Will RN Ravi’s Raj Bhawan exit clear way for Naga Peace talks?

Although Ravi’s exit may help the Centre restart talks with separatist group NSCN (IM), it still has to deal with two “non-negotiable” demands for a constitution and the flag

Defamation case against DMK functionary for deriding TN Governor in speech
A file photo of Tamil Nadu Governor RN Ravi

Press corps in Kohima “boycotted” the official farewell programme of Nagaland’s outgoing governor RN Ravi on Tuesday (September 14) evening to protest against what they called “his complete disregard” for the media fraternity in the state.

The “boycott” gives an idea of the polarising environment the former journalist-turned IPS officer has created during his about three-year stint as the Constitutional head of the state, earning him more critics than admirers.

“No governor ever treated the media with such disdain as he (Ravi). Forget about conventional media interactions, during his tenure there was a total disconnect between the press and the Raj Bhawan,” said president of the Kohima Press Club Alice Yhoshü.

A greater and more worrying disconnect, however, has been between him and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (IM), which has led to a standoff in the 24-year long Indo-Naga political talks to find an “honourable” solution to the oldest insurgency in the country.

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He further provoked the situation with his several run-ins with the Neiphiu Rio-led People’s Democratic Alliance (PDA) government of which the nation’s ruling party, the BJP, is an important constituent.

“He (Ravi) had to go because he was unnecessarily creating complications in the Naga peace process and was also trying to poke nose in the government’s functioning. The government was not happy with him. He should have dealt with the Naga peace process more carefully,” observed Chingwang Konyak, president of the state’s ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP).

The gubernatorial journey of the former special director of Intelligence Bureau (IB), however, had started in a different trajectory.

In a striking contrast to the damp squib sent off accorded to him at the state banquet hall, Ravi was received in the state after being appointed as the governor in July 2019 with a rousing welcome.

He was the cynosure of the Naga multitudes as within a year of his appointment as the Centre’s interlocutor for the ongoing Naga peace talks, the Framework Agreement was signed with the NSCN (IM) in 2015 – 18 years after the outfit entered into a ceasefire agreement with the government of India.

Six years down the line, equations have changed. Many in Nagaland in hindsight believe that it was a wrong move on the part of the Centre to appoint Ravi as the governor while retaining him as the interlocutor.

“He had two conflicting roles. A governor is the constitutional head who has to act within the ambit of the Constitution, whereas it is necessary for the interlocutor to go beyond at times to find a mutually acceptable solution,” observed Chuba Ozukum, advisor of the Naga Hoho, the apex body of all the Naga tribes.

Also read: Naga peace deal: Interlocutor’s ‘tiff’ with militant outfit may delay peace pact

Ravi on August 16, 2019, within a month of taking over as the governor, told a Naga civil society group gathered to felicitate him that it was not possible for the Government of India to concede to the NSCN (IM)’s demand for a separate flag and the constitution.

The announcement was viewed by the NSCN (IM) and Naga civil society organisations as a deviation from the Framework Agreement.

Accusing Ravi of backtracking on the promises made in the Framework Agreement, the NSCN (IM) wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking Ravi’s ouster as the interlocutor, saying it had lost trust in him.

Even as the peace talks with the NSCN (IM) hit a dead end, Ravi “concluded” talks with other seven insurgent groups collectively called the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) on October 31, 2019.

In February this year, addressing the Nagaland assembly, Ravi announced that negotiations in the Naga peace talks were over, essentially implying that there would be no further discussions with the NSCN (IM).

He was accused of pitting Naga groups against each other and creating confusion.

Within weeks of Ravi’s statement in the assembly, the Centre started back channel negotiations with the NSCN (IM) to bring the stalled peace process on track.

“Recently, unnecessary confusion was thrown into the air because of a reckless statement made by RN Ravi, the governor of Nagaland, in the state Assembly that the Indo- Naga political talks have concluded. It is a matter of regret that his (Ravi’s) role as interlocutor is nothing less than disparaging and dismal,” the NSCN (IM) said in a statement issued in March this year.

After several demands for his ouster by the NSCN (IM), Naga civil society organisation and even the state government, the Centre finally blinked. Ravi has been shunted out of Kohima Raj Bhawan. Now that there are indications that he would soon be relieved of his responsibility as the interlocutor as well, Nagaland is hoping for a glad tidings as far as Naga peace process is concerned.

Another former IB special director Akshaya Kumar Mishra is likely to take over as the new interlocutor in the Naga peace talks.

Leader of the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and former chief minister TR Zeliang on Tuesday said the appointment of AK Mishra as the new interlocutor could break the stalemate in the ongoing Naga talks.

Mishra had been doing back channel interactions with the NSCN (IM) for a year.  “His role from a broker to an interlocutor will help resolve the differences,” Zeliang added even though no formal announcement of his appointment has been made.

But for Mishra or anyone who will replace Ravi as the interlocutor it would not be easy to carry forward the peace process with the NSCN (M) to its logical conclusions considering the outfit’s two “non-negotiable” demands for a constitution and the flag.

A former Nagaland bureaucrat pointed out that the Centre’s stand on NSCN (IM)’s twin demands has become more rigid after the scrapping of the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that gave a special status to Jammu and Kashmir, conferring it the power to have a separate constitution and a flag.

“There is no parallel between the Kashmir problem and the Naga problem. But we have to understand the motive behind the abrogation. The BJP wants to make India a homogenous nation firmly controlled by a strong central government. In such a setup, there is no place for a greater autonomy for any particular state or community,” he said, wishing anonymity.

Without fulfilling those two demands it would not be possible to find a “permanent and honourable” solution to the Naga political problem, stated another former Nagaland chief minister KL Chishi.

“In the 2015 framework agreement, the two sides agreed for a shared sovereignty. The Naga flag and the constitution are integral to the concept of shared sovereignty. The Naga flag and the constitution already exist. The government of India only needs to give them recognition,” he said.

Chishi is also sceptical about the Centre’s sincerity in finding an early solution to the vexed issue.

He accused New Delhi of complicating the problem by roping in ragtag groups in the peace process. He was referring to the signing of the ceasefire agreement with the Niki Sumi group of the Nagaland Socialist Council of Nagaland on September 7.

“The government of India is giving recognition to goondas (goons) by signing a ceasefire agreement with them. This will only lead to proliferation of armed groups and create complications in the peace process,” Chishi added.

Even the NSCN (IM) took strong exception to the truce deal with one of its “surrogate factions” and termed the development as “deceptive manner of handling the Naga issue” by the Centre.

Chishi said it’s high time that the government honours the commitment made in the framework agreement to resolve the long-pending Naga political issue.

Also read: Is Naga peace process heading towards a murky end?

On August 14, 1947, a day before India attained its freedom, the Naga National Council (NNC) of which the NSCN (IM) is an offshoot declared Independence for the Nagas, making the Naga political problem the oldest insurgent movement in the country.

The Naga flag with blue background representing the sky, a red, yellow and green rainbow arches across the centre and the Star of Bethlehem on the top left corner was first hoisted on March 22, 1956. Since then it has been a symbol of Naga nationalism.

The NSCN (IM) has reiterated over and over again that under no circumstance it would give up on its demand for a flag and the constitution.

Ravi’s departure has only indicated the Centre has not yet given up on the peace process.  Will it now go the extra mile to settle the Naga problem once and for all? It remains to be seen.

 

 

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