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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 20

Nagaland Talks Going Slow

Friday 9 May 2008, by Harish Chandola


A new round of negotiations between the Government of India and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) was held in Delhi on April 16, at which it was decided that the next round would take place next month, for which no dates were fixed.

The negotiations are over the Constitution. The NSCN has a constitution of its own. The attempt is to adjust or make changes in it to bring it closer to make it a part of the Indian Constitution. This is a difficult task and will take a many rounds of talks to sort it out.

In last month’s (March) elections, the old State Government of Chief Minister Nephiew Rio of the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland, which the governor had dismissed a mere three weeks before the elections, returned to power. This government, unlike the Congress one before it, kept peace in Nagaland. The ceasefire between the Isak-Muiva led National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the Government of India has now entered its 11th year.

Last year these two sides that are holding negotiations for a political settlement, decided that the ceasefire should be co-terminus with the talks, which means that it should go on as long as the talks or negotiations continue. Earlier, the ceasefire used to be extended periodically, mostly for a year at a time.

A peaceful settlement of the Naga problem has not been reached in these 11 years. It is expected that the talks will continue until a settlement is arrived at. The Nagas, however, find the pace of the talks very slow. Nobody knows how long these will go on.

A ceasefire and a settlement are two different things. A ceasefire only provides a peaceful atmosphere for negotiations for a settlement.

This is the second Naga ceasefire. The first had come into being 43 years ago, on 6 September 1964, and was terminated by the then Governor of Nagaland, B.K. Nehru, in 1972. Fighting had resumed after that and ended when the second ceasefire came into being in 1997.

The Naga movement is now over 60 years old and its armed struggle 51 years. A lot happened there during these years. First, when fighting began there in 1956, the Indian Army was sent to put it down. The Army is still there but now it stays in camps because of the ceasefire.

The negotiations are between the Prime Minister of India and the leaders of the NSCN. To help the Prime Minister, Delhi has appointed three Ministers and a retired Home Secretary as a Special Representative to take part in the peace talks.

THE NSCN stands for the unification of all contiguous areas inhabited by the Naga people. At the moment, besides the State of Nagaland, the Nagas live in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh mainly. But Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh do not want to part with their territory inhabited by the Nagas, to create a unified Naga homeland.

The NSCN organisation consists of people from all Naga areas, including these three States. In fact its main leader, Th. Muiva, the organisation’s General Secretary, is from Manipur, from its Ukhrul district. A fairly good number of NSCN people are from the Naga areas of Manipur and some from Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. A settlement will have to include people of all these areas.

The basic point is that the Nagas want to live together in one compact region, under one administration. Keeping them under the administration of different States cannot be justified. The Nagas have little in common with the rest of the populations in these three States, where they had been placed.

There are other issues also under discussion between the Government of India and the NSCN. The NSCN wants its territory, which it calls Nagalim, to have a constitution of its own, based upon the conditions and requirements of its people. The NSCN actually has a constitution. It will, however, be prepared to replace it with a new one that will serve its people and also meet the requirements of India. It will want a relationship and a commonality between its constitution and that of India. It may even be possible for the Naga constitution to become a part of the Indian Constitution. But this matter has to be discussed and explored in the talks that are going on between the two sides.

The other matter concerns defence. The NSCN believes that the primary responsibility for the defence of its territory has to be with the Naga people themselves. The Naga region has an almost 300 kilometre-long border with Burma and it is not far from China. The NSCN, one believes, will be ready to concede that the overall responsibility for defence should be with the Indian Army. But in the event of a conflict, depending on the situation, the Indian Army, like other armies, can withdraw or advance. While the Indian Army, if needed, can withdraw, the Nagas cannot. The Naga region or Nagalim, as the NSCN calls it, is their only home from which they cannot go anywhere else. They will therefore have to fight until aggression on their land is ended. In this regard, they give the example of the 1962 border conflict between India and China. When the Chinese troops took over almost the whole of the North East Frontier Agency (now the State of Arunachal Pradesh), the Indian Army withdrew to Assam. The people of the North East Frontier Agency did not put up a fight. They remained under occupation until the Chinese troops withdrew. The Nagas do not want that to happen in their land.

The NSCN wants the Nagas to fight until the aggressor is ousted. They have trained people who constitute the present Naga army for such a fight.

When a political settlement is arrived at with India what role will the men of the present Naga army play? That is a subject to be discussed and settled. The negotiations so far, though very slow, have not been totally unsatisfactory to the NSCN. In the beginning of the negotiations the NSCN had asked the Government of India to recognise the fact that the Nagas were a unique people. In the course of the negotiations, the special representative of the Indian Prime Minister, Padmanabhaih, conceded the point that the Nagas are truly a unique people. Having acknowledged that, the Government of India will have to create a unique relationship with them and make arrangements that will be special or unique, and not to deal with them on the basis of the common arrangements it has for the rest of the country. This issue of evolving a unique relationship has still to be negotiated at the talks.

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