Guwahati: A lack of trust between the central government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) is perhaps the reason why the two sides have hit a stalemate over a Naga peace accord, said Lieutenant General (retired) Shokin Chauhan, former chairman of the Ceasefire Monitoring Group (CFMG), Nagaland.
The CFMG was set up in 2001 to find a lasting solution for peace, and to ensure that no ceasefire violation takes place between the Naga rebel groups and security forces in the region. It is also referred to as the Ceasefire Supervisory Board (CFSB).
Lt Gen Chauhan, the former director general of Assam Rifles (AR), vacated his position as the CFMG chairman on 28 August after a ‘peaceful’ two-year stint.
Speaking to ThePrint over the phone, he said negotiations of this nature are necessarily long and do not take place within a specified time frame.
“Everything in situations like these is based on mutual trust. If you do not trust the system, the conversation breaks down,” he said.
“To my mind, while negotiating, we should be the first to cooperate and work on creating personal equations — with both members of the negotiating team and with the leaders guiding the negotiations,” Lt Gen Chauhan added. “I personally feel the NSCN (I-M) leaders can be convinced on various issues. It takes a little extra, a little more time to build trust, and with that trust, they will start accepting the Indian state as a state that will actually help them.”
Talks between the central government and the NSCN(I-M) have intensified since last month but the latter sticking to its demand for a separate Naga flag and Constitution continues to be a sticking point.
A fresh round of talks are being held in New Delhi amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lack of governance and foresight
Lt Gen Chauhan said a lack of governance and opportunities in Nagaland, unemployment and lack of communication are the important factors central to the negotiations.
“You can have a meeting point, you can sign an agreement today, tomorrow it will break and they will go back again if we do not deal with the real issues,” he said. “In Nagaland, development is the key — the roads are bad, very few village households get safe piped water. We have to build that all up. We need to take governance into their houses, into their villages.”
The military veteran also stressed on the need to respect and understand the Nagas.
“An open mind with a large heart is what one needs to understand the Nagas. When you speak to the different groups, you realise that the Nagas feel they are different from mainland India — their language, customs, dresses, songs and cultural traditions are different,” he said. “They feel they might not be treated correctly. There are certain privileges given to them under Article 371(A) — among other provisions, it states that their land would not be taken away. We have to accept the fact that they are minorities and have to be dealt with differently. Whatever office you create, everything finally comes down to trust.”
“They are a rainbow of different tribes and communities. We should give them the confidence that they will be well looked after,” Lt Gen Chauhan added.
‘No incident of violence in two years’
The CFMG has held over 100 rounds of talks with the various NSCN factions within and outside the state VIP guest house in Kohima. In many of the meetings, the NSCN (I-M) had face-to-face discussions with the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs).
The NNPGs are a group of seven Naga insurgent outfits that are also holding talks with the central government, but separately.
There was a lack of consensus between the IM and NNPGs, with civil society groups urging all Naga factions to come together for “an early acceptable solution to the Naga problem”.
“The CFMG or the Ceasefire Supervisory Board (CFSB) play a vital role in implementing the laid ceasefire ground rules between the GOI and the NSCN,” said Secretary Hotoi Awomi of GPRN/NSCN, one of the political groups. “We share our problems and grievances to the chairman CFSB/CFMG and the chairman passes it on to the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs). Any security related issues are passed to the NSCN through the chairman’s office only.”
Lt Gen Chauhan proudly states that there has been not a single incident of violence in Nagaland during his tenure.
“My job was to keep peace in Nagaland, bring security and stability while ensuring that the groups maintained the ceasefire. I was able to get the two opposing parties on both sides to talk to each other,” he said. “I met with members of the civil groups, the Chambers of Commerce, the Naga Mothers Association and explained to them what ceasefire ground rules are. Except for minor ceasefire violations, they have kept the peace.”
He added that many a time, the two sides discussed the issues of taxation on trade and commerce and the recruitment of cadres, with the NSCN (I-M) maintaining that “legitimate taxation” would continue and that cadres have “willingly” joined the outfit without any forceful recruitment.
“While the insurgent groups are in ceasefire, they have not been stopped vis-a-vis the ceasefire agreements, and have continued to recruit cadres — the ceasefire ground rules clearly say there shall be no forcible recruitment, it does not mention about no recruitment at all,” explained Lt Gen Chauhan. “The only way you can identify ‘forcible recruitment’ is by either a parent or a village complaining about it — that the groups have taken away a boy or girl forcibly. In none of the cases have I ever received a complaint.”
“According to the groups, they require those cadres, and because they need money for sustenance, they resort to what they call legitimate taxation — what we call extortion. So, there’s a difference in perception,” he added.
General Chauhan further narrated how he managed to build trust between the Assam Rifles and the NSCN groups, stating that “once the NSCN groups realised they were not targeted unfairly, and the contention of AR regarding their movement, the trust factor improved”.
The NSCN (I-M) has a total strength of over 4,000 cadre, of whom 3,000 are armed. The NNPGs together have 1,000-1,500 cadre.
“When I assumed office in August 2018, the NSCN (I-M) leaders told me they do not like Army generals,” Chauhan said. “But when I was leaving, not just the IM, but all other factions asked me to stay saying they needed me at this critical time. I could not ask for a better affirmation.”
This has the endorsement of the NSCN(I-M). “We Nagas will miss General Shoukin Chauhan. Nagas respect him for his unquestionable justice to any issue he faced,” senior NSCN-IM leader Kehoi told ThePrint.
“Lt Gen Shokin Chauhan (retd) is a great man with vast knowledge and experiences. He did what he had to do during his tenure as chairman without any bias,” Awomi added.