The Naga peace deal is unlikely to be inked anytime soon even though there was a buzz about Prime Minister Narendra Modi being keen to make a major announcement on the Naga peace front on Independence Day.
Highly placed sources, both within the government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland [NSCN (IM)] set-ups said though “informal consultations” started last week between both sides to bring the stalled peace process back on track, the date for resumption of formal talks is yet to be finalised.
The informal parleys between senior home ministry officials and members of NSCN (IM) “collective leadership” Rh Raising and VS Atem are focused on bridging the “serious trust deficit” that has cropped up between the militant outfit and RN Ravi, the Centre’s interlocutor in the peace process, who is also the governor of Nagaland.
The NSCN (IM) is insisting on the removal of Ravi before going into the next round of talks. After over 80 rounds of talks for 22 years with five prime ministers, the peace process reached a stalemate in October last year. The NSCN (IM) accused Ravi of backtracking on the promises made to it on the “framework agreement” it signed with the Centre in the presence of Prime Minister Modi in 2015.
Though neither the Centre nor the NSCN (IM) officially specified the real issues of disagreement, sources in bits and pieces revealed that the main areas of contention was the latter’s demand for a separate flag and constitution and the Centre’s pussyfooting about granting some political and administrative rights to Nagas who hail from outside Nagaland.
The political and administrative rights to Nagas who are a predominant tribe in at least five districts of Manipur and erstwhile undivided Tirap and Changlang, two districts in Arunachal Pradesh have been a prime demand of the NSCN (IM). Incidentally, most of its leadership hail from Naga areas of Manipur. Its general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah is a Tangkhul Naga from Ukhrul district of Manipur.
The Naga tribes from outside Nagaland hardly have any political space within the present state of Nagaland created on December 1, 1963 on the basis of a 16-point agreement signed between the Centre and the Naga People’s Convention.
Naga inhabited areas are ethnically marked among various indigenous sub-tribes within the generic Naga tribe. Hence, the Nagas from outside do not get any political space in the territory of other sub-tribes. (See graphic)
“The Naga peace processes in the past failed to bring about a lasting and permanent solution largely because Nagas outside Nagaland felt they did not get adequate political and administrative rights,” pointed out professor Kh Kabi of Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar. Kabi himself is a Naga from Manipur.
Before delving on these crucial issues, the prime focus of the Centre now would be to resume dialogues, said a senior Nagaland government official. The NSCN (IM) sources, however, said they were not keen to hold any further talks with Ravi.
An NSCN (IM) delegation reached New Delhi on Friday to join Muivah in the peace parley. Muivah had gone to Delhi on July 20 with his “support stuff” purportedly for treatment. The formal talks were expected this week, but before that the issue of the interlocutor needed to be sorted out.
Even influential Naga civil society organisations such as the Naga Hoho and the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) in a memorandum sent to prime minister on Saturday took a serious exception to the “autocratic” functioning of Ravi.
“With the appointment of RN Ravi as the governor, it was hoped to expedite the peace process. Instead, he is breaking the hard-earned trust and faith of the people and rendering the 23 years of negotiation meaningless by smearing Naga history and also the political groups with whom the government of India is engaged in a negotiation,” the memorandum read.