Recent developments in Nagaland suggest that a tenuous peace is increasingly coming under strain. A government directive earlier this month that all its officials must declare if any relative was working for underground organisations has evoked a strong reaction from the NSCN (I-M). The state government has since clarified that the directive was issued on the order of the governor, R N Ravi. The NSCN (I-M), the most powerful rebel group in the state and a signatory to the 2015 framework agreement, suspects that the government wants to reduce the Naga political cause to a law and order problem.
The framework agreement that promised a resolution of the Naga issue was hailed as “historic” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but the differences that persisted between the Centre and the rebels could not be resolved in the past five years. An indication of the stress in the peace talks was a June 16 letter from Governor Ravi to Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, in which he spoke about rampant “extortions and violence” and “armed gangs” running “parallel governments” in the state. While the state government said the assessment was not “factual”, the NSCN (I-M) described the government directive as “despicable”, “insulting” and “demeaning” and “incompatible with the spirit of Indo-Naga peace process”. The situation has turned worse after an anti-extortion squad of Nagaland Police shot an alleged member of NSCN (Khaplang) on June 23 in Kohima.
At the root of the present trouble is the perception regarding the status of rebel groups such as the NSCN (I-M) in Naga society. The rebels portray themselves as freedom fighters and believe that, as political workers, they have the right to “tax” people. Governor Ravi, who has worked tirelessly as the Centre’s interlocutor to bring peace to the state, has sought to diminish this claim and privilege the authority of the elected government over the rebels. This has the potential to delegitimise the claims of rebels, including the NSCN (I-M), in representing the Nagas in talks with the Centre. The 2015 framework agreement, which built on the 1997 ceasefire between the Centre and the NSCN (I-M), has given rise to hope that the country’s longest surviving insurgency can be settled peacefully to the satisfaction of all the stakeholders. Peace has a large constituency in Nagaland, of course. However, this constituency may have also invested in the NSCN (I-M) to represent what they believe is the “unique history, culture and position of the Nagas and their sentiments and aspirations”.