Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022

The Naga Path: Search For The Healing Touch

The ordinary Naga persons’ yearning for peace and normal calm in the ordinary rounds of life is like a clawing painful heartache lodged in the head.

PTI File Photo

“The Naga path tells us to revisit and recreate anew,

A unified purpose, with no ‘borders’,

Where there’s no hatred, only love,

Where there are no differences, only acceptance

And heal the fragmented existence”

(Bordered Differences:  Envisaging a Naga Path by By Asangba Tzudir in the Eastern Mirror)

It's nearly three years now since the Framework Agreement (FA) was signed between the Government of India (GoI) and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isak-Muivah  (NSCN-IM ) to settle  the 71-year-old Naga political demand. Normally unmindful of northeastern affairs, the metro newspapers published from Delhi have been uncharacteristically pinging the story every other fortnight over the past few months.  Each report in some way or the other assumed that the talks were in the final stages and that the accord would be signed shortly. One latest report says that it will be ready to be placed before the next Monsoon session of the Parliament. 

Many reckon that the reason for the high octane drive current is obviously the ending tenure of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led-National Democratic Alliance Government.

“They have to get something more to talk about than the Framework Agreement they have signed,” said an avid observer of Naga affairs.  Also often mentioned in the same breath is the aging leadership of the general secretary of the NSCN (IM), Thuingaleng Muivah, who is the all-in -all in the organization after the demise of its chairman, Isak Swu about 2 years ago.   But the need for urgency notwithstanding, the wisdom of rushing into any secretive agreement between only some of the sides in an issue which is multi-angled is questionable.  Haven’t they learnt from history?

The NSCN (IM) is the most powerful armed organization in Northeast region of India and had been heading a struggle for independence of the Naga nation from the Indian state. It was born in 1980 when a faction broke away from the original Angami leader,  A Z Phizo led Naga National Council (NNC), when its leaders, after years of resistance against Indian Government, had thought fit to bring its fight to a closure by signing the now famous Shillong Accord in 1975. Condemning this as capitulation to the Indian wiles, the NSCN lead by Th Muivah, a Tangkhul, a tribe of the hills of Manipur and SS Khaplang, a Hemi Naga, a tribe residing in the frontier region of Myanmar, bordering the Indian state of Nagaland,  split away vowing to carry on the sovereignty struggle.  In 1988 again the NSCN cracked into two, the NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K), K standing for Khaplang.  Two schisms in such a short span of time resulted in unprecedented hatred and bloodshed as the Naga struggle for Independence from India turned inwards in intense fratricidal clashes between the factions adding to the din of battle already going on between these resistance groups and the supporters of the Nagaland State which was created in 1963 by another agreement. All these added to the on-going no-holds-barred battle with the Indian Army and the Indian State.  As the years passed the ruptures within the Naga movement only continued to grow resulting in more splintering which was reflected in the over-ground life. Because of this blooded history, the term "Peace Accord", comes wearing a rather sinister cloak of double-meaning for the common people of the region.

In this background one can understand that the ordinary Naga persons’ yearning for peace and normal calm in the ordinary rounds of life is like a clawing painful heartache lodged in the head.  It throbs away in the background all the time. The pursuit has been unending. The search remains so elusive.  As the armed NSCN-IM, which earned the fearful sobriquet of ‘mother of all insurgencies in the north east’ and its rival Naga factions have relentlessly pursued war against the GoI and each other, so have the common people, symbolized by a number of civil society organizations, braving threats to their own lives in many cases, persistently, resolutely and doggedly trailed them seeking peace. Fear that their overtures may spin into another angle of conflict always shadowing their every step, they plodded on humbly bowing down to the egos of the factional leaders. The major stalemate has always been within-- among the Naga factions and their supporters. If they could only make a sincere united stand there would be a chance for brokering peace; a lasting, honorable and non-controversial settlement with the GoI.  Anything could be possible—if united. It would not be too far gone to imagine here that a completely peaceful united Naga front committed to the cause would be the most formidable challenge to the GoI rather than a bunch of men running around with guns, that too with no common strategy.

