Confronting the Indian State: The Naga Peace Process

09.02.15
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World News /02 Sep 2015
09.02.15

Confronting the Indian State: The Naga Peace Process

The Naga insurgency in India has perhaps been one of the most violent movements in South Asia. In the aftermath of the recent agreement signed by the Indian government with the rebel Nagas, the leading media houses in India and abroad called it a “historic agreement,” but it is far from “historic.” The Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, and the Nagaland Chief Minister, T.R. Zeliang, have now both clarified that it was only a “framework agreement” which paves the way for a final settlement which will be worked out in New Delhi. The goal of the agreement is to end one of the longest surviving insurgency movements in India which has had an imprint on a better part of South Asia. However, there are some aspects to the agreement which are expected to sustain the Naga movement.

Brief history of the Naga movement

The seeds of discontent among the Nagas were sown during colonial times and grew to a mature tree of hatred and antagonism eventually. The Naga Hills came under British administration in 1881. The simmering discontent took an organizational form in 1918 with the formation of the Naga Club which staunchly opposed the Simon Commission in 1929. The Nagas had lived independently and had remained as an indigenous people and even today, to a great extent have, their own distinct social life, laws, customs, cultures and modes of governance. The Naga National Council (NNC) was formed under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo in 1946 to demand an independent Nagaland. As India was about to gain its independence from the British rule, the Naga National Council (NNC) on August 14, 1947 declared Nagaland an independent state. The NNC resolved to establish a sovereign Naga state and conducted a referendum in 1951 in which the majority (99%) called for an “independent” Nagaland.

As the dreams of a free Nagaland appeared to be a distant dream, given the indifference of the Indian government towards genuine Naga grievances, Phizo, formed the underground Naga Federal Government (NFG) and the Naga Federal Army (NFA) in 1956 and kick started an armed struggle in the Naga Hills.

The Naga leadership has had a history of factionalism. The major divide in the Naga leadership came in the aftermath of the signing of the Shillong Accord in 1975. The anti- accord faction parted ways from the Naga National Council (NNC) to form the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. The NSCN was further divided into two factions as a result of the terms of the territorial calculations for the proposed Naga homeland, “Nagalim.” The two emerging factions were namely NSCN (K) led by the Burmese Hemi Naga (a Naga tribe across the international Indo-Myanmar border) leader, Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang and the NSCN (I-M) led by Tangkhul Naga (a Naga tribe inhabiting mostly the Ukhrul district of Manipur) leaders Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu.

What do the Nagas want?

Although the Naga movement in 1940s and 1950s started with a demand for sovereignty, the demands have evolved and the present Naga leadership stands divided primarily on lines of their demands for a greater Naga homeland called the “Nagalim.” NSCN (K)’s idea of a greater Naga homeland or the “Nagalim” includes areas beyond the borders of the Indian nation state extending to the peripheral regions of Myanmar. While NSCN (I-M)’s idea of a greater Naga homeland includes areas with Naga habitations along and across the territorial borders of the Indian states, Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.

Speculating on the recent agreement

The range of optimism which the agreement received after its signing has faded because it was merely a “framework agreement” to decide a future course of action. An agreement has been reached with the NSCN (IM) faction which is already in discussions with the government of India as per a ceasefire agreement signed on July 25th, 1997. The NSCN (K) has renounced a ceasefire agreement which was signed earlier and is presently the most violent faction responsible for the recent ambush of the Indian Army convoy in Manipur on June 4th, 2015. Whatever the issues are that the agreement covers, speculations can be made at this point of time.

The NSCN (K)’s demand of including areas of Myanmar seems to be a distant dream as it involves altering international borders and is unrealistic. Hence, the NSCN (K) faction has avoided further discussions with New Delhi. Whatever be the provisions, the Khaplang faction will reject it and continue its armed struggle. Thus, the Accord would merely co-opt the Isak-Muivah faction and disturbances in the region are expected to continue.

Although the demand of NSCN (IM) to include areas forming part of present day Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh seems to be very much within the sovereign capacity of India, it too is contentious. Article 3 of the Indian Constitution empowers the Parliament to alter the boundaries of its states without amending the Constitution. The boundaries of its States can be altered by the Indian Parliament by a simple majority. Given the majority in the Parliament of the ruling NDA regime and the present ruling regime in Nagaland, Nagaland People’s Front, an alliance with NDA, would seem to be easy for New Delhi to resolve with a territorial reorganization in the northeastern region as it did in 1972.

But the Modi government, before resorting to any such measure, will recall the violent protests in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh that broke out every time New Delhi tried to enter into ceasefire agreements with the NSCN. It is not a very old story when the three states saw violent protests in 1997 when the peace process began with NSCN and also in 2001 and when the central government had extend the cease fire agreement with NSCN. The governments and the population at large of the three states will not accept any alteration in boundaries that is injurious to their own interests. Yet another alarming factor is the statement from the other insurgent groups in the region who have been fighting for similar gains in their respective states which sends a warning to New Delhi.

The way out

An effective way of solving the Naga issue may be to reach a non-territorial settlement of the Naga demands. The Naga inhabited areas in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh which the NSCN wishes to include into its greater Nagaland can rather be provided with greater autonomy while they still continue to remain within territorial boundaries of the respective states. Such initiatives are expected to provide the Nagas an opportunity to sustain their culture and identity even while staying within the boundaries of the other states. Certain laws in the autonomous Naga regions ensuring optimum employment opportunities and control over resources are expected to serve the Naga aspirations and keep inter-state and intra-state tensions at bay.

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