There can be no solution with just NSCN (I-M), even though the framework agreement was signed with much fanfare, with the prime minister and home minister present, only with that group
The announcement of elections to the Lok Sabha over April and May has pretty much ensured that the so-called Naga framework agreement for peace remains without a solution for some time.
This column has consistently held that there was nothing “imminent" about the deal to make a deal that was signed on 3 August 2015, between the government of India and National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN (I-M), the largest Naga rebel group. The assessment was—and remains—based on issues that remain unresolved. Indeed, recent interactions that the government’s interlocutor for Naga peace talks, and deputy national security adviser R.N. Ravi had with a joint legislators’ forum, and the legislator’s other interactions, have reconfirmed several of the points first made in this column.
A breakfast meeting on 27 February at the state banquet hall in Kohima, attended by Ravi and several members of the forum, including chief minister Neiphiu Rio, the deputy chief minister, speaker and leader of the opposition T.R. Zeliang, had its share of blunt talk. Ravi provided an update of what he described as a “situation of peace without a solution"—to the legislators, primarily from Rio’s ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that is in coalition with Rio’s party, and the opposition Naga Peoples’ Front.
The first point was that there can be no solution with just NSCN (I-M), even though the framework agreement was signed with much fanfare, with the prime minister and home minister present, only with that group. Even though inclusion seemed to be the obvious route, a need for political grandstanding left out several factions. I’ve maintained that NSCN’s Khaplang faction, for instance, broke ceasefire with the government in early January 2015, as much on account of the internal dynamics of the Myanmar-based group, as on the indications that the government would imminently strike a deal with its arch rivals.
The governments of Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam—these last three have contiguous Naga homelands—were also left out of the loop. Naga citizenry were largely excluded. This column was harsh on those points, and about the confusion and even panic for nearly two years created by this lack of transparency about the so-called deal with I-M.
That disastrous fallout was partially recouped when the government finally reached out to six other and smaller, rebel groups in 2017, and formally brought them onto a parallel negotiating platform in September that year. A major split in NSCN (K) in 2018 brought an expelled leader, Khango Konyak, to talk peace and reconciliation. That group’s Myanmar-based component is on the run after attacks by Myanmar’s army—a sure sign the split was leveraged by Indian and Myanmarese governments.
Cloak-and-dagger aside, at one time in the negotiations—so goes the story—when I-M insisted they would “deal" with other factions, Ravi evidently pointed out that, a military option against other factions wasn’t the answer for I-M to maintain its primacy in peace negotiations. Such a course could be balanced by the government also using the military option—but that would be utterly regressive and lead to a downward spiral, and possibly reignite a conflict that nobody really wants anymore.
And, people—the so-called civil society—too had to be brought on board. The inclusionary messaging to I-M was on the lines of: If you ignore the voice of the people you may have an agreement, but Nagas will not have peace. Another message that went out was that, as I-M could not be realistically expected to bring those factions on board, after two decades of faction-fights (and territorial and ego disputes), the government was the only entity to reach out to every concerned group of rebels and citizens, and work every possible track of diplomacy and negotiation. Ravi as the key talking head, as it were, for negotiations with all groups, could weave in various strands. In a future column I hope to discuss what can upset this applecart, including New Delhi-based politicians with scant understanding of Naga history, politics and aspiration.