Dimapur: Representatives of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) faction, or NSCN (I-M), are in New Delhi to resume peace talks with the central government, led by their general secretary, Th Muivah. But apart from outstanding issues like a separate constitution and flag for the Nagas, the biggest sticking point is the interlocutor, Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi, who is taking matters “back to square one”, according to V. Horam, executive member of the NSCN (I-M)’s steering committee.
Horam told ThePrint in an interview Saturday that Ravi “wants to take us back to the fighting days”, referring to the past when the group was part of a violent armed conflict for Naga independence.
“We don’t want that. We are looking for peace, because of which, we are very serious about this issue. This is a joint effort between the Government of India and the Naga people. And the interlocutor does not have the freedom to do whatever he likes,” Horam said.
An NSCN (I-M) delegation reached New Delhi last week to meet its leader Muivah and prepare for talks with Centre. They are likely to discuss whether they want to demand the governor’s removal as interlocutor.
Earlier, the Naga Hoho and the Naga Mothers’ Organisation, important civil society groups, had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying “peaceful settlement cannot be achieved with an interlocutor without empathy”.
ThePrint reached Governor Ravi for a comment through calls and text messages, but there was no response until the time of publishing this report.
Naga nationalist groups, the biggest of which is the NSCN (I-M), have been fighting for a sovereign homeland for over 60 years. The ongoing peace dialogue has been undertaken over the last 23 years to resolve this decades-long dispute.
Root cause of the anger
In June, Governor Ravi had shot off a letter to Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, expressing concern over the “precarious law and order situation in the state”.
The letter referred to the NSCN(I-M) and the various faction groups as ‘armed gangs’.
“Law abiding citizens — be they daily wage earners, petty vendors, businessmen, shop-keepers, owners of restaurants, road construction companies, entrepreneurs or government servants — are made miserable by rampant extortions and violence by the armed groups,” Ravi had written in the four-page letter.
The NSCN (I-M) has, however, maintained that it had the “inherent right of any sovereign people and nation” to collect taxes from the people.
“We had been doing the same thing even before the Indian Union was formed in 1950. Why is it today you are telling me not to tax? Taxation is politics, every government in the world does it. As far as extortion is concerned, we are against it and we check for it,” said Horam, defending the group’s position.
About Ravi’s future as interlocutor, Horam said: “We are not for his removal; but we won’t let him continue like this. Of course, as I’ve said, we have expressed our discontentment with what he has been doing. We also appreciate certain things he has done, but as far as his removal is concerned, we leave that to the wisdom of the collective leadership.”
He also blamed Ravi for the Nagaland government’s controversial decision to ask its employees to declare family members who are associated with “underground organisations”.
Describing this as an attempt to profile, Horam said: “If you go to any single Naga household, you’ll find every single family has given service, one way or another. He (Ravi) was doing this at the same time as trying to work out the final solution with us. Because of his lack of sincerity, we have reasons not to be happy with him… The Government of India is aware of that.”
NSCN (I-M) in the peace talks
Last year, on 31 October, the Naga peace talks were put on hold after the government managed to bring the NSCN (I-M), a key player in the negotiations, on board with the dialogue. The group had been refusing to talk over its contentious demand for a separate flag and constitution.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, in a series of tweets, had even congratulated the stakeholders for a “historic moment”. However, there has been little clarity on the specifics of what was agreed upon by the group and the Centre.
Congratulations to Shri RN Ravi, NSCN (IM) & NNPGs for the efforts & sacrifices. Also, appreciation to the civil societies, mass-based organisations, NGOs, churches & the Naga people for the support & prayers. We praise God Almighty & look forward to a new era for the Naga people
— Neiphiu Rio (@Neiphiu_Rio) October 31, 2019
“After 31 October, we said before the signing is done, why not revisit the final signing and the new relationship that we have worked out between us (with the Centre), which we call as competencies. So it was agreed on both sides that we revisit it,” Horam said. “In that retouch, what happened is that R.N Ravi started interpreting things out of the blue.”
According to him, there were attempts to work out an inclusive solution for all political organisations and the people in the Naga areas in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Assam.
“Now, R.N. Ravi was trying to interpret this inclusiveness as falling within the parameters of the Indian constitution. This is where we had real differences. That was a paradigm shift because of which a sudden stalemate developed, and thereafter, he started branding the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) as gangsters,” Horam said.
“This is double standards. On one hand, he’s having political talks with the same people. On the other, he is calling them goondas (gangsters).”
For now, it remains to be seen how the series of events of the last few months will impact the Naga peace talks. The NSCN (I-M) has said it will stick to its demand for a separate flag and constitution, despite indications that the Centre has only agreed to a flag symbolising “cultural identity within the Naga homeland”.
“The Government of India has been telling us to use the word ‘yehzabo’ (constitution) in our dialect. We said we will definitely use both ‘yehzabo’ and ‘constitution’. They then said we can use ‘bylaw’, to which we said no. It has to be the constitution of the Nagas,” Horam said.
“Also, the Naga national flag has to be there, because that is very important. We have been in this struggle for so many years under the flag, and no Naga is going to compromise on that,” he said.
The issue of the constitution and the flag will be taken up in the talks in New Delhi.
Asked about a timeframe for resolution, Horam added: “It’s difficult to say about a particular time; both sides are giving their best effort to come to a conclusion at the earliest. But whatever that is, it should be honourable and acceptable to both sides, and should not be a dictated solution.”