NNPG leader cautions that going back to jungles if 23-year-old peace talks fail is no alternative
N Kitovi Zhimomi, convener of umbrella body Naga National Political Groups (inset)
New Delhi: Admiration and Brickbats are two first ingredients - 'A and B' in a politician's life. But the latest appreciation from a rebel Naga leader for Prime Minister Narendra Modi has its own essence. N Kitovi Zhimomi, the convener of seven groups umbrella body Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), has lately hailed Narendra Modi's visionary leadership and determination to resolve country's one of the oldest insurgency problem - the Naga issue - and lead the state towards a new roadmap of lasting peace and development.
"Mr Modi has many qualities of a young Naga - a dreamer and who will take a firm decision to achieve that dream," Zhimomi said in a statement.
In this context, he further said: "We ought to appreciate the fact that the Modi government took a few firm decisions". His reference was to the August 3rd, 2015 Framework Agreement inked by peace interlocutor R N Ravi with NSCN(IM) during the last days of Late Isak Chishi Swu (former chairman of NSCN-IM) and the 2017 'Agreed Position' signed with NNPG. These were clear testimonies to the Prime Minister's "sincerity and a determined mind", says Zhimomi.
The emphatic statement makes a lot of sense as the NNPGs have moved forward in peace parleys and the conglomeration of seven groups is ready to ink a peace pact with the Government of India at the earliest. In fact, Zhimomi has also said that - "We (Govt of India and NNPG) have touched, negotiated, sorted out and documented all negotiated points for posterity...... we are confident and prepared to sign the Indo-Naga Agreement anyday and anytime".
Nagaland has experienced enough of violence, clashes and turmoil. Thus if there is a crystal clear emphasis on peace and development, it only reflects people's wish and ardent desire.
The Naga history since 1947 and also since 1963 – when statehood was granted – has been violent and marred by killings of thousands of people including a huge number of footsoldiers – the Naga underground guerillas or militants. Thus, there is a lot of merit in what Kitovi Zhimomi has tried to underline.
“Does long time confrontation amongst ourselves (clashes between various groups) and with the Indian army and authorities smack of selfishness of some sections? This is my concern,” he says underlining another crucial factor that an influential section is keen to sabotage the progress in peace talks. The peace parleys had started in the 1990s 'informally' during the tenure of PV Narasimha Rao as the Prime Minister and later 'formally' after ceasefire during the stint of I K Gujral in August 1997.
The status quo now - between 1997 and 2020 - suits some sections including a powerful section of Naga overground politicians. Therefore, there is 'concern' that some kind of selfishness is trying to deprive any fresh settlement.
Zhimomi has also tried to articulate that - “This concern is definitely shared by many common Naga people who have sacrificed a lot in the last three decades and more".
“…we ought to act. It is time to act for the restoration of peace in our land," he underlines. Certainly, the ongoing Naga peace talks have reached a critical and advanced stage. It is also presumed that the Prime Minister has set a deadline of September 2020 to finalize a comprehensive peace accord.
In a crucial development, the ruling alliance in the state comprising the NDPP, the BJP and Independent legislators has welcomed the initiative of the Government of India to “resume the Indo-Naga political dialogue.”
A statement issued in Kohima said, the ruling combine and the state government will continue to play the role of an active facilitator in order to create an atmosphere that is “conducive to the realization and successful landing of the political solution”. 'Go with Doval factor' :
That essentially means the present state government and legislators would 'step aside' if necessary to ensure the rebel groups come forward to participate in the 'power sharing process'. This formula had worked successfully in Mizoram when the Late Laldenga-led MNF had come forward and inked a peace deal with the Rajiv Gandhi government. Some former intelligence officials who worked in Mizoram are now involved in the Naga peace process too.
Ajit Doval, Prime Minister's trusted National Security Advisor, was then a key player in Mizoram.
Late Laldenga later said Doval as IB officer had 'infiltrated into the Mizo National Front's camp in the Arakans in Burma' and could befriend with six of his military commanders and that had finally led to signing the Mizoram accord.Doval is again a key player in Naga matters and the incumbent state Governor R N Ravi was understandably picked up by him to be Modi's peace emissary in 2014. All these suggest that the Modi government is heading towards a big announcement.
"All the prophets of doom would be proved wrong," an insider said in confidence indicating that despite media hype of committing some lapses, the peace parleys are on track.
Therefore, now the Government is working on ground on the 'modalities' for surrender of weapons and rehabilitation of the armed cadres. Even the channel of communication with the NSCN(IM) is on despite some differences. Of course, the development and economic packages are also being worked on. There are chances of two possible autonomous councils - one each in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. If necessary the community leaders of various Naga tribal Hohos and influential bodies like Gaon Bura Federation (of village elders) will also be called to part of the grand signing ceremony.
Prime Minister's Office in Delhi is reportedly against 'any further' delay in the matter. Home Minister Amit Shah is also on board taking the services of Assam-based leader Himanta Biswa Sarma to ensure that Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur state governments are also kept in the loop. After the 2019 polls, the Prime Minister had given his nod and almost a deadline to sign the agreement with the Naga rebel groups by October 31 last year.
On the other hand, there is an argument that if talks fail, one or two factions of Naga militants can revive insurgency with the help of their operatives in China, Bangladesh and Pakistan. NNPG leader Zhimomi cautions about such a situation too. “The general notion that is infused into the Naga Society is that ‘If the talks fail, we go back to jungles’. This is easier said. The resultant of this move would be disastrous to our Naga brothers and their families,” he said.
“Should we continue to shed blood?,” the Naga rebel leader said stressing in favour of a lasting solution and peace.
(Nirendra Dev is a longtime northeast watcher and author of books including 'The Talking Guns: North East India' and 'Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth' )