Naga Peace Accord

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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 is significant for several reasons. Firstly, it shows the flexibility and realism of the NSCN (IM) in terms of the willingness to alter goals, from complete sovereignty and Greater Nagalim to acceptance of the constitutional framework albeit with a provision for the grant of greater autonomy to Naga inhabited areas outside of Nagaland through the establishment 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 Government of India negotiators in 2011. This involved the grant of greater autonomy for Naga areas without a territorial division of the other states involved. But opposition from Manipur Chief Minister, Ibobi Singh, meant that an agreement could not be signed.

Prime Minister Modi’s own promise to resolve the Naga conflict within an 18 months’ timeframe must have been a factor in the signing of the framework agreement

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 Interlocutor, Ravindra Narayan 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 peaceful dialogue. The urgency to get a peace deal breakthrough had risen in the backdrop of the rival NSCN- K abrogating its cease-fire 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.

NSCN (IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah waving during his arrival to attend the 69th Naga Independence Day celebrated by NSCN (IM) at Hebron Camp of Dimapur on 14-08-15. Pix by UB Photos

NSCN-IM General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah waves during his arrival to attend the 69th Naga Independence Day celebrated by NSCN-IM near Dimapur a day before India’s Independence Day

Third, the leaders of the NSCN-IM, Thuingaleng 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 Naga inhabited areas outside of Nagaland. Fourth, Prime Minister Modi’s own promise to resolve the Naga conflict within an 18 months’ timeframe must have been a factor in the signing of the framework agreement.


A Brief History of the Naga Movement

Started way back in 1918 by the Naga Club, the Naga movement has been asserting a distinct ethnic identity and demanding an independent homeland. In 1929, the Club submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission in which it emphasised that Nagas and Indians are separate with no common history and hence Nagas should be given independent status. The Naga Club was renamed and reorganized as the Naga National Council (NNC) in 1946 by the charismatic A. Z. Phizo. Phizo contacted Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army (INA) in Burma with the hope of obtaining the latter’s help to overthrow British rule from Naga areas. Interestingly, when the Japanese forces advanced towards Kohima in 1944, Phizo simultaneously advanced to Kohima with a group of armed Naga men in an attempt to liberate Naga areas from British rule. It was during this time that Phizo developed his skills in guerrilla warfare, which he later imparted to NNC members. On June 27-28, 1947an agreement was signed between the NNC and then Governor of Assam, Sir Akbar Hydari, in which the Nagas’ right to develop themselves freely was recognized. However, Clause 9 of the agreement created divisions as it stated that after a period of 10 years the NNC will be asked whether the agreement be extended or a new agreement arrived at. The NNC interpreted this to mean the attainment of sovereignty by the Nagas whereas the Government of India interpreted it as the signing of a new arrangement within the Indian Union. On August 14, 1947, Phizo, along with eight other Naga leaders declared Naga independence. The 1950s to the mid-1990s was a turbulent period with insurgency and counterinsurgency resulting in civilian deaths. In 1960, a Sixteen Point Agreement was signed between members of the Naga People’s Congress and the Government of India as part of which a new state of Nagaland was created in 1963. But even this failed to quell the movement as a majority of Naga inhabited areas was left outside the new state. In 1964, a Nagaland Peace Mission was formed which signed a ceasefire with Phizo, only to last till 1968. In 1975, the Shillong Accord was signed in which the NNC agreed to give up arms and accept the Indian Constitution. Muivah and Swu, who were then NNC members, revolted by terming the Accord as a ‘sell out’ on the Naga sovereignty demand and went on to form the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980 with S. S. Khaplang. In 1988, the NSCN split due to leadership differences, into the NSCN-IM and the NSCN-K.

