Mainstream, VOL LIII No 36, August 29, 2015
The Naga Peace Accord 2015: A Step in the Right Direction
Monday 31 August 2015
by M.R. Biju
The word “Naga” denotes a conglomeration of ethnic tribes living on the Himalayan range in North-East India. Angami, Ao, Chakesang, Konyak, Tangshang (formerly known as Heimi, Pangmi, Tangsa, Wancho, Nocte), Lotha, Pochury, Rengma, Sumi, Maram Mao, Tangkhul Thangal, Sangtam, Poumai, Zeliangrong, Phom, Nocte, Maring, etc. are some important sub-tribes of Naga. They are not to be confused with the Hindu Nagas (Sadhus). It is the British who brought the several tribes on these hills under the umbrella of “Naga” probably on the basis of ethnicity founded on their dissimilarity with people in the region. The origin of the Naga struggle is traced back to the founding of the Naga Club in Kohima in 1918 by a group of educated Nagas. They submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission to exclude the Nagas from any constitutional framework of India.
With the coming of Angami Zapu Phizo, popularly called Phizo, the Naga Movement gained momen-tum in the late 1940s. Phizo along with some other prominent leaders fought on the side of the Indian National Army (of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose) under the Japanese command against the Allied Force with the hope of attaining freedom. The Naga Club later became the Naga National Council (NNC) in 1946, the precursor of the NSCN to voice for Naga freedom. Disappointed by the policy frameworks of the Indian National Congress, they went underground and started engaging in guerrilla warfare against the Indian security forces.
The NNC under Phizo’s leadership declared the independence of Nagaland on August 14, 1947. It was greeted with great euphoria which echoed all over the Naga hills. Phizo was arrested in 1948 by the Indian Government on charges of rebellion. On his release, Phizo was made the President of the NNC in 1950. In 1952, he met Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, to chalk out the pathway for Nagas’ independence. The meeting was unsuccessful with both the parties remaining steadfast in their viewpoints and demands. The Indian Army then marched in to suppress the rebellion and track down Phizo. However, Phizo managed to escape to East Pakistan and from there to London, where he remained in exile till his death in 1990. The armed rebellion, led by a section of the NNC leaders, continued. An agree-ment was reached by the Indian Government and NNC in the year 1975. This came to be known as the Shillong Accord, which some leaders in the NNC, including Isak Chishi Swu, Th Muivah and Khaplang, called total betrayal. This led to the formation of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland or the NSCN in the late 1970s under the leadership of Isak Chishi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and Khaplang. It started an underground Naga Federal Government having both civil and military wings. It again split into two factions in the late 1980s: the NSCN-IM and the NSCN-Khaplang.
Formation of NSCN
On April 6, 2015 a new faction—NSCN-Refor-mation—was formed. Y. Wangtin Konyak and P. Tikhak officially announced the formation of a new Naga political group going by the name ‘National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Reformation’ or NSCN-R. The decision came after Wangtin Konyak, a senior Minster (Kilonser) and personal secretary to Khaplang, and Tikhak, the spokesperson of the outfit, were expelled by Khaplang after misunderstandings arose over the abrogation of ceasefire with the Government of India. The duo wanted to continue with the ceasefire maintaining that “violence has never served a good purpose and the Naga political problem can only be resolved through peace and negotiations” while Khaplang had it abrogated because the “14 years of ceasefire between NSCN (K) and India has become a mockery and futile exercise”. The primary agenda of the new NSCN-R was to to “develop a sense of brotherhood among the Naga family and to rebuild the trust and faith among the Naga society”.
Over the years, the NSCN-IM has tried to develop extensive linkages both within and outside India. It is alleged that Pakistan and China are providing finance as well as arms and ammunition to the NSCN in their fight for independence against the Indian Government. The group was previously backed by India’s intelligence agencies in order to weaken the main Naga insurgency. It is believed that the NSCN patronised smaller extremist outfits in the North-East of India by giving warfare and intelligence trainings and providing logistics for waging war against India. The government in India’s North-Eastern State of Tripura says it has evidence that the State’s Baptist Church is involved in backing the separatist rebels. The outfit has also opened up contacts with international organisations like the UN Human Rights Organisation in Geneva, Unrepresented Nations People’s Organisation (UNPO) at the Hague and the UN Working Group on Indigenous People (UNWGIP).
China too is instrumental in providing training and arms; this was revealed after the arrest of the top NSCN-IM leader, Anthony Shimray. After his arrest by the Indian intelligence agencies he also revealed that he was tasked by the Chinese intelligence agencies to collect and gather intelligence on Indian troop deployments in the North-Eastern States of India. Further, it is also alleged that the NSCN is the major faction that helps many other minor militant outfits in the North-East and is widely accepted as the main reason of continued insurgency in the North-Eastern States of the Indian Republic.
Objectives, Operation and Leadership of the NSCN
The objective of the NSCN was to establish a Sovereign State by unifying all the Naga-inhabited areas in the North-East of India and Northern Burma which the organisation and the people of the area proposed as Nagalim. Unification of all Naga tribes under one adminis-tration and ‘liberating’ Nagalim from India is listed as one of the supposed main objectives of the organisation. Its manifesto is based on the principle of Socialism for economic development and a Baptist Christian religious outlook. In some of their documents the NSCN has called for recognising only the Baptist religion in Nagalim. They have also on occasion kidnapped Catholic priests. The NSCN is active in North-East India. The State of Nagaland and the hill districts of Manipur, inhabited by the Nagas, are the main areas where the strong influence and presence of the organisation is felt. Its presence in the neighbouring States of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are also widely acknowledged. On the international plane, the presence and influence of the NSCN in the northern part of Myanmar, that are inhabited by the Naga tribes, dates back to the time when the Nagas started their freedom struggle. Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, the founding fathers of the NSCN-IM, are Chairman and General Secretary of the NSCN-IM respectively and S.S. Khaplang is the Chairman of the NSCN-K.
