On 14 August, a day before India celebrates Independence Day, Naga rebel armies will celebrate Naga independence, first declared by a council of leaders in 1947. In Camp Hebron, the hea-dquarters of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) near Dimapur, the flag of an intended sovereign Nagaland will fly.

The flag has a light-blue background with three ribbons of red, yellow and green curving from the mid-section at the left and arcing up to the right. A white six-pointed Star of Bethlehem—a bizarre mix of the group’s socialist roots and a call of “Nagaland for Christ"—is at the top left corner of the flag.

Soldiers, Naga women and men in combat gear will march past a grandstand. NSCN (IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah will be present with senior colleagues, his right hand raised in salute. He will give a speech.

Many will be watching. Many will be listening.

Because more than a show of force, this will be a day for hard-selling the framework agreement for peace Muivah—a Tangkhul Naga from the village of Somdal in Manipur’s Ukhrul district—signed with the Government of India in New Delhi on 3 August. Besides whatever the Government of India will have to do to make the framework agreement translate into a code for peace, NSCN (IM)’s outreach for peace and reconciliation will need to be as sincere. It’s either that, or bust.

I have for long maintained that the Government of India’s leadership should have the courage to apologize for its past mistakes. Surely a strong Indian leader—and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is certainly politically stronger than his predecessor—will not display weakness, but confidence, generosity and respect for renewal, to apologize for the terrible policies of alienation and mandated atrocities in north-east India?

While Modi will create positive, curative history with such an overture, Muivah would too. With NSCN (IM) chairman Isak Chishi Swu—a Sema Naga from the Zunheboto region north of Nagaland’s capital Kohima—ill and incapacitated, it falls upon Muivah to play peacemaker not only with the government, but several other belligerent or aggrieved communities. These include other Naga rebel factions; Nagas as a whole weary of factional bloodletting, and a parallel government and system of enforced taxation run by NSCN (IM) and other factions; ethnic groups such as the Kukis in Manipur against whom NSCN (IM) initiated brutal attacks for territory in the early 1990s; and the majority Meiteis of Manipur who view NSCN (IM) as seeking to break away large Naga homelands in that state. There is decades of bad blood to clean up.

Muivah set a conciliatory tone on his arrival in Dimapur from New Delhi on 12 August. At a civic reception at the airport attended by representatives of influential tribal organizations, or Hoho, and the Naga Students’ Federation, Muivah spoke of “peaceful coexistence" with India, and a future in which Nagas would not be “under" India and yet not “totally separated".

He reached out to other Naga nationalist factions, though not by name. His implied message to NSCN (Khaplang)—and offshoots such as NSCN (Khole-Kitovi) and others with which NSCN (IM) has fought pitched battles for ideology, personnel, territory and revenue—was conciliatory. “…No matter what, the past is past," Muivah offered. “The best time is today… Before god and before man, we will forgive each other."

This is brilliant conciliatory talk. Ensuring peace can come only when all Naga factions are on board—or at least convinced, through diplomacy and political and public pressure, to not unsettle the
3 August agreement that is exclusively between the Government of India and NSCN (IM), the largest faction. It’s tricky, with the Government of India and NSCN (Khaplang) at war, but Naga non-governmental organizations are already at work to effect a truce.

The Kukis want an outright apology from NSCN (IM)—leaders of Kuki Inpi Manipur, the apex organization in that state, told me as much. Others in Manipur, and in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, which too have Naga homelands, need reassuring.

Closer home, Muivah will need to rein in leaders within NSCN (IM) who may take exception to the current peace process—as have other Naga nationalists in the past, after peace deals in 1960 and 1975. Muivah should know. Swu, Muivah and S.S. Khaplang formed NSCN in 1980 after they disagreed with the terms of the 1975 Shillong Peace Accord.

It’s complicated. But Muivah could—and should—open more doors on 14 August. Because, while Nagaland for Christ is a done deal, Nagaland for peace is not.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s latest book is Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business. His previous books include Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays.

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