Indian government signs historic peace accord with NSCN-IM of Nagaland
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
At long last there is tunnel light in the troubled state of Nagaland in North Eastern India. With an aim of ending insurgency in Nagaland, government on August 03 signed an accord with key faction NSCN (IM), an armed rebel group, paving the way to end the country’s oldest insurgency, in the presence of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval by the outfit’s leader T Muivah and government’s interlocutor R N Ravi at the PM’s residence in Delhi. PM Modi described as a “historic” step to usher in peace in the state.
The agreement came eighteen years since 1997 when the talks had begun with the insurgent group. The signing of the pact is the culmination of over 80 rounds of negotiations that spanned 16 years with first breakthrough in 1997 when ceasefire agreement was sealed. Describing the accord as “historic”, Modi said, “Today, we mark not merely the end of a problem, but the beginning of a new future.” He added, “We will not only try to heal wounds and resolve problems, but also be your partner as you restore your pride and prestige.” Earlier, the PM had said that he would be making a landmark announcement from his official residence, 7 Race Course Road, New Delhi.
New Delhi has said it accepts the “uniqueness of the Naga history and culture” and indicated its willingness to give Nagas living outside Nagaland autonomy in governance. When PM Narendra Modi announced earlier a peace accord with the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) faction, an armed rebel group, paving the way to end the country’s oldest insurgency, the terms of the agreement were not immediately known. PM Modi is expected to make a statement regarding the matter in Parliament soon.
The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaac-Muivah) is the biggest Naga rebel group which has been maintaining the ceasefire, while another faction led by SS Khaplang continues to indulge in violence and was believed to be behind the deadly attack on army in Manipur in June that left 18 soldiers dead and 18 injured. Muivah said the government and Nagas were entering a “new relationship” but added that “beginning from now, challenges will be great.” Muivah appreciated Modi’s “vision” and “wisdom” and said Nagas “can be trustworthy”. He mentioned that the peace moves were first initiated by the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao when the outfit gave a commitment about ceasefire. Then the outfit leaders had held talks with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001.
Despite the government-brokered ceasefire with NSCN (IM) in 1997 and NSCN (K) in 2001, the Naga insurgent groups continued to indulge in inter-factional killings and targeting of security forces outside Nagaland where the ceasefire does not exist. Rampant corruption, collection of taxes, levies and extortion had added to the woes of the common people in Nagaland and Manipur. 19 other top Naga leaders from different groups and civil society organisations were also present at the function to sign the accord.
Announcing the settlement in a special address to the nation, PM Modi said, “Today is historic, a golden moment, when they quit weapons and join the mainstream. I welcome them”. Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of the NSCN-IM, who was there along with home minister Rajnath Singh and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, thanked PM Modi. “The Nagas will forever remember you for your statesmanship,” he said, adding, “Under Modi we have come close to understanding each other and have worked out a new relation.”
Before the agreement was signed, Modi spoke to leaders of various parties including former PM Manmohan Singh, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, BSP’s Mayawati, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury. He also spoke to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her Tamil Nadu counterpart J Jayalalithaa besides the Nagaland Governor Padmanabha Acharya and Chief Minister T R Zeliang. He also called up DMK leader M Karunanidhi and JD(S) leader H D Deve Gowda.
PM Modi said at the signing ceremony: “Today s agreement is a shining example of what we can achieve when we deal with each other in a spirit of equality and respect, trust and confidence; when we seek to understand concerns and try to address aspirations; when we leave the path of dispute and take the high road of dialogue. It is a lesson and an inspiration in our troubled world”. Terming the six-decade-old Naga problem as a contribution of the colonial rule, he said, it is one of the tragedies of Independent India that “we have lived with this legacy.” He said there were not many like Mahatma Gandhi, “who loved the Naga people and sensitive to their sentiments. We have continued to look at each other through the prism of false perceptions and old prejudices.”
The Naga political issue had lingered for six decades, taking a huge toll on generations of “our people” Modi said in an apparent reference to the violence which has claimed over 3000 lives since Independence. Modi said the problem was a “legacy of the British Rule” and “the colonial rulers had, by design, kept the Nagas isolated and insulated.” The negative ideas were also spread about the rest of India amongst Naga people. “This was part of the well known policy of divide and rule of the colonial rulers,” he said. He said he had the “deepest admiration for the great Naga people for their extraordinary support to the peace efforts” and complimented the NSCN (IM) for maintaining the ceasefire agreement for nearly two decades, with a sense of honour that defines the great Naga people.