On the political front, the NSCN-IM has divided its area of influence into 11 regions based on sub-tribe considerations and adminis-trative convenience. In many areas, it runs a parallel government. There are four major ‘Ministries’—Defence, Home, Finance and Foreign Affairs. Moreover, there are five other Ministries including Education, Information and Publicity, Forests and Minerals, Law and Justice and Religious Affairs. The most prominent among the Ministries is the ‘Home Ministry’, which is considered as a replacement of the Indian State Government machinery. The heads of 11 administrative regions report to the ‘Home Minister’ (Kilo Kilonser). The devolution of administrative arms of the organisation goes down to the town and village levels in the NSCN-IM’s areas of influence. The outfit has also established a government-in-exile called the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland (GPRN) which, interacts with formal and non-formal world bodies and the media. The GPRN sends emissaries abroad to garner support and raise funds for the Naga cause.
NAGA Accord on August 3, 2015
On August 3, 2015, with the aim of ending insurgency in Nagaland, the government signed an accord with the key outfit, NSCN-IM, at New Delhi. The pact was signed in the presence of the Prime Minister, Home Minister, National Security Advisor, the outfit’s leader, T Muivah, and the government’s interlocutor, R.N. Ravi. The signing of the pact is the culmination of over 80 rounds of negotiations that spanned 16 years with the first breakthrough in 1997 when a ceasefire agreement was sealed.
While the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isaac-Muivah is the biggest Naga rebel group which has been maintaining the ceasefire, another faction led by S.S. Khaplang continues to indulge in violence and was believed to be behind the deadly attack on the Army in Manipur in June. It is not immediately clear whether the agreement meets the main demand of the NSCN-IM for integration of all Naga-inhabited areas in the North-East across Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
The Naga Peace Accord, a framework agreement as it has been termed, signed between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and the Government of India on August 3 is significant for several reasons.
Firstly, it shows the flexibility and realism of the NSCN-IM in terms of the willingness to alter the goals, from complete sovereignty and Greater Nagalim to acceptance of the constitu-tional framework albeit with a provision for the grant of greater autonomy to the Naga inhabited areas outside of Nagaland through the establish-ment of autonomous district councils. This indeed had been a sticking point in negotiations as Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur had categorically stated their opposition to any territorial division. It is pertinent to note here that a similar proposal called the ‘supra-state structure’ was offered by the Government of India’s negotiators in 2011. This involved the grant of greater autonomy for the Naga areas without a territorial division of the other states involved. But opposition from the Manipur Chief Minister, Ibobi Singh, meant that an agreement could not be signed.
Second, the signing of the accord at this moment in time discloses that the platform of social support for the NSCN-IM comprising of Naga civil society groups are insistent on a peaceful path to conflict resolution. Since November 2014, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Nagaland promised a peaceful settlement with the NSCN-IM within 18 months, Naga civil society groups like the Forum for Naga Reconciliation, Naga Hoho, Eastern Naga Peoples’ Organisation, Naga Mothers’ Association, Naga Students’ Federation and the specific Hohos of the 14 Naga tribes have been regularly holding consultations with the NSCN-IM and the government’s interlocutor, R. N. Ravi on arriving at a settlement at the earliest. The accord arrived at now ends the ceasefire process in existence since 1997 and locks in the NSCN-IM’s commitment to a peaceful dialogue. The urgency to get a peace deal breakthrough had risen in the backdrop of the rival NSCN-K abrogating its ceasefire with the Government of India on March 27, 2015, and following it up with the June 4 ambush in Manipur that killed 20 military personnel.
Third, the leaders of the NSCN-IM, Thuinga-leng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu (who has been unwell for some time now), have been forthcoming since 2011 to sign a framework agreement that pledges to preserve the culture, history and traditions of the Nagas and grants greater autonomy to the Naga inhabited areas outside of Nagaland.
Fourth, Modi’s own promise to resolve the Naga conflict within an 18 month-timeframe must have been a factor in the signing of the framework agreement. While the accord has been welcomed by many quarters, the actual response will be known only once the terms of agreement are publicly disclosed. In fact, the secrecy behind the terms of agreement has raised several questions from various stakeholder factions and only time will reveal how they all respond and react to the agreement.
Another fact that sets this accord apart from all others signed earlier is the timing. The geo-political situation today is vastly different from what prevailed in the region over the last six decades. Today, the Indian Government has established far closer economic and diplomatic relations with China, a country that has had a history of offering overt and covert support to various insurgent factions operating in the North-East.
1. The Hindu, Thiruvananthapuram.
2. The New Indian Express, Thiruvananthapuram.
3. The Malayala Manorama, Kollam.
4. The Mathrubhumi, Kollam.
5. Namrata Goswami, The Naga Peace Accord: Why Now?, August 7, 2015, IDSA Comment.
Dr M.R. Biju is an Associate Professor, PG and Research, Department of Political Science, Sree Narayana College, Kollam (Kerala). A prolific writer on social, political and development issues, he has authored 25 books and 115 research papers, headed three major research projects on Panchayati Raj funded by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India, and UGC. He was the recipient of the UGC Post-doctoral Research Award in 2004-07. At present he is the editor of the South Asian Journal of Socio-Political Studies (SAJOSPS) and Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Political Science. He can be contacted at e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, while his website is: www.sajospsindia.com