After all, the NSCN was formed in the aftermath of the Shillong Accord of 1975, signed between the government of India and the Naga National Council, which soon faded into irrelevance. The terms of this agreement had stipulated that underground Naga organisations would give up arms and “formulate other issues for discussion for final settlement”. This accord was rejected as a sell-out to the Indian government.
Will the terms of the new agreement go any further?
The NSCN had started life demanding the creation of “Greater Nagaland” or “Nagalim”. This would be sovereign Naga territory, wedged between India and Myanmar. It did not recognise existing national borders or state boundaries. It would consist of the Naga-dominated areas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, as well as parts of Myanmar. So neighbouring states might well have been wary of what might ensue from a deal between the NSCN(IM) and the government.
But this is what is known of the new deal so far. There will be no tinkering with the existing territorial boundaries of states, government sources have said. However, “cultural integration of Nagas living in states other than Nagaland will be facilitated through special measures”. It would also provide for the financial and administrative autonomy of the Naga-dominated areas in other states. The broad outline of the deal gives rise to three questions.
The Sixth Schedule to the Constitution of India contains provisions concerning the administration of tribal areas in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. Financial and administrative autonomy, says Pradeep Phanjoubam, editor of the Imphal Free Press, could take the form of giving these powers to the Naga-districts in Manipur. Till now, the hill districts of Manipur (which include the districts that NSCN and others wanted for Nagalim) have depended on Imphal for their funds. The application of the Sixth Schedule has been a contested issue in Manipur.
As in Mizoram, where the autonomous councils of the minority communities (the Lais, Maras and the Chakmas) routinely accuse the Aizawl administration, controlled by the majority Mizos, of underfunding them, the question of financial support has been a bone of contention between Imphal and the autonomous councils of Manipur. During the autonomous district council elections held earlier this year, the need for Sixth Schedule status for the hill districts was a common refrain. That could come about now, says Phanjoubam. With Sixth Schedule status, the councils will also be funded by the Centre, reducing their dependence on the state government.
But it would also bring with it another set of complications, for a greater chunk of customary laws will find their way into local administration. For decades, Manipur has been caught in a mesh of insurgencies, stemming from issues of identity and the demand for greater self-determination. Clashing ethnic identities and the counter-insurgency measures of the government have left the state distraught. Under the new peace accord, will minority tribes in a district with Sixth Schedule powers be prepared to live by the customary laws of the majority tribe?
Back in June, when Scroll was in Manipur, the tribals in the hill districts were a tad unsure about whether they could get Sixth Schedule status. The majority Meiteis – living mainly in the central valley of Manipur – would never agree, they had said. But when Scroll spoke to Phanjoubam on Tuesday, he was sanguine about the Meities. They will come around if their interests are secured as well, he felt. In recent weeks, the valley has seen sustained protests seeking an extension of the inner line permit to the valley. “If the hill districts get sixth schedule but the valley gets some protection as well, it can be pacified,” said Phanjoubam. According to him, the resistance lies elsewhere, not least in the business of declaring places like Ukhrul and Senapati as Naga districts – you also have other tribes like the Kukis living here.
Besides, it’s not as if all Nagas have the same customary law. “There is a lot of diversity in the customary laws of the Nagas themselves,” says Phanjoubam, “the Nagas, the Maos, the Hohos, everyone has different beliefs.” These laws would have to be harmonised. “It can be done but it cannot be done tomorrow,” he said.
Why only the NSCN(IM)?
In Nagaland, the first of many questions is, how broad is this peace? The government has signed a deal with just one of the many – though one of the biggest – insurgent groups operating in the state. At the ceremony where the Agreement was signed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: "Our oldest insurgency is getting resolved, it is a signal to other smaller groups to give up weapons."
But will the other groups acquiesce? What complicates matters is that, based on the information in the public domain, the deal holds concessions only for Nagas in Manipur. That might have something to do with the NSCN(IM)’s composition. “Most of NSCN(IM)'s leaders come from the Naga parts of Manipur,” says Phanjoubam. So if other Naga groups don’t agree to this accord, they won't lay down their arms. And if they don't lay down their arms, will the NSCN(IM) do so?
This approach, where the Centre spoke to just one insurgent group and did not involve the state governments, is surprising. No less a person than RN Ravi, the current interlocutor from the Centre for the Naga peace talks, has rubbished such tacks before.
In an January 2014 article titled “Nagaland: descent into chaos”, he wrote, referring to the NSCN(IM):
“The ‘ceasefire’ with the outfit was in utter disregard for the logic of the prevailing situation. The crucial stakeholders – the popularly elected State government, the traditional Naga bodies that wield wide and deep influence on their respective tribes and other active militias in the fray – were excluded from the process. New Delhi missed the vital fact that the NSCN(IM), notwithstanding its pan-Naga pretensions, is essentially a militia of the Tangkhul tribe of Manipur with little resonance with the broad Naga family. A deal cut with it would not be acceptable to the Naga society.”
Still, this time around as well, the Centre chooses to act on its own. The states are left in the dark, as are the other Naga groups and state actors.
And what of Naga sovereignty?
The other anxiety in Nagaland surrounds the question of sovereignty, so crucial to the NSCN’s original demands. Says Phanjoubam, “There is nothing in this for the people of Nagaland – no Nagalim, no sovereignty.” An editorial in the Imphal Free Press speculates on the dangers of diluting sovereignty. Would it be watered down to mean greater economic autonomy, more stakes in the extraction of mineral resources, for instance? Or would it mean greater autonomy at the grassroot level, through Sixth Schedule powers?
In the Nagaland press, there is distinct unease over giving up the idea of a sovereign Nagalim. Perhaps trying to come to terms with the fact that there may be no independent Nagalim, an impassioned editorial in the Morung Express extends the idea of sovereignty beyond territorial autonomy. Sovereignty is located in the exercise of rights by a people who have strained under “oppression and subjugation perpetuated by the structures of political domination”. A new accord, it says, must allow Naga people to direct the course of their own history.
But one letter writer, a Dr K Hoshi, writing from Phek Town and published in the Eastern Mirror as well as the Nagaland Post, cannot accept a hyphenated identity:
“Taxonomy like Nagas of India and Nagas of Burma (Myanmar) were cleverly coined by our enemy to divide us. In the perspective of sovereign Naga politics, Naga will be Naga in one Nagaland (not the state of Nagaland within Indian Union) or Nagalim.”
Naga political groups, Hoshi says, had been instrumental in partitioning this united Nagalim. He warned of non-political groups becoming restive, but advised them to act with restraint.
Will the ideological purists of the Naga movement accept anything less than sovereignty? Will rival groups submit to an agreement signed between the government and NSCN(IM)? Will neighbouring states make space for greater autonomy for Naga groups? It remains to be seen if this agreement fares better than previous attempts.
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