an interaction in Shillong.
Reacting to such criticism, officials in the Union Home Ministry, who continue to be tight-lipped about the Framework Agreement, say peace talks are long-drawn processes and can’t be tied to elections. In November last year, R N Ravi, a Kerala-cadre IPS officer who had been appointed as new interlocutor for Naga talks in June 2014, told a parliamentary panel that the Naga peace talks were ongoing and no deadline could be fixed for a final agreement.
The Centre is aware that any agreement will have repercussions across the region. The fear stems from the map of ‘Greater Nagalim’ that the NSCN(IM) has been displaying, one that covers sizeable portions of Naga territories in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, besides a large tract of Myanmar. Such a ‘Greater Nagalim’ would cover 1,20,000 sq km; Nagaland presently has 16,527 sq km. The Nagaland Assembly has endorsed the ‘Greater Nagalim’ demand — “Integration of all Naga-inhabited contiguous areas under one administrative umbrella” — as many as five times: in December 1964, August 1970, September 1994, December 2003 and on July 27, 2015.
Only two weeks ago, two persons were killed in police firing in Assam’s Dima Hasao district following protests triggered off by the utterances of an ‘RSS leader’ (whom the outfit has since disowned) that the Assam district would be part of the Naga solution. Similarly, in June 2001, Manipur had witnessed massive violence when the Centre first signed a ‘ceasefire’ with the NSCN(IM). On June 18 that year, protesters had set the Manipur Assembly on fire and 18 people had died in the police firing that followed.
One of the contentious issues in the Framework Agreement was on making Nagas owners of their own land and resources. Another hitch is the NSCN’s demand for a joint military grouping, which is to be supported by the Indian Army and the NSCN(IM)’s military wing, the ‘Naga Army’.
Despite these hurdles, he says, there have been positives. “The main achievement of the peace talks has been cessation of hostilities between NSCN(IM) and security forces. The level of violence in Nagaland has come down substantially. The talks have also helped both parties understand and appreciate each other`s point of view and create a conducive environment for a final solution,” he told The Sunday Express.
Veteran peace activist Niketu Iralu says the current crisis won’t lead Nagas anywhere. “The solution will definitely be within the framework of the Indian Constitution. As a peace worker, I would suggest that the Nagas work to heal relationships within our society. If relations are damaged, as they are now, we will not be able to face challenges coming from outside,” he says.
Back in Delhi, a former Intelligence Bureau chief who has handled negotiations with the NSCN (IM) says, “It is not right on the part of Naga groups to blackmail the Centre. Elections in the state is a constitutional requirement and a few groups in the state cannot deprive citizens to participate in the democratic process.”