One such attempt at breaking the inner stalemate began afresh ten years ago in 2008  when about 39 civil organizations of various shades, men and women,  got together calling itself the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) and started a campaign called  “Naga Reconciliation: Journey of Common Hope”. They left no stone unturned to bring the factions together to thaw the ice of hatred dividing them before getting down to the real business of making peace. Members trekked across mountains and streams to meet the leaders in secret hideouts or stalked them, so to say,  in the streets of Zurich or Chiang Mai begging them to deign to meet. Bridging a history that’s bespattered with blood at every corner is not easy. To forgive and forget is the most difficult bridge to cross. But, if an all round experience of cathartic forgiveness is still a distant dream, what they did succeed in doing over the years is bringing them to sit together in discussions, talks, seminars, workshops, festivals, dinners etc and even organized football matches between the factions at all kinds of places including foreign countries where they sought neutral grounds far away from the conflict ridden homeland.

Several agreements have been signed among them, the latest called the Lenten Agreement on March 27, 2014, significantly just before the Parliamentary elections,   which was  signed by the leaders of four groups, lumped together in the parlance of the day as Naga Political Groups (NPG), namely Isak Chishi Swu (Chairman) and Th Muivah (General Secretary) of NSCN(IM), Gen (Retd) Khole Konyak (Chairman) and Kitovi Zhimomi (general Secretary) from NSCN (K-K) and Brig (Retd) Singya (President) and Zhopra Vero (Vice President) from Naga National Council (NNC) or Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN). They resolved to form a “Naga National Government” (NNG).   This was an outcome of an earlier agreement signed in August 26, 2011 called the ‘Naga Concordant’  wherein these same top leaders had agreed ‘in principle’ to form an NNG. Guidelines to achieve this end were laid down and the main one says, “the NNG will be required to be people-centered and guided by the common aspirations of the people and not by any particular group”. The FNR is tasked to hammer out common view agreeable to all faction, a tough call if ever there was one. Till date there has been no announcement about the progress made on this front, a condition which speaks for itself under the circumstances. Two other NPGs have not joined them yet, including the NSCN (K), which leaves the door wide open for acrimony to begin again.

It is, therefore not a mere cliché to say that a whole generation of Nagas have grown to adulthood under the shadow of the gun. They have seen peace accords signed only to be shattered by bullets even before the ink dried on the paper, so to say. They have heard that there is a ceasefire in place only to be confronted by pitched battles between brothers at their doorsteps, and they have been told tales of tribal brotherhood and reconciliation only to see factionalism and tribalism tear up their society into one more ugly strand of hatred.

So, if the commoners of Naga populace, particularly in the state of Nagaland as well as neighboring communities, are skeptical about possible outcome of the Framework Agreement (FA), the latest vehicle touted for ushering in peace in the region, they can’t be blamed for this lack of faith.

For one thing, the FA is an agreement only between the GoI and the NSCN (IM), undoubtedly, the most powerful armed group, but it still represents just one shade of opinion in the divided Naga polity. Though to be fair, at the moment the Centre on its part is trying to bridge this gap by holding talks with six factions- loosely organized under the term Naga National Political Groups –NNPG, as well as civil society groups, they say, but to what extent they are involved only they know.

The FA had risen out of a vacuum of stalemate of decades after the signing of the Ceasefire agreement between the GoI and the NSCN (IM) in 1997. The stalemate being most probably caused mainly, by the demand for ‘sovereignty’, the lynchpin of whole movement.  Without much headway in breaking this deadlock, but either side mindful of public opinion against abrogation of the ceasefire, the truce continued for 17 years. But if India’s jawaans enjoyed relative peace in Nagaland, still armed to the teeth and freely taxing the citizens of Nagaland and adjoining Naga-inhabitated areas, the NSCN (IM) and to some extent the other factions, have had a free run over the hapless commoners  under the protection of the ceasefire agreement with the GoI.  

So, why the sudden urgent surge for a one to one settlement with GoI even as they had just agreed (March 27, 2014) to the guidelines of the Lenten Agreement to form a NNG, which should have eventually, informed the platform for negotiation with the GoI, many observers have wondered.

