Marking a possible final phase of India’s longest enduring insurgency, the deadlock between the Government of India (GoI) and National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) was broken on October 31, 2019, with the NSCN-IM agreeing to sign a peace deal. Both parties, according to reports, have reached at an acceptable position on the contentious issues of Naga flag and Naga constitution, which were the main road blocks for signing the accord. Nagaland Governor and interlocutor for the peace talks, R.N. Ravi stated, “the accord has not been finalised yet. Matters are under discussion. NSCN-IM has come on board.”
The latest phase of the peace process started with the signing of the Frame work Agreement on August 3, 2015, with the NSCN-IM. Later in 2016, the scope of the accord was widened with the formation of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), a conglomerate of Naga militant formations to secure a ‘permanent solution’ to the ‘Naga issue’.
The negotiations, which have lingered on for over four years, reached a limbo when R.N. Ravi, on August 21, 2019, stated that the peace process was stuck up on symbolic issues of Flag and Constitution, although core issues had been resolved. Indeed, on September 29, 2019, NSCN-IM ‘general secretary’ Thuingaleng Muivah stated that there would be no peace accord with out the flag and constitution.
In the runup to the deadline of October 31, 2019, set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a change in posture by NSCN-IM and the Security Forces (SFs), was indicated. Reports indicate that NSCN-IM militants had started moving into Manipur and Mizoramto cross over to Myanmar and SFs were being redeployed. Deputy Commissioners (DC) and administrative officers were ordered to remain within their places of posting and jurisdiction. Moreover, in the earlier months of 2019, confrontations between NSCN-IM and SFs had recorded a spike.
A chief catalyst for NSCN-IM’s abrupt change of heart is likely to have been the defections of kilo kilonser (home minister) ’ Hukavi Yeputhomi and 16 other leaders on October 25 and 22 other senior NSCN-IM leaders on October 28. The apprehension of further defections significantly weakening NSCN-IM, and resulting in the group’s displacement from its principal position at the negotiating table, to be rendered isolated and irrelevant in a future peace process, are likely to have prodded the leadership to come back on board.
Despite the October 31 development, a plethora of concerns need to be addressed. Although the Government has assuredthat no final agreement will be taken without consultation with all stake holders, one of the main issues to be addressed will be the apprehensions of states such as Manipur, Assam and Arunachal whose territorial areas are included in NSCN-IM’s vision of ‘Greater Nagaland’ or ‘Nagalim’.
In Arunachal Pradesh, All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union (AAPSU) had on October 29 stated that the Naga accord should not change the territorial jurisdiction of the state. Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister (CM) Pema Khandu also stated on October 31 that Union Home Minister Amit Shah had assured him that inputs from Manipur, Assam, and Arunachal will also be factored in before the final agreement.
Valley areas of Manipur have already seen a host of protest demonstrations, with the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) launching a massive protest against any deal that could affect the territorial integrity of Manipur as a result of the Naga accord. After the news of the October 31 agreement, COCOMI has extended its cease-work strike and protests. Reports indicate that Army troops have been air-lifted to Manipur from Dimapur (Nagaland) on October 31. This is supplementary to the 15 Companies of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) in Imphal area. Apprehension in Manipur is likely to persist as the issues of integration of Naga inhabited areas outside Nagaland are stated to require further discussion. Possibility of a break down in law and order in valley areas of Manipur remains a possibility.
With insurgency related fatalities declining consistently, the October 31 agreement is a timely development in the right direction. However, considerable distance needs to be covered in the coming days to bring in an enduring peace by addressing the apprehensions of neighbouring states and equally satisfying naga demands as well. A generous rehabilitation package for militants has to be drawn up as a step to ensure that there is stability in law and order situation.
* M.A. Athul
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management