Expecting that the final Naga agreement will be signed on Thursday, Vvngam Shatsang had travelled 85 km from Imphal to his hometown Ukhrul in Manipur on Wednesday to be part of a “historic celebration”. However, neither he nor others in the hill town took to the streets to celebrate the occasion as the agreement was ‘held back’ despite claims of a ‘successful conclusion’ of the 22-year-old peace talks between insurgent group National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) and the Central government.
“I am happy but there is nothing to celebrate as of now. We don’t know what exactly is in store for the Nagas of Manipur once the agreement is signed,” Shatsang, who is a social activist, said. Requesting anonymity, a writer from Ukhrul said, “We want freedom from the existing administrative arrangements in Manipur, but at the same time, we don’t want to be a part of the so-called state of Nagaland as we will be discriminated against.” Ukhrul, which shares a border with Myanmar, is the birthplace of most of the NSCN-IM leaders, including its general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah who was the chief negotiator in peace talks.
There is curiosity but no excitement in Nagaland. As the peace talks are not transparent, issues under discussion have never been in the public domain. So, after the developments on Thursday, everyone is anxious to know what the state gets out of it. People are wondering if the final settlement will be ‘honourable,’ as desired.
Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had tweeted: “It is a historic moment and an occasion of great joy for all Nagas and the nation as a whole. Peace will now pave the way for genuine progress and true nation-building.”But in Manipur’s Imphal Valley, where the Meiteis are in a large majority, the scene stood out in stark contrast. People hit the streets in panic, triggered by worries about the state’s possible disintegration and new administrative arrangements in favour of the Nagas as a result of the accord.
The Imphal Valley has given enough signals, including an announcement in London of the state’s independence by two separatist leaders who have since been booked by Manipur Police. Their declaration was apparently a manifestation of the growing anxieties in the Valley vis-à-vis the Naga issue.
The Naga insurgency movement is the longest surviving political conflict in Asia involving multiple stakeholders and states. Given the complex nature of the protracted issue, a settlement has hung fire for decades. The stakeholders hold divergent views on some contentious issues, particularly the NSCN-IM’s demand for the creation of a unified Naga homeland, called ‘Greater Nagaland’, by integrating the Naga-inhabited areas of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal with Nagaland.
What essentially remains to be seen is as to how the Centre can have its cake and eat it too. Any decision favouring the Nagas settled in Manipur’s Hills could be contentious in the Valley as well as in ethnic Kuki areas. Similarly, a raw deal could create a flare-up in Naga areas.
The Nagas’ original demand of sovereignty has been quietly dropped by the rebel outfits. The bulk of Naga agreement is likely to be legislative measures that will impact the state of Nagaland. Some additional autonomy was obviously expected for the Naga-dominated areas of Manipur. That looks unpalatable to other groups.
In the Imphal Valley, any settlement with the Nagas has to be in consultation with its people with a promise that the territorial integrity of Manipur will remain intact. This is the bone of contention between the Valley and the Naga hills. Also, the Meiteis have already made it clear that they would oppose tooth and nail the granting of any administrative arrangement such as territorial council or regional council to the Nagas.
A third party, the Kukis, also have issues with the Nagas. Impressions of the Naga-Kuki clashes of 1990s are not just unforgotten but deliberately reinforced on both sides from time to time. Manipur — whether the hills or the Valley — is bound to be adversely affected by any outcome. The Kukis fear the Naga pact could usher in a unique administrative set-up that would affect their land and rights. The Kukis share space with the Nagas on the hills with each claiming to be the owner of the land, historically.
TROUBLE IN IMPHAL
As an NSCN-IM delegation was bargaining hard with R N Ravi, Centre’s interlocutor in Naga talks last Thursday, hundreds of people hit the streets of Imphal Valley to assert that they would oppose Manipur’s territorial disintegration. The mobilisation of troops and requisition of educational institutes for the purpose of garrisoning the personnel heightened people’s worries about the pact tilted in favour of the Nagas.
To allay the widespread fears, Chief Minister N Biren Singh took to the social media making a reference to the statement issued by the Union Home Ministry that the pact will be signed only after consultations with Manipur, Assam and Arunachal. However, an undercurrent of tension still prevails in the Valley.
As and when the final Naga settlement is signed, Nagaland is likely to the biggest beneficiary although not without the threats of power struggle and heightened fissiparous tendencies, not only among the various Naga tribes of Nagaland, but also in other states, particularly Manipur. There is a deepening rift among the tribes in Nagaland and Manipur too. The tribes of Nagaland have often accused the NSCN-IM of trying to stamp a Tangkhul hegemony.
HISTORY OF THE MOVEMENT
The first resistance by the Nagas was against colonial British rulers in 1918 when a section of educated Nagas formed the Naga Club. It aroused a sense of Naga nationalism. So in 1929, the Naga Club had submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission stating “leave us alone to determine for ourselves as in ancient times”.
NNC, a political organisation of the Nagas, was formed in 1946. It campaigned for Naga sovereignty and secession of the Naga Hills from India. Under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo, Nagas declared independence on August 14, 1947. In a referendum in 1951, ‘99%’ people backed an ‘independent Nagaland.
Army set up
In 1952, NNC’s more radical faction created the Federal Government of Nagaland that had an underground army, called Naga Federal Army. The Government of India rushed the Army to crush the movement.
