The consultative meeting convened by the Nagaland government on Thursday (October 16) pushed for unity among the Naga militant groups, but remained silent on the current impasse in the 23-year-long peace parleys between the Centre and the NSCN (IM).
The peace talks hit a roadblock recently with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) (NSCN-IM) insisting that its demand for a separate constitution and flag is non-negotiable even as the Centre has refused to concede to its claim.
The Nagaland government’s role in the peace process is that of a facilitator as it is not a party to the bilateral negotiations New Delhi is conducting simultaneously with the NSCN (IM) and the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), a conglomerate of seven militant outfits.
Negotiations with the NNPG concluded in October last year and the group is reportedly ready to sign a peace accord with the Centre. There was also a rumour that since the NSCN (IM) is not ready to come on board, the Centre would go ahead and sign the peace deal with the NNPG.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, however, set to rest such speculation while addressing the consultative meeting attended by more than 200 representatives of tribal bodies, churches and civil society organisations, apart from prominent citizens in the state capital, Kohima.
“In my last meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah on September 19, the Government of India has further reiterated that there will be only ‘One Solution’ for the Indo-Naga political issue. This message from GoI has been very clear and one of the reasons for today’s consultative meeting is this message,” Rio told the gathering.
Taking a lesson from the past failure of peace accords in Nagaland, which were not all-inclusive, the Centre since the beginning of the peace process in 1997 has been insisting that this time all the Naga-militant factions should be party to a peace deal.
The 16-point statehood agreement of 1960 was signed between the Government of India and the Naga People’s Convention, sidelining the main protagonist of the Naga separatist movement, Angami Zapu Phizo and his Naga National Council.
Naturally, the NNC continued with its armed movement even after the creation of Nagaland as a special category state under the Indian Union in 1963.
Similarly, another major agreement, the Shillong Accord, too failed to establish peace in the hilly state as it was signed with a breakaway faction of the NNC in 1975. A section of the leaders of the breakaway faction later formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland in 1980, while Phizo continued to head the NNC from exile in London.
In 1988, the NSCN split into two factions — the NSCN-K led by Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, and the NSCN (IM) headed by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah. Subsequently, these two factions and also the NNC (after the death of Phizo in exile on April 30, 1990) suffered further splits.
Seven of the splinter groups have now come under the umbrella of the NNPG, while the NSCN (IM) maintained its separate identity.
The government is now facing twin challenges to carry forward the peace process. It needs to bring the NSCN (IM) and the NNPG on the same page to sign a common agreement. But before that it needs to resolve the stalemate with the NSCN (IM), which is undoubtedly one of the most powerful militant organisations in the Northeast.
The consultative meeting “appealed to the negotiating groups to come together under a spirit of oneness, mutual trust and understanding with sincerity and commitment towards achieving ‘One Solution for One People’ as early as possible.”
The state’s main opposition party, the Naga People’s Front (NPF) on Sunday had already claimed that both the NSCN (IM) and the NNPG have agreed in principle to come together and discuss all issues across the table.
The NPF had constituted a Political Affairs Mission (PAM) to “facilitate” the peace process.
The PAM had held a series of consultative meetings with the NSCN (IM), NNPGs, Naga civil society and tribal organisations and also with “authorities representing Government of India.”
Following the NPF’s announcement it was expected that the state government as a principal facilitator would go a step further and come out with a road map to carry forward the peace process. But it failed to meet the expectations as there was no substantive suggestion particularly on the core issue of how to break the deadlock in the peace talks between the Centre and the NSCN (IM).