One explanation already noted above is overpowering personality of PM Modi. He skidded into the  ceasefire doldrums after topping a smashing win in the 2014 and with his characteristic verve latched on to the Naga tangle, the most important  issue in the northeast region, as the launching pad to etch himself into history as that iconic game-changer who solved the decades old festering Naga imbroglio in a shot.  On the other side time was running out for the collective leadership of the NSCN (IM), as one half of them, Isak Swu, lay on his deathbed at that time. Thus with the urgency on both sides, things clicked and the two sides seemingly agreed to fly over their differences for the moment and together signed a FA. But the differences are a chasm of disparities. And thereby hangs the tale of a checkmate.

The secrecy and lack of transparency is worrying. Neither the GoI nor the NSCN (IM) have directly officially shared what the score is with their people, on whose behalf they claim to be acting. The public who are the biggest stakeholders in this remain left out and depend entirely on some quotes or ‘sources’ reported in the, mostly Delhi based newspapers  and TV channels, for a glimpse of what’s being discussed about their future. The only points that came from the horses mouth was that the NSCN (IM) have accepted primacy of the Indian Constitution, a new development and a major step down for the organization, while the GoI recognized the ‘uniqueness of Naga history and culture,” which was nothing new, but already accepted in 2003 during the Prime Ministership of  Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Gleaning from the various articles and write ups- it has dawned on many that an FA is not a final settlement. It’s only a guideline to work towards an agreement. The terms of reference most possibly being the 33 odd demands submitted by the NSCN (IM) much earlier as some media reports suggest.  There was actually no content when they signed the FA in August 3, 2015.  Eventually, in early part of 2016 newspaper reports said that the settlement included, “a Pan Naga Hoho (PNH) to be formed cutting across states, Regional Autonomous District Councils would be set up for Nagas outside Nagaland, A Special Naga Law to be incorporated in Constitution and that Nagas were to own all resources in Naga areas.”  Apart from the first novel item, the others are already more or less available in many cases under the present conditions in the Indian Constitution. Most of these are fraught with arguments with neighbors and are likely to open a pandora’s box of sleeping-dog issues.

A well known Naga commentator and founding editor of the The Morung Express, Along Longkumer,  when asked to comment, said  that the lack of transparency is a problem as the people do not know anything about the FA and therefore not in a position to support them. The secrecy is worrying, he said. He just hoped that the Modi government would not do something like  ‘demonetization’, ie.  drop the Naga accord like a bomb without anyone knowing about its timing or content.  He said a period of transition must be in-built before signing of the accord and this period to allow for greater acceptance when the accord is finally signed.

The only concrete point that has emerged after three years into signing the FA is that NSCN (IM) has dropped another of its key demands, ie the idea of territorial integration of the claimed Naga areas, one of the conundrums in a possible peace accord.  Observers suspect that the NSCN (IM) was convinced to finally drop its territorial claim over adjoining states after a live demonstration of what would happen when, in response to media reports that among other things, the area of Dimasa Hasao was included in the ‘Greater Nagalim’ claims,  two Dimasa youth died in a police firing while protesting against this purported  plan. This “plan” was floated by Jagdamba Mall, a RSS leader who has entrenched himself in Nagaland over four decades. He had sent his “plan” to selected media persons who gave it wide publicity. He later denied that he had sent it. The belief is that it was nothing but kite-flying prompted by the Centre to convince their nemesis that the backlash if such demands were acceded to would be wild and primordial. 

What lends credence to the belief that there is still some way to go before they agree on anything  concretely workable at the operational level is that as recently as in April last a public  exhibition of  discord exploded out in the open between the two sides over whether ‘sovereignty’ was still a live issue or not. The general secretary of the NSCN (IM), Muivah, had announced in an organizational function, that the GoI had recognized the Naga claims which was widely reported in the media. This invited quick rebuttals. One of them, the Minister of State for Home Minister, Kiren Rijijiu, who refuted the claim, was virtually asked to shut up by the NSCN (IM) who said that Rijijiu, without being part of the negotiations was not qualified to say anything. The first hurdle is thus yet to be crossed. Or conversely, was it just a face-saving exercise by the NSCN (IM), to help deflect some of the harsh criticism from detractors who see the guidelines of the FA as a climb down from their averred national doctrine.