As hostilities continued, the Centre signed the 16-Point Agreement with the Naga People’s Convention. This eventually led to the creation of Nagaland as a state in 1963. But the insurgency movement continued. In 1975, the Centre signed the Shillong Accord with a moderate faction of the NNC. However, another faction, led by Thuingaleng Muivah, Isak Chishi Swu and SS Khaplang, rejected it outright and kept waging a war against India. They formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980 which suffered a split in 1988. One faction (NSCN-IM) was led by Swu and Muivah and the other by Khaplang (NSCN-K), a Burmese Naga.
In 1997, the NSCN-IM received feelers from the central government for peace talks and soon, a ceasefire agreement was signed. Four years later, the NSCN-K followed suit but it unilaterally abrogated the ceasefire in 2015. Two years ago, seven other Naga rebel groups joined the peace process. The only group left out of the process now is Yung Aung faction of the NSCN whose members are mostly Nagas from Myanmar.
Over the past 22 years since the signing of the truce pact, the NSCN-IM has held over 100 rounds of peace talks with the Centre within and outside the country. One of its most contentious demands is the creation of a unified Naga homeland, called ‘Greater Nagaland’, by integrating the Naga-inhabited areas of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal with Nagaland, which has made non-Nagas of these states see red.
There has not been any reaction in Assam and Arunachal, two states where the Nagas have sizeable populations. In Assam, the Nagas are settled in the two hill districts of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao. In Arunachal, they are settled in Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts which share their borders with Myanmar.
Recently, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union said the Naga agreement should not affect Arunachal and its people in any way. The AAPSU made it clear that it would oppose any attempts to alter the state’s territorial jurisdiction or any kind of administrative intervention in the state.
Muivah is a Tangkhul Naga from Manipur’s Somdal village and the general secretary of NSCN-IM. The 85-year-old is the chief negotiator in Naga talks. The Tangkhul leaders call the shots in this largest rebel outfit of the Northeast. After completing higher education, Muivah chose to join the Naga National Council (NNC), then the only political organisation-turned-insurgent group of the Northeast in 1965 and soon, became its general secretary. When a group of NNC leaders signed the Shillong Accord of 1975, Muivah and some others denounced them as traitors and formed the NSCN to continue the secessionist movement. As an insurgent leader, he spearheaded a violent movement for Naga sovereignty. After the NSCN-IM had signed a ceasefire agreement with Central government in 1997, it was he who pitched for integrating the Nagas, settled across Manipur, Assam and Arunachal, with Nagaland through the creation of a unified Naga homeland called ‘Greater Nagaland’. The Naga movement, otherwise, had always been for sovereignty of the Nagas.
R N RAVI
The Naga talks got an impetus when Bihar-born and retired top intelligence officer R N Ravi was appointed as the Centre’s interlocutor in August 2014. The reason behind his appointment was his vast knowledge on the affairs of the Northeast. The 67-year-old is also currently serving as Nagaland governor and deputy national security advisor. He had retired as special director of the Intelligence Bureau in 2012. Earlier, he had served as the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee.
In less than a year since his appointment as the interlocutor, the Centre had signed the ‘Framework Agreement’ with the NSCN-IM on August 3, 2015, which was perceived to be the prelude to final Naga agreement. It was during his current tenure that seven other Naga rebel groups came forward to be parties to the Naga peace process.
The settlement of the Naga issue has been always on top of the agenda of Nagaland’s Neiphiu Rio government which has played the role of a “facilitator” between the Centre and the negotiating parties. When Rio first took over as Nagaland Chief Minister in 2003, he started exerting pressure on the Central government for an early, inclusive and honourable solution to the problem. He also worked hard to ensure the cessation of inter-factional hostilities that were so common among the rebel groups, particularly NSCN-IM and NSCN-K.
As a facilitator, the Rio government met various stakeholders several times seeking an end to the conflict with a settlement. It also set up of a political affairs committee for conducting consultative meetings with various tribal Hohos (bodies) and civil society organisations. The Nagaland Legislative Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution five times in 1964, 1970, 1994, 2003 and 2015, on the integration of the contiguous Naga inhabited-areas in other Northeastern states for all Nagas to live under one administrative umbrella. On three occasions, Rio was heading the government as the chief minister.
N KITOVI ZHIMOMI
That a settlement of the Naga political problem is imminent was assured when seven Naga rebel groups came together under the NNPGs to join the peace process. The man who was instrumental in reaching out to the various groups and convincing them to be a part of the process towards finding the much-cherished solution was N Kitovi Zhimomi. As the convenor of the Working Committee of the NNPGs, he had led the seven Naga rebel groups from “Nagaland” in the talks.
He favoured an early solution, saying issues that are contentious in nature could be pursued post-settlement. His statement was in the context of the stalemate on issues such as “Naga national flag” and Naga “yezabo” (constitution), raised by NSCN-IM whose leaders are Nagas from Manipur. Such stand by the NNPGs had made it easy for the Centre to tell the NSCN-IM to end the peace process within the three-month deadline of October 31. The NSCN-IM was critical of the leaders of the NNPGs saying, “They are easily manipulated when sitting across the table negotiating in the name of Naga political solution and become yes man for all practical purpose”.