NSCN-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah), which has reopened talks with the Indian government, met last week with members of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), an umbrella organization of seven insurgent groups from Nagaland, to attempt reconciliation.
NSCN-IM, one of the largest insurgent groups in the Northeast, and the NNPGs have traditionally been rivals and have had seemingly irreconcilable differences over the Naga peace accord. As part of the peace process, they met in Kolkata on October 17-18 to “find common ground.”
There were five representatives from the NNPGs and two from the NSCN-IM in attendance at the meeting.
The Forum organized it for Naga Reconciliation (FNR), a civil society organization that has organized similar meetings between rival insurgent groups in the past. Having initiated the process in 2008, the FNR attempted to create a united front of Nagas capable of negotiating with the Indian government in anticipation of a possible Naga accord.
The NSCN-IM signed the Framework Agreement with the Indian government unilaterally, without consulting either the NNPG, the FNR or Naga civil society, despite meetings and dialogues between Naga groups.
“Many saw this as a stab in the back by the IM,” said one source.
As the Nagaland elections are rapidly approaching (the elections are scheduled for February-March next year), and the NSCN-IM has resumed negotiations with the government after a long hiatus, the FNR has resumed its activities, reaching out to rival groups last month for the first time in seven years.
“It was a very productive meeting. Tensions have existed between the groups, but we have again opened channels for dialogue, which is an important step. We have decided to set up a joint committee and have decided that from now on, the top leaders of all groups will meet regularly – including the Chairman of the IM and the Convener of the NNPG Working Committee – and that no decision regarding the accord will take place without permission from all sides,” said a leader present at the meeting.
Because the IM and the NNPGs have been on opposite sides of the Naga peace talks, this is a significant decision. The NNPGs have acquiesced to the Indian government’s position of not being able to grant sovereignty, a flag, or a separate constitution, which the NSCN-IM is strongly opposed to to this day. Although the NNPG has also agreed in principle to an accord, their conditions to the Centre have been finalized, something has not yet been accomplished with the NSCN-IM.
According to a joint statement issued following the Kolkata meeting, the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), in response to the Naga people’s desire for reconciliation and unity in purpose, met in Kolkata in a renewed spirit of commitment. As part of our commitment to chart a path forward, we have agreed to establish the Council of Naga Relationships and Cooperation…
IM and NNPG have also committed to a “shared future” rather than the “divisions of the past”.
A senior insurgent leader stated, “It is now up to the Centre to find a solution at this time.”
As an ally of the BJP, the Nagaland NDPP-NPF (now known as the United Democratic Alliance) has already pledged to contest the elections on the platform of “Election for Solution.” The Naga political dialogue has been pushed for a swift resolution. As part of their ongoing dialogue with the Centre, the chairperson of the UDA, former Nagaland chief minister T R Zeliang, accompanied seven senior members of the IM to Delhi last month.
Despite the fact that the UDA is an ally of the BJP, if the Indian government is able to provide a solution by the time of the elections, the party may well do well.
Due to Nagaland’s Christian majority and the Hindutva politics of the BJP, Nagas are wary of the party. “If they provide a solution, we have no doubt that they will be able to form the government in the state,” a leader stated.
Resolving the oldest insurgency in India
An independent Nagaland is the goal of the oldest militant movement in India, the Naga insurgency, which was started in the 1950s by 17 groups under the banner of the Naga National Council. Since then, the NNC has splintered into numerous insurgent groups, including the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) and NSCN (Khaplang). Although Indo-Naga peace talks began in the 1970s, various groups opposed the peace process, arguing for the separation of the two nations. The peace negotiations moved forward under the UPA government, with many meetings taking place abroad, including in Bangkok. A solution, however, was not found by the UPA. In the Narendra Modi administration, the talks were once again resumed with the Prime Minister’s support. August 2015 marked the signing of the Framework Agreement, within which the negotiations would take place. However, despite the conclusion of these talks, with a deadline of October 31, 2019, relations between the Centre, its interlocutor R N Ravi and the NSCN-IM continued to deteriorate, with the group digging in its heels by demanding a separate flag and constitution for Nagaland. In spite of this, the Indian government refused to accept it. A K Mishra, a former IB officer, has been serving as the interlocutor since last year, but despite this development, little progress has been made. As of last month, the talks had once again been resumed, with sources stating that the parties were determined to reach an agreement before Nagaland went to the polls in early 2019.