The Prime Minister said that since assuming office last year, peace, security and economic transformation of North East has been amongst his “highest priorities. It is also at the heart of my foreign policy, especially the Act East Policy.” He said he had personally kept in touch with the progress of the negotiations with NSCN (IM). 79-year-old Muivah has been at the forefront of the negotiations with the government.
The Naga insurgency is six decades old. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), one of the several separatist groups in the north-east, has been fighting for an independent, ethnic Naga homeland uniting parts of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and areas of Myanmar, with which it shares a border.
The NSCN-IM formed in January 1980. The founders, Isak Chisi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and SS Khaplang had created the group to oppose the Naga National Council’s decision to accept the Indian Constitution. They were against the Shillong Accord of November 1975 which was signed by Angami Zapu Phizo’s Naga National Council. The objective of the group was to create a sovereign nation ‘Naglim’ which would have all regions in the Northeast and Myanmar that are inhabited by the Naga tribes. The group follows Mao Zedong’s ideology and Christianity with the underlying principle of socialism for economic development and a spiritual outlook – ‘Nagaland for Christ’.
The faction NSCN-IM, which came to be known as the ‘mother of all insurgencies’, split between two clans in the group. In April 1988, Khaplang leading the Konvaks clan announced the formation of NSCN-K after making an unsuccessful attempt on Muivah’s life. Khaplang now heads the recently-floated United National Liberation Front of Western South-East Asia, an umbrella group of five more rebel outfits from northeastern region, including ULFA, PLA and NDFB(S). NSCN-K, along with a few Manipuri outfits, was responsible for the killing of 18 army men in Chandel district of Manipur on June. The NSCN-IM was created by Tangkhul clan under its leaders Isak and Muivah. Both NSCN-IM and NSCN-K have been accusing each other of working for the government of India.
The group reportedly runs a parallel government in regions which it controls. The regions include several districts in Nagaland as well as neighbouring Assam, Arunachal Pradesh. The leaders and members have lived or traveled to countries like China, Pakistan and Thailand. The group reportedly has support from the Naga community in Thailand. The group has reportedly reached out to UN Human Rights Organisations in Geneva, Unrepresented Nations People’s Organisation (UNPO) at The Hague and the UN Working Group on Indigenous People (UNWGIP).
NSCN-IM agreed to a ceasefire in 1997 which led to the beginning of the peace process with the Indian government. However the process ran into a hurdle when the group demanded for a separate flag and its demand to get all Naga-inhabited areas under one administrative umbrella.
In 2011, Chairman Isak Chishi Swu accepted an Indian passport on his return from Bangkok, Thailand, encouraging the peace process. In June 2015, the group offered to assist Centre to take down its rival NSCN-K. It had expressed its desire to help security forces hunt down its arch rival NSCN-K rebels, who killed 18 soldiers in Manipur in June, 2015. The Centre was turned down the offer saying it was capable of dealing with the NSCN-K.
A five-point resolution was passed by the Nagaland legislative assembly on July 27, which also included “integration of all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas”, reports The Hindustan Times. This was unanimously supported by the representatives of Naga civil society. Other resolutions which were passed were the resumption of ceasefire between New Delhi and NSCN-Khaplang and removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1958 from Nagaland. The NSCN-K in March 27, 2015, walked out of the peace process that was signed in April 2001 this year. The resolution has caused worry among Nagaland’s neighbours Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur as over the “integrating Naga-inhabited areas”. The resolution has evoked a feeling of threat to the states’ territorial integrity. Violent protests have followed the Nagaland’s demand. In Manipur a mob had set fire to the state assembly in 2001.
The key demand for Greater Nagalim – as it was called — was a major stumbling block for any agreement. “Integration was not possible and there will be territorial boundaries of the any state, a senior official said, adding, “Naga leadership and New Delhi had shown pragmatism in appreciating each other’s compulsions.” “Integration isn’t part of this agreement,” he added New Delhi, which has been in talks with NSCM-IM since 1997, indicated that it was willing to consider that the Autonomous Hill Councils to give Nagas outside Nagaland a greater say in deciding their immediate governance. The NSCN-K, the breakaway faction of the NSCN, however, was not part of the settlement. The faction, which broke away in 1998, is believed to have been behind the attack on an Army convoy in June, in which 18 soldiers died.
It was, however, not immediately clear whether the agreement meets the main demand of NSCN (IM) for integration of all Naga-inhabited areas in the North East across Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. Details and execution plan within this framework agreement will be released shortly, official sources said after the accord in which Doval played the central role. However, under the broad framework of the peace settlement, the sources said, the Naga leadership has given up its demand for integration of the Naga inhabited areas under one administration, and has also accepted the primacy of the Indian Constitution.