The incident at Oting village in Nagaland’s Mon district may have an impact on the Naga peace talks, with sources saying that the groups negotiating with the Centre may be under pressure to hold back to reflect public anger over the killing.
“This is not a Nagaland Police operation, where the state government elected by the people can be held responsible and where local police personnel would be involved. This is an Indian Army operation gone horribly wrong. It will give credence to the longstanding narrative of India versus Naga people. It goes on to strengthen the hands of insurgent groups, even if temporarily. It will require rather deft handling from the Centre, beginning with quick and visible action against those responsible,” a senior security establishment officer told The Indian Express.
While the Centre has been wooing various factions of the NSCN for long, over the past couple of years the government has managed to bring quite a few groups opposed to talks to the negotiating table. These include groups led by Khango Konyak and Niki Sumi, which were both once part of the anti-talks faction of NSCN, the NSCN-K. Sumi was in fact the military commander of NSCN-K, which is said to have considerable influence in the districts of Nagaland bordering Myanmar.
Sources said the incident will force even pro-India groups to articulate public sentiments over the issue. “Until now, only the NSCN-IM has been the stumbling block to the Naga Peace Accord from being finalised. All other Naga groups, part of Naga National Political Groups (NNPG) or otherwise, want the deal to happen as quickly as possible. However, the incident now not only gives NSCN-IM a handle to push back against India in the negotiations but also puts pressure on other groups to raise their voice,” a source from the Nagaland administration said. “Given the public anger over it, how will a pro-India Kitovi faction or such factions of NSCN-K, which have come to the negotiating table, afford to be silent? No one will risk becoming irrelevant.”
A central government source said, “If deftly handled, it won’t have much of an impact. In conflict zones, such violence, even though it has not happened for many years in Nagaland, is not a matter of great shock. Yes, some noises will be made. But most groups know what they want and negotiations will happen on that.”
To add to this, sources said, the incident is likely to be a reminder of times that people have tried to forget. “People here still remember operations of the ’50s and ’60s. Now imagine a fresh incident where the narrative of India versus Naga can be spun again,” another official said.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the NSCN-IM called it a “black day” for all Nagas and termed the incident “unprecedented in recent history”.
“The Indian security forces will never be able to wash its hands off… Notwithstanding the ongoing Indo-Naga political dialogue that has seen much fruition during the period running more than two decades, the violence against the Nagas continues unabated,” it said. It said the killing was “one of the most unfortunate incidents of the Indo-Naga ceasefire signed in 1997”.
In a strong statement, the NNPG, which comprises seven Nagaland-based insurgent groups who has so far supported the peace talks process, rescinding many of its earlier demands such as separate flag, blamed the continued implementation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1956 for such incidents. “The draconian laws in Nagaland and military atrocities over many decades have made Naga people very aware that they are not and will never be Indians,” the NNPG’s working committee said. The actions of the military has “belittled the commitments made by the Indian Prime Minister and Home Minister”, it said.
“The Indo-Naga peace talks are over. Now the Indian government needs to push through the peace process. All will depend on whether they continue to take a lukewarm approach to the problem or decide to forge ahead. If the peace process was in place, the Centre would have to repeal AFSPA from Nagaland, and such incidents then would not occur,” said NNPG working committee member G Zhimomi.
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