The final settlement of the Naga question may finally be within reach. It was widely expected to be announced before the Assembly election in March, but that was not to be. Shortly after the election, however, Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio claimed the peace accord would be signed on August 10, 2018. This week, The Indian Express reported that the accord “is likely to be signed before the monsoon session of Parliament”.
The Naga peace accord is expected to bring an end to one of the oldest militancies in India. It revolved around the demand for Nagalim, originally envisioned as a sovereign territory consisting of Nagaland and “all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas” of Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and, across the international border, Myanmar. After the rebel groups agreed to a settlement within the bounds of the Indian Constitution, it has come to refer to a proposed larger state of Nagaland.
The central government has been talking to the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) since 1997 but the peace process received a fillip after Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed a “framework agreement” with the largest Naga rebel group in 2015. Since then murmurs about an imminent resolution to the six-decade old crisis have dominated Nagaland’s political discourse.
Quoting unnamed sources, the Indian Express report said “substantive portions” of the draft accord have been finalised by the central government and Naga groups. Back in March, a Nagaland minister who spoke to Scroll.in, who did not want to be quoted, had claimed that the accord did not provide for the territorial integration of all Naga regions or changes in state boundaries. This seems to be seconded by sources quotes in the Express report.
Shape of an accord
According to the Express report, the draft provides for autonomous Naga territorial councils to administer Naga-inhabited areas of Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, a common cultural body for Nagas across states, specific institutions for Nagaland’s development, integration and rehabilitation of non-state Naga militia and removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
The Nagaland minister also spoke of autonomous district councils in the Naga areas of states like Manipur. He also suggested there was no provision for a supra-legislature or overarching body governing all Naga regions, as was previously suggested in some quarters.
Also under discussion, according to the minister, were provisions for a dual passport for Nagas residents and increasing the number of Nagaland assembly seats from 60 to 80 and Lok Sabha seats from one to three. This would include a separate Lok Sabha seat for the four districts of Eastern Nagaland which had demanded a separate state carved out of Nagaland.
The demand for a separate Naga national flag was a sticking point in negotiations between the Centre and the state, the Nagaland minister had said, a claim echoed by the Express report.
‘In the final stages’
The NSCN (IM) has dismissed the Express report saying there was “no truth” in it. “We are in the final stages of negotiation, yes, but a lot of vital issues are still being discussed,” said VS Atem, formerly chief of the group’s armed wing and now a key member of its collective leadership.
But NSCN (IM) is no longer the only Naga group negotiating with the central government. In October last year, six other groups joined the talks. The NSCN (Kitovi Zhimomi), Naga Nationalist Council, Federal Government of Nagaland, NSCN (Reformation), National Peoples Government of Nagaland (Non-Accord) and Government Democratic Republic of Nagaland (Non-Accord) have formed a loose coalition called the Naga National Political Groups.
A member of the coalition said the final accord would be in the “interest of Nagas but the “interests of the neighbours of Nagas would also be protected”, suggesting that territorial integration was indeed off the table.
The other hurdle in the way of a final peace is engaging the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim. The group had signed a ceasefire with the government in 2001. But SS Khaplang, the late leader of the faction and a Naga of Burmese origin, had ended the ceasefire in 2015 and resisted negotiations since then.
According to the Nagaland minister, “messengers” had been sent to Khaplang faction to get them to participate in the peace process. After the death of Khapalang, the group has been headed by Khango Konyak, a Naga from Nagaland. This will make it easier to negotiate with the NSCN(K) leadership, the minister said.
The central government’s interlocutor for the peace process, RN Ravi, could not be contacted. Several officials at the home ministry also declined to comment on the status and contents of the agreement.