The peace talks between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaac-Muivah) (NSCN-IM) have hit a dead end, prompting NSCN leader Muivah to dash off a letter to the Prime Minister, asking for talks to be resumed “at the highest, that is Prime Minister’s level, without preconditions, in a third country”. In the past, former Prime Ministers P V Narasimha Rao, H D Deve Gowda and Atal Bihari Vajpayee have had direct talks with NSCN leaders abroad.
The recent overture by Niki Sumi faction of the NSCN (Khaplang) to rejoin peace talks with the government followed by the surrender of 53 insurgents of the Yung Aung faction of NSCN (Khaplang) on December 25 augurs well for the possibility of accelerating peace talks. NSCN (K) had earlier abrogated the ceasefire in 2015 when it found itself being sidelined by the government.
In his speech delivered on the eve of Nagaland’s 58th statehood day on November 30, Governor R N Ravi, who also happens to be the interlocutor for talks with NSCN (IM) leaders, in very unambiguous terms said that the demand for a separate Constitution and flag will not be accepted.
The NSCN (IM) has refused to accept Ravi as an interlocutor. In the past, he has described NSCN (IM) as “armed gangs” and asked the Nagaland CM to contain them, besides ordering all state government employees to declare if they had any relatives in the militant outfits. The recent government directive to Assam Rifles to intensify operations against the Naga groups also seems to have hit a raw nerve.
The Naga insurgency is one of the oldest in the country. After the 1975 Shillong Accord, a faction of the erstwhile Naga National Council led by Isaac Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah chose to part ways. The rank and file of the hitherto outlawed Naga Army surrendered and were inducted into the newly raised battalion of the Border Security Force (BSF). The faction opposed to the Shillong Accord went on to form the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980, with its base in the dense forests of northern Myanmar in the eastern Naga Hills. While Isaac Swu was appointed the chairman of the newly-formed outfit, Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang and Thuingaleng Muivah took on the mantle of vice-chairman and general secretary, respectively
Despite the security forces going on the offensive against the NSCN cadres, the latter went on a massive recruitment drive enhancing the strength from a modest 150 to 3,000. Pitted against their own erstwhile colleagues who had joined the BSF, the NSCN suffered heavy casualties. Nevertheless, the NSCN spread across Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
A failed assassination attempt on Isaac Swu and Muivah by Khaplang’s loyalists in April 1988 led to a split in NSCN into NSCN (Isaac-Muivah) and NSCN (Khaplang) groups. A lurking suspicion that the Isaac-Muivah were holding secret parleys with the government led to the failed attack.
The proliferation of other insurgent groups in the Northeastern region lent ideological support to the NSCN (IM). Militant outfits like the Hmar People’s Convention (HPC), the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and several others looked up to NSCN (IM) not just for basic logistics support but also for weapons and training.
Khaplang formed the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFWSEA) – a conglomerate of 11 militant outfits. After Khaplang’s death in June 2017, Khango Konyak was the natural choice to don the mantle of chairman of UNLFWSEA. He was impeached and replaced by Yung Aung as leader of NSCN(K) while Paresh Barua, the leader of United Liberation Front of Assam (Independent) (ULFA-I), assumed leadership of the UNLFWSEA.
After incessant efforts made by then PM Deve Gowda, NSCN (IM) leaders agreed to come to the negotiating table. Ceasefire was declared in August 1997 and since then the negotiations have been on, initially with Swaraj Kaushal as the interlocutor and then with K Padmanabaiah and RS Pandey. The NSCN (K), too, declared ceasefire in April 2001 but abrogated it in 2015.The Centre banned the outfit for five years which was extended by another five years on September 28 last.
With the NSCN(I) leader Isaac Swu admitted in a New Delhi Hospital in August 2015, the government hurriedly came up with a one-page Framework Agreement (FA) signed by T Muivah and N Ravi in the presence of PM Modi, which was termed as a historic end to the 60-year-old insurgency that kept the Northeast on boil. For reasons unknown, the FA was kept under wraps. Swu died on June 28, 2016.
In August this year, the NSCN (IM) divulged the contents of the original FA, while accusing Ravi of amending the document by deleting the word “new” in one sentence, thereby altering the meaning to the advantage of the government. This was not taken kindly by the NSCN (IM) leaders, who rejected Ravi as an interlocutor.
After the arrival of T Muivah in New Delhi for the talks and refusal to enter into any kind of negotiations with Ravi, the Prime Minister’s Office directed two top officials of the Intelligence Bureau to carry the talks further. With the government sticking to its stand that Nagaland will not be allowed to have its own flag and constitution, further negotiations hit a dead end.
Having abrogated Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and thus having divested the state of its flag and constitution, the Centre is in a quandary. Resumption of insurgency could prove too costly a gamble for the country. Our relationship with China is at its lowest ebb. The role of the Chinese in whipping up insurgency in the Northeast is too well-known to ignore. A permanent solution to the Naga issue will ease the tension in the Northeast, forcing the Chinese PLA to turn its back on the insurgent groups operating there.
(The writer retired as inspector general of police, CRPF)