As nothing concrete is available in public for analysis, unease is growing at many levels. Some reports floated about the uninhibited powers to be given to the PNH and its likely chairman  (which is probably another kite to test people’s reaction, observers believe)  to rule over all Nagas across borders has created unease among the people in Nagaland. Currently, the most debilitating predicament for common people is the fact that they are called upon by the various factions to ‘contribute’ to the ‘national’ effort and ‘taxed’ separately . An organization called ACAUT has only recently broken the silence of this burden and publicly asked the factions to stop separate ‘taxation’. Their slogan is “one government, one tax.”  Under the any new dispensation, taxation and revenue collection is going to be the stickiest subject as Nagas to a man and woman would object to being taxed. At the moment, they tamely acquiesce only because the collectors are armed and ruthless.

How all these are going to be worked out, to the lay-people seems a complicatedly long process which entails massive coordination among the various departments and slicing through many levels of bureaucratic walls, not to speak of changing the laws or creating new ones. All this and more is said to be slated to function under a vaguely termed decree of ‘shared sovereignty’.  Whether sharing of sovereignty will work down to the level of every tribe is not clear, as each Naga tribe is seriously jealous of any outsider encroaching into its tribal domain, not to speak about the shared space with other non-Naga tribes and communities.

It is also important to note that the concept of ‘sovereignty’ has been elaborated upon in a ruling of the Supreme Court  ( December 2016) which struck down the remotest idea of shared sovereignty in the case of Jammu and Kashmir . Having a flag or a separate constitution in no way means that they hold a status of shared sovereignty with the Indian State, the ruling said.

Some feel that, the GoI is following a policy to ‘just let them stew in their own juice.”  As a Naga woman researcher pointed out, “With the BJP in power with a very strong agenda of Hindu based nationalism I don't see them giving into our demands.  Rather, the RSS would keep infiltrating into the Naga areas  to create a strong base and slowly co-opt the Naga society. If at all the Centre would do anything they would only keep playing carrot and stick policy,   Logically speaking the BJP government will not do anything that would infringe on their idea of nationalism and territoriality.”

The GoI can well afford to relax now that the NSCN (IM) has accepted the primacy of the Indian Constitution. As far as they are concerned their fight is basically over. It can now afford to wait and watch how the NSCN-IM handles the fissures within the Naga polity, in which the organization and its big-brother stance towards the other factions and stakeholders itself is often seen as one of the main stumbling blocks in the road to a Pan-Naga settlement.



A meeting of the Political Affairs Committee (PAC) with the People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA) Legislators and Tribal Hohos was held on May 11, 2018, at the State Banquet Hall, which was attended by the following Tribal Hoho leaders: Angami Public Organisation; Ao Senden; Chakhesang Public Organisation; Chang Khulie Setshang; Konyak Union; Khiamniungan Tribal Council; Lotha Hoho; Phom People Council; Puchury Hoho; Rengma Hoho; Sumi Hoho; United Sangtam Likhum Bumji; Yimchungru Tribal Council and Zeliangrong Baudi.

As an outcome of the meeting, the following resolutions stands adopted:

1. The House conveys its deep gratitude to the Government of India, NSCM IM and the NNPG working group for the sincere efforts made in the Peace Talks.

2. The House strongly urges upon the negotiating parties of the Indo-Naga political dialogue to expedite the peace process and bring the negotiations to a logical conclusion through a political solution that is inclusive, honorable and acceptable to the people whilst upholding the unique history and political rights of the Nagas. The House endorses the wish and desire of the people for early solution to the vexed Indo-Naga political imbroglio and the aspiration of the masses for lasting peace, which will pave the way for progress and development. The House is of the opinion that 21 years of ceasefire and dialogue is more than sufficient for the negotiations to be concluded in an acceptable manner.

3. The House appeals to all sections of the people to come together under a spirit of unity and oneness in order to strengthen the peace process and create an atmosphere that is conducive to make the implementation of the peace accord successful for ensuring growth and development.

4. The House while appreciating the positive approach of the NNPGs, further appealed to all the other Naga national political groups to come together under the spirit of unity and join the political negotiations in the greater interest of the people. The House further appeals to the NSCN (K) to return to the negotiating table and restore its ceasefire with the Government of India to enable an all-inclusive peace process and work towards an early solution in the interest of all Nagas.

5. The House appreciates the stand of the State Government to pave way for any alternative arrangement that may come about as a result of the political solution.

(Linda Chhakchhuak is an independent journalist)