NSCN (IM)’s bid to scuttle peace efforts won’t work as there is a groundswell of demand for peace. The Centre has conveyed to NSCN(IM) that its demand for a separate constitution and a flag or division of Assam or Manipur can’t be accepted
Ideally it should have been a festive season for Nagas. The much-awaited peace talks between the Government of India and Naga militants have reached the final stage and possibly would be signed by September-end. But the Nagas are also an anxious group of people today as some elements are singing rather pessimistic songs after having raised ‘impossible’ demands.
Shri N Kitovi Zhimomi, the convener of an umbrella body of Naga militant groups operating within the state of Nagaland, says: “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. Should we continue to shed blood?”
He is not alone. Shri S C Jamir, the last surviving signatory to the 16 Point Agreement of 1960 that heralded the birth of the 16th state of Indian Union and a protagonist of nationalism, has also echoed similar sentiment. "Why should they talk about what is not possible,” he asked. Of course, Shri Jamir's reference to "what is not possible" is certainly linked to the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) demand for a separate Flag and Constitution for Nagas. Simply put, no government in Delhi and no elected Prime Minister of India worth his salt can give up on these two issues. Dialogue cannot be equated with surrender of pride and prestige of world’s largest democracy. Trying to find a scapegoat on these rows with an individual – the state Governor Shri R N Ravi--is a fallacy.
But, precisely, this is what the NSCN(IM) has done and demanded that Shri Ravi, who is also the peace interlocutor, should be replaced. The peace process had begun in 1997 when the NSCN(IM) came out for parleys with the Centre. Other groups joined the peace process gradually at later stage. In one of its statements, the NSCN (IM) says: “The Nagas have fought long enough and they have survived all the Machiavellian policies from the adversaries. They are still ready to fight another war if their political rights and history are not respected.”
Thus, after prolonged negotiations when the militant group and its leader Shri Thuingaleng Muivah have ‘revived’ the two basic but ever controversial issues of flag and constitution, many Naga protagonists in the 'peace process' are upset.
There is a 'concern' that some kind of selfishness is trying to deprive any fresh settlement. Comes the next question: Is it true the status quo without a solution suits them?
Shri N Kitovi Zhimomi, convener of seven bodies Naga National People's Groups (NNPGs), has tried to articulate that when he said: “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 said and added: “Does long confrontation amongst ourselves (clashes between various groups) and with the Indian Army and authorities smack of selfishness of some sections? This is my concern.” This influential section is certainly in reference to the NSCN(IM) and its maverick general secretary Shri Muivah.
Tribalism: A reality
Here comes the crux of a debate related to tribalism among Nagas. Shri Muivah himself is a Tangkhul Naga and his native community essentially resides in parts of Manipur -- outside the 16th state of Nagaland.
It is true the Nagas are a scattered community living in parts of Myanmar, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Assam besides Nagaland state.
But as happens with the games of violence and tribalism, some years ago there was a simmering anger 'against the whole of the Tangkhul community' for Muivah's push of fellow Tangkhul leaders in the 'Naga army' and also targeting other Naga community leaders.
Many over-ground Naga leaders have also faced attacks on their lives. The likes of Shri Jamir and late Hokishe Sema survived assassination bid more than once. Shri Jamir was attacked in 1992 in Nagaland House at 29, APJ Abdul Kalam Road as well.
By 2001-02, the government got inputs that a conflict of interest surfaced between the Nagas within Nagaland and the Nagas (precisely Tangkhuls) from Manipur state but causing 'havoc' in Nagaland.
Unfortunately, the same issue of 'Nagas from within Nagaland' and 'outside' has surfaced yet again. "Almighty Jehovah planted each Naga tribe in a well-defined landscape to call its own, to nurture, dwell upon, progress and strengthen the fabric of Naga brotherhood. This helped the Nagas to pursue our common political aspiration, understanding and respecting the dynamics of each tribe’s culture, tradition and ownership of lands among brothers. Nagas were divided through political instruments into different states in Burma and India, this is a historical fact. Each Naga tribe has a demarcated territory; this is also a historical truth,"says NNPG convener Shri Zhimomi, who is himself a Sema Naga.
The Semas originally hail from Zunheboto district in Nagaland and have significant presence in and around Dimapur township on the foothills also. Ironically, for long the NSCN(IM) leadership was shared by Shri Muivah alongside a Sema leader Shri Isak Chishi Swu, who was the chairman. Shri Swu died in 2016 some months after a Framework Agreement was exchanged between Shri Muivah and interlocutor Shri Ravi in the presence of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi on August 3, 2015.
In mid-nineties, an intense guerrilla warfare and arson started between ‘Nagas and Kukis, another nomadic tribe’ in Nagaland and parts of Manipur. But Shri P S Haokip, president of the Kuki National Organisation, says, “The two communities (Kukis and Nagas) largely co-existed with each other for centuries” but it was Shri Muivah who from 1980s “communalised” the Naga movement against Kukis. Manipur state houses substantial number of Kuki population and this community also reside in Athibung belt of Nagaland and parts of Assam.
All these obviously are making things complex and perhaps murkier even at the last stage. But despite any amount of efforts by Shri Muivah himself and also a section of 'intellectuals and mediapersons' in Delhi to present the NSCN(IM) as the only bona fide Naga militant organisation, there are not many takers these days.
Pressure is mounting on Shri Muivah and his Tangkhul community leadership from multiple quarters.
In a rare gesture, the Naga Gaon Bura Federation (NGBF), an influential and respected body of 'village elders' has flayed NSCN (IM), which essentially draws strength from its cadres among Tangkhul and Sema Nagas.
"God-fearing leaders should not insist their words and actions are final in the Naga context. The people's voice and will is final. NGBF is opposed to dictate that stifles people's sentiment. Nagas did not oppose British and Indian occupations to be treated like expendable humans at the hands of fellow Nagas," the village elders said.
Of course, amid debates over the modus operandi for arriving at the 'final' accord to end decades old Naga insurgency, there is need to debate on whether Governor Shri R N Ravi, also the interlocutor, has achieved what he was supposed to.
The NGBF and the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) have said the peace pact is virtually ready and can be signed anytime. The other camp, NSCN(IM), is demanding Shri Ravi's ouster as the 'interlocutor' but has not moved out of talks. Others are also trying to make NSCN(IM) understand the call of the time – that nothing could be given out beyond the parameters of Constitution of India. The opposition party in Nagaland, NPF, led by former Chief Minister Shri T R Zeliang, recently met NSCN(IM) leaders and urged to opt for reconciliation. It is important to appreciate that there is a strong clamour for peace and final solution from the rice fields.
The important point is perhaps a section of 'Nagas from Manipur' today stands 'isolated' in circa 2020 from their brethren in 'the state of Nagaland'.
This element is vital because so far only one version of the story was given all importance. Of course, the NSCN(IM) had its 'strength' as a potent guerrilla group, but in no manner can an elected Prime Minister of India give a 'separate constitution and flag'. In order to ensure harmony in states like Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, the division of any state is also ruled out.