August 19, 2020 3:44:10 am
The new controversy over the 2015 Framework Agreement between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM), which represents the largest faction of Naga nationalists, is a rewind to past Naga grievances — flag, sovereignty — plus one: The Naga group wants a new interlocutor. The framework agreement did not address the details of the contentious demands, and while the differences that existed on these issues between the Centre and the NSCN(IM) are well known, the NSCN(IM), with which the government has been dealing for nearly 25 years, has declared it no longer trusts the interlocutor, R N Ravi, who it has accused of altering the original framework agreement. It is pertinent that this new turn in the Naga peace process was triggered after Ravi, in his capacity as Governor of Nagaland, recently expressed concern in a letter to Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio about “armed gangs” in the state “running a parallel government” and extortion rackets. The NSCN(IM) called the letter “despicable” and incompatible with the spirit of the framework agreement.
Governor Ravi’s words appeared to reflect interlocutor Ravi’s frustration that a peace agreement that should have been wrapped up long ago — Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been keen to reach an agreement quickly — is being delayed by the NSCN(IM). The impatience has been evident from last year, when Ravi, within months of being appointed governor last July, blamed the “procrastinating attitude” of the NSCN(IM) for the delay, and for imagining elements that were not there in the framework agreement. When Ravi was appointed governor, it was welcomed by all sides as a decision that could push the framework agreement in the right direction. In hindsight, it seems it would have been better not to combine the two offices in one individual, as the two roles demand different functioning styles. From the beginning of the Naga peace process, the role of the interlocutor has been low profile, in keeping with the demands of the complex, protracted negotiations on an issue that has persisted from as far back as India’s independence. The governor, on the other hand, occupies a constitutional office, and is a public persona, and his remarks, especially if addressed to the state government, take on political meaning.
But the gains of the 25-year-old peace process are real, and too important to be frittered away in a clash of personalities. A majority of Nagas still trust Ravi as an able interlocutor. The NSCN(IM) is the largest rebel group, and a durable peace in the Northeast would be impossible without it. Both sides must show wisdom and sagacity, and step back from the war of words, so that the dialogue continues.
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