Phizo contacted Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army (INA) in Burma with the hope of obtaining the latter’s help to overthrow British rule from Naga areas

NSCN-IM then emerged as the major insurgent group and succeeded in integrating rival Naga ethnic groups which stood otherwise divided. This, it did, by holding Peoples’ Consultative Groups (PCGs) meetings across Naga inhabited areas. The network of social support for the outfit’s political causes of establishing the uniqueness of Naga history (that they were independent and never conquered), and Greater Nagalim (integration of Naga inhabited areas in Assam, Arunachal and Manipur) struck a responsive chord in the Naga society that it aspired to represent. But at the same time it also created constraints for the outfit’s functioning. This was observed during the author’s presence at one of the PCGs in 2007 where the civil society bodies and Naga individuals strongly influenced the NSCN-IM’s political agenda and demanded a stricter Code of Conduct (CoC) for its cadres. With regard to political agenda, Muivah, speaking to a gathering of about 5000 people, asked their opinions on whether to abrogate or extend the ongoing cease-fire with the Indian government. The overall popular consensus was that the ceasefire should not be abrogated and that it should in fact be extended indefinitely, unlike the usual practice of extending it for six months or a year, in order to sustain some level of continuous peace in Naga areas. That year, on July 31, 2007, the ceasefire was indeed extended indefinitely. On the issue of CoC, NSCN-IM leader Swu, present at that meeting, cautioned and warned cadres to maintain discipline in the ranks especially while interacting with society.

S S Khaplang, Chairman of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-K

S S Khaplang, Chairman of other faction of NSCN

In contrast, the NSCN-K has suffered severe blows to its organizational structure in recent years. Two of its senior leaders from India, Khole and Kitovi, broke away from the group and formed the NSCN (Khole-Kitovi) in 2011.3 In 2015, days after NSCN-K abrogated the cease-fire, two other senior leaders (Wangting Naga and P. Tikhak) disagreed with Khaplang’s decision, were expelled from the group, and went on to form the NSCN (Reformation). Consequently, the NSCN-K has lost much of its organisational structure and representative base within India. Against this backdrop, the Naga Accord heralds a new beginning of hope, as it has been signed with the strongest insurgent group, the NSCN-IM which moreover has demonstrated representation across tribes.


 Advantages of a Non-Territorial Framework

If the news about a non-territorial resolution framework agreement holds true (details of the Accord are yet to be released), then it is worth deep consideration by Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. It would enable them to maintain the territorial status quo while only giving up developmental privileges in their Naga inhabited areas to a new Naga non-territorial body. A non-territorial resolution framework also favours the Nagas as their core demands – such as recognition of their “unique history” and culture, Naga leverage over deciding the development path for the Naga inhabited areas, etc. – are met through the grant of greater autonomy. This is an optimal solution that would address the concerns of all the relevant parties. For the Indian government too, it results in recognizing the Naga’s “unique” history and culture within the territorial and sovereign framework of the Constitution.

RPT...New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi witnessing the exchange of historic peace accord between Government of India & NSCN in New Delhi on Monday. PTI Photo (PTI8_3_2015_000292B)

NSCN-IM leader T. Muivah and the Government of India’s interlocutor R.N. Ravi exchange copies of the agreement signed by the two sides

The fact that such a non-territorial resolution package had gained wide acceptance in Nagaland can be discerned from the fact that former Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio along with all 60 Nagaland State Assembly Members including MLAs of the Opposition parties came out in support of such a framework in the year 2012. Being politicians, none of these MLAs would have openly supported such a framework had there been no support for it in Naga society. While the State Assembly passed a resolution on July 27, 2015 endorsing five points, including the resumption of ceasefire with the NSCN-K as well as integration of contiguous Naga inhabited areas, this does not imply that they would be against a non-territorial framework which safeguards the culture, history and autonomy of Naga inhabited territories outside of Nagaland.

A resolution of one of the oldest armed ethnic conflicts in the Northeast offers a way forward to resolving many other ethnic conflicts in the region such as those involving Kukis, Meiteis, Bodos, Dimasas, Hmars, and Karbis. The recent Bodo violence in Assam against immigrant minority communities only highlighted the dangers of an ethnically slanted territorial council that failed to safeguard the physical security of minorities in Bodo inhabited areas. In that light, a non-territorial resolution framework is perhaps the only feasible outcome to the multiple ethnicity-driven conflicts in Northeast India.

Namrata Goswami was Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi

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