Opinion | Can Ravi in his new avatar bolster naga peace talks?3 min read . Updated: 25 Jul 2019, 12:13 AM IST
Ravi has met nearly every major interest group that forms the loci of Naga peace process
The announcement on 20 July of R.N. Ravi taking over as the next governor of Nagaland leaves interesting possibilities on the chessboard that is the process of peace, formal reconciliation and rehabilitation of various Naga rebel groups. Ravi was the interlocutor for peace talks with National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN (I-M), the largest Naga rebel group; a collective of six smaller rebel groups; and a major breakaway faction of NSCN’s Khaplang, or K, faction. Besides, he was chair of the joint intelligence committee, and was last year re-designated deputy national security adviser.
To my mind, Ravi the governor will remain Ravi the driving force of the Naga peace process. Let’s take a brief look at the man and the systemic method the peace process is.
For someone who has been in the security establishment as long as Ravi has, he’s a curious piece of work. He isn’t known to be heavy-handed. He’s polite to a default. In the Naga theatre he has attempted to gain the trust of rebels, politicians and what is strangely known as civil society—an arena generally beset by political opportunism, locally as well as from New Delhi.
He is also remarkable for having been among the rare few serving government officials to have highlighted how the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, or Afspa, was counterproductive. This was in 2009. Ravi was then additional director with the Intelligence Bureau in Shillong, and backed the statement of R.S. Mooshahary, the governor of Meghalaya—who had earlier headed the elite National Security Guard and the Border Security Force. Ravi maintained this approach after retirement. His speeches, statements and media writing on jettisoning Afspa and clinically adopting a hearts-and-minds approach—refreshingly dovish—were widely disseminated.This aspect of his public life was locked away in 2014 with his appointment as interlocutor for talks with NSCN (I-M). In August the following year, he fronted an agreement that was as much photo-op as opportunity when, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he signed a so-called framework agreement for peace with I-M boss Thuingaleng Muivah. That it was only a first step in a tortuous process quickly became evident. The agreement was only with one among several Naga rebel groups, and left out both Nagaland’s politicians and citizenry. It also left out, to their great discomfort, non-Naga citizens of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, states with which Nagaland shares contiguous Naga homelands—and which remain suspicious at the possibility that territorial boundaries of the states will be jostled by a Naga peace deal. In the four years since his appointment as interlocutor, an increasingly aware Ravi, backed by increasingly aware establishment in Delhi, attempted to assure all stakeholders that disruption wasn’t on the agenda.
Alongside negotiations with I-M, India’s security apparatus broadened its ambit. Realizing it was pointless to work only with I-M, 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, as this column noted in March, the split was leveraged by Indian and Myanmarese governments. The disarray is now arrayed as an opportunity for composite dialogue and comprehensive finish. As Ravi in his interlocutor-avatar told a Naga insider a couple of years ago, “I have a job to do".
Ravi has probably brought the process as far as he can as an across-the-table negotiator. Another person appointed in his place can tick off the meeting-minutes as policy grinds to completion. As new governor, Ravi will be well-placed for a statesman-like role. Ravi knows all sides. He has met nearly every major interest group across four states that form the loci of the Naga peace process. He also knows most of the moves. I’d watch that space.
This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights and runs on Thursdays.