Dimapur: The people of Nagaland are cautiously optimistic about a dialogue with Centre after interlocutor R.N. Ravi’s announcement that rebel group National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) is “on board” to finalise the Naga peace accord.
As the exercise to find a solution to the Naga political issue concluded Thursday, Ravi, who is also Nagaland’s governor, said “the accord has not been finalised yet. Matters are under discussion.”
Amid expressions of appreciation from political parties and the Naga Hoho, the apex tribal body of Nagas for the Narendra Modi government and the Naga delegation, those who have been following the narrative say they are relieved that the formal talks ended on a positive note.
“We can only guess at what has transpired between the IM and the Government of India, but obviously there has been a shift in the difficult process. But what that is will reveal if the solution will be a solution at all,” said a Naga elder who has attempted to broker peace among the various Naga groups in the past.
Yet he maintained that it would be desirable for those carrying out the negotiations— the NSCN-IM and the Naga National Political Group, an umbrella organisation part of the talks —to hammer out differences between themselves in the absence of any third party, before signing the settlement.
“After all, the issue is a Naga one and the future must be thought out collectively,” he told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
The NSCN-IM has been fighting India’s oldest insurgency over its demand for a separate sovereign entity that would include Nagaland and Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar across the border. In 2015, it signed a framework agreement for peace talks with the Modi government.
‘Their fate will be decided by people’
The degree of optimism following Thursday’s announcement is more among the youth.
A young male entrepreneur interprets the outcome as an indication that the rankling issues of “territorial integrity” and the “Naga flag” are off the table. Without this, he is hopeful that a structured system with checks and balances for better delivery of government programmes will see the light of day.
During the negotiation exercise in New Delhi earlier this week, the issue of the Naga flag and Constitution threatened to derail the talks. However, a breakthrough was apparently made.
Joel Naga, a member of Naga Rising, an ideological body reflecting the aspirations of the future generation, stressed that the end of the formal negotiations marks the end of Naga political groups using the cover of this issue to conduct their anti-social activities.
“Those days are gone when they could threaten people at the barrel of the gun. Instead, they will fight the electoral battle in a democratic process by forming political parties. Their fate will be decided by the people,” said Joel.
The Naga Rising, established in August this year, claims to represent a cross-section of Nagaland’s society and views the approach to the Naga political issue through a broad-based framework.
Taxes and ‘new struggle’
Organisations leading the fight against unabated taxation in Nagaland, especially in the state’s commercial capital Dimapur, also reacted with hope.
On Friday, the Public Action Committee of the Naga Council, Dimapur (PAC- NCD) issued a statement saying, “Now that the resolution for the settlement has been arrived at, the public should be free from all kinds of taxation.”
The body has requested the leaders of Naga National Political Group to rein in their rank and file and immediately stop collection of taxes. Even the law enforcement agencies have been asked to be vigilant in the new developments.
Octogenarian social activist Niketu Iralu said the time has come for Nagas to agree to say no to violence.
“Nagas are tired and in a stupor and if violence breaks out we may say, ‘What to do its come again’. But this time we must say no to any violence. Ordinary people have just suffered and accepted things in despair and dismay but with deep bitterness.
“It will get worse if violence finds a place. The Church must come out and say no more violence. The Government of India must also not allow any violence to break out,” said lralu.
Flag and constitution
Meanwhile, the working committee of the Naga National Political Groups also welcomed the announcement.
Earlier in the week, the committee claimed a clause in the final agreement on resolution of the Naga issue would mention the Naga flag and constitution as prime symbolic issues which shall be pursued post solution through continuous political and democratic process.
In a press statement, the media cell of the committee said the Government of India reiterated its position on the two symbolic issues clearly.
The release said the working committee and the Modi government arrived at an understanding that the Naga flag and constitution are indispensable to the Naga people. But its usage for cultural or political purposes is central.
It said the Government of India is aware that the “Agreed Position” — a framework agreement signed on 17 November 2017 — by its very content implies that the flag and constitution are within it.
“There is no ambiguity,” the release added.
The author is editor of Nagaland Today.