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Naga peace talks stall as stakeholders dither : The Tribune India

Maj Gen Ashok K Mehta (retd)

Military commentator

In a letter to Nagaland CM Neiphiu Rio on June 16, the government interlocutor with Naga entities and Governor RN Ravi virtually accused both the state government and the predominant Naga armed group NSCN-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah) of undermining law and order and state legitimacy without naming any Naga group. He charged the armed gangs with running a parallel government and extorting taxes.

On June 27, the Isak-Muivah (IM) faction replied that the legitimate taxes it levies were not extortion as these sustain the Naga political movement and were not objected to by the earlier interlocutors. Rio said the law and order was much better than the pre-ceasefire period. Ravi has directed that all postings of law and order officials will require the approval of the Governor. This is the first time that such a step has been taken in the state. Mainstreaming Naga armed groups has been a challenge for New Delhi since Independence.

Last year, Ravi failed to secure a PM Modi-set deadline of October 31 for consummating a full and final settlement with the IM within the framework of the Constitution following the government’s success in J&K, nullifying Article 370. Modi was to have signed the follow-up to the 2015 Naga Framework Accord in Kohima on December 11 with Muivah.

Ravi told a newspaper on October 18 that the Naga peace process would be concluded by October 31 without a separate flag and the Constitution sought by the IM. The others were told that the Naga accord would be signed with or without the IM, hinting towards the more amenable group of seven Naga parties he began engaging in 2017. This Ravi-nursed NNPG did sign the accord, postponing the issue of flag and Constitution for later. But the Nagaland Framework Accord was between the IM and the Government of India and not with the NNPG.

A positive closure of the Naga peace process would have ended the mother of all insurgencies in India and the world’s longest-running demand for secession, facilitating the ending of residual insurgencies in Manipur and other armed movements scattered across the North-East and, most importantly, giving a fillip to India’s Act East Policy.

The most striking event of the Naga peace process occurred when Ravi inaugurated this January 17, the fifth session of the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly. According to the Nagaland Today, Ravi stated in the Assembly that negotiations between the Government of India and Naga political groups were successfully concluded. He referred to a meeting with the Joint Legislative Forum on Naga political issues held on November 13 which he said would facilitate a final solution to the prolonged Naga issue which is honourable, acceptable and recognises the uniqueness of the history of the Naga people. He asked the neighbouring states to help as the Naga peace process had reached a critical juncture.

In the discussion on the Governor’s address, the East Mojo Times of February 8 reported that Opposition lawmakers, Imkong Limshen and Vikheho Swu, questioned the veracity of the remarks of the Governor, his claiming that talks were successfully concluded but also saying that we are at a critical juncture while also asking the Nagas to unite or ‘miss golden opportunity’.

Swu said the Centre should not use the excuse of getting a favourable response from the neighbouring states in resolving the issues. The Governor in his reference to ‘successfully concluded negotiations’ with Naga political groups was correct, as he had signed an agreement with the NNPG on November 17, 2017. He excluded any mention of the IM with whom he reportedly signed an agreement on October 31 to sign a final peace deal later, keeping the dialogue process alive.

In the House, the Governor reassured the Nagas, who fear a J&K being done to them, that Nagaland enjoys Article 371A which protects identity and the customary law of the Nagas and the inner line provision of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations of 1873 as both disallow Citizenship (Amendment) Act Bill or CAB 2019 in the state. Despite this, the Opposition in the Nagaland Assembly insisted that an anti-CAA resolution be passed in the House, like in West Bengal and Kerala. The Naga Opposition is worried about an influx of illegal immigrants because Assam, the gateway to the North-East, had not been entirely exempted from the purview of the law, making Nagaland susceptible to illegal immigration.

On February 28 this year, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, Ravi said in an interview that “delay in concluding talks is entirely on the part of IM which seems not prepared for a settlement and is using delaying tactics by giving new mischievous interpretations on the already agreed provisions of contentious issues.” The pan-Naga entity was mutually agreed to be a cultural body with no political role or executive authority. After the October 31 deadline, they want a pan-Naga body to have political and executive influence over the Nagaland government, precisely the reference he made in his June 16 letter.

Ravi will have to think out of the box to get the 86-year-old Thuingaleng Muivah to accept a solution within the framework of the Constitution of India. In his recent TV interviews to East Mojo and News Live, Muivah says the Nagas will not budge from their own flag and Constitution. Using the NIA or other coercive measures against an old warhorse and his group will not work.

While the IM has 7,000 armed fighters with a long legacy of insurgency pre-dating Independence, Kashmir has just 240 militants. Muivah’s Tangkhul Nagas are warning: Do not create another Kashmir, it will hurt your Act East Policy. Given the situation along the LoC and LAC, opening a third front against the world’s oldest insurgency will be harakiri.

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