The time may be just right to take up discussions on the final settlement of the Indo-Naga Peace Talk and its impact on Manipur’s integrity because media reports once again have sparked concern that the peace talks are to be settled soon. The reports are not without a basis as India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Northeast leader and Northeast Democratic Alliance (NEDA) Convenor, Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa, on a visit to Imphal for the Assembly bye-election campaign in the first week of November, assured leaders of the Coordination Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), that Union Home Minister Amit Shah will invite Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren and opposition leader, former Chief Minister Okram Ibobi, for the conclusive Peace Talk between the Government of India (GOI) and Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, NSCN (IM).
Meanwhile, reports and speculations are doing the rounds that Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren has been invited to New Delhi to discuss on issues pertaining to the Indo-Naga peace talks. Reports further say that the talks are in an advanced stage and everything is finalised to resolve the conflict, the only bottle neck being the stand of the NSCN (IM) on a separate flag and constitution for ‘Nagalim’. This has caused apprehension for the people of Manipur.
On the other hand, Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren told the media on November 12 that Union Home Minister Amit Shah is likely to visit the state during November to discuss the matter pertaining to the Indo-Naga peace talks.
He further asserted that his government will never compromise on any issue relating to the integrity of the state. Here some questions crop up – What does the integrity of the state mean? Is it only the territorial integrity of Manipur? Doesn’t it mean the unity of the state without division on ethnic lines?
Before coming to the possible final settlement and its impact on Manipur’s integrity, it is better to understand the context of the conflict in brief.
The Naga insurgent movement started with the emergence of Naga National Council (NNC) under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo in 1946. At the height of the NNC movement, the Naga People’s Convention (NPC) was convened in Kohima from August 22-26, 1957. Later, Angami Zapu Phizo fled into exile to London on June 12, 1960.
The 16-Point Agreement was signed between the Government of India and Naga People’s Convention (NPC) on July 26, 1960. Following this, the State of Nagaland Act 1962 converted the Naga Hills – Tuensang area of the erstwhile NEFA and the Naga Hills District of Assam into the present Indian state of Nagaland on December 1, 1963.
In 1975, the Government of India signed the Shillong Accord with a moderate faction of the Naga National Council (NNC).
After a short spell of peace – absence of violence for two years, the dissident group led by Thuingaleng Muivah, Isak Chisi Swu and Shangnyu Shangwang Khaplang rejected the agreement outright, and went underground again, spending much of their time in Myanmar. They formed the NSCN in January 1980.
Eight years later, in April 1988, the NSCN split into the NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (K) over differences in initiating a dialogue process with the Government of India. Since then, NSCN (IM) became more violent in Manipur.
GOI-NSCN (IM) Peace Talk has been continuing since August 1, 1997 after a Ceasefire Agreement on July 25, 1997 between them. The Framework Agreement between GOI and NSCN (IM) was signed on August 3, 2015.
On the other hand, Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), a conglomerate of seven Naga insurgent groups signed a Deed of Commitment with GOI on November 17, 2017.
The NNPG comprises of the NSCN (Unification), NSCN (Reformation), NSCN (Khango), Naga National Council (NNC), NPGN/NNC (NA), NNC/GDRN (NA), and Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN). It may be mentioned that most of these groups have fought fratricidal battles with the NSCN (IM) since the NSCN, formed in 1980, split into the Isak-Muivah and SS Khaplang factions eight years later in 1988.
Still NSCN (IM) sticks to its vision of integration of all Naga Areas under one administration having a separate flag and constitution of ‘Nagalim’.
On the other hand, COCOMI, a conglomeration of Manipur based civil society organisations UCM, AMUCO, CCSK, HERICOUN, LIPUL and MMWO along with other civil society organisations firmly stands for a united Manipur where all the ethnic groups co-exist without division on ethnic lines.
The COCOMI demanded the disclosure of the Naga Framework Agreement signed in August 2015. Then on November 25, 2019, an 18-member delegation met Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The Home Minister assured the COCOMI that before the final agreement, the Government of Manipur and the people of the state be consulted and that there will be no integration of Naga-inhabited areas, no separate regional Naga Territorial Council in Manipur.
In another development, the NNPG after a consultative meeting with COCOMI on November 10 in Dimapur stated that the impending Indo-Naga political solution will be in the interest of Nagas, Meiteis and all other communities. Any new political or administrative arrangement or structure that respects and promotes Naga history, culture and identity, without altering the present boundary of Manipur, Arunachal or in Assam as a result of Indo-Naga solution, and which benefits all communities must be appreciated.
It is said that the meeting has reaffirmed that Nagas and Meiteis have a larger role to play in the “ethno-social and political reorganisation” of the indigenous peoples in the Northeast and Naga and Meitei generations must avoid living in perpetual fear and mistrust of each other.
The NNPGs reassured the representatives of COCOMI that the Naga peace talks will be in the interest of the Nagas, Meiteis and all other communities.
In the last few decades, the tranquillity and mutual respect between the two communities faced rough weather owing to impractical ideology and discomforting political stance of few. The Naga-Meitei brotherhood, both sides agree, cannot be dictated by haphazard and preposterous sentiments, the statement of the NNPG stressed.
Meanwhile, the Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM), the apex body of Kukis in the state endorsing the demand for a separate Kukiland Territorial Council in Manipur, submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 9 requesting the Government of India to not include the so-called Kuki ancestral land in five districts of Manipur.
Moreover, the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) comprising 17 Kuki militant groups said that “any settlement with NSCN (IM) that disregards Kuki rights will not be tolerated”. KNO is one of the two umbrella bodies of Kuki militants – KNO and United Peoples Front (UPF) who signed a Suspension of Operation Agreement with the Government of India and Government of Manipur.
In the present context, as NNPG expressed, the final settlement of Indo-Naga Peace Talk will be for the Nagas of the Nagaland.
However, the possibility of granting something compensatory to the NSCN (IM) or the Nagas in Manipur cannot be ruled out. The most possible is granting of Naga Territorial Council as speculated by many experts. That is why the Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM) demands a Kukiland Territorial Council in Manipur and backed by the KNO’s stand that any settlement with NSCN (IM) that disregards Kuki rights will not be tolerated.
These ideas of territorial councils are perceived as divisive policy to divide Manipur on ethnic lines by the majority of people of Manipur, particularly COCOMI and its allies. The COCOMI and its allies perceive the territorial council is at the door step to statehood as evidenced from the Autonomous Territorial Councils in undivided Assam, which later became states like Meghalaya and Mizoram.
Even if the Government of India does not use ethnic names in the proposal for territorial councils in Manipur, many feel that it will be practically ethno-based and only the Manipur valley area remains a region where all the ethnic groups, be it the Nagas, Kukis, Pangals and Mayangs, besides Meiteis, can live and rule.
If these ideas become true, the oneness of Manipur will surely be balkanised.
Therefore, the conflict resolution experts of India, particularly those involved in the process of Indo-Naga Peace Talk should explore more to resolve the conflict without dividing Manipur on ethnic lines even if the territorial boundary of Manipur is undisturbed, and should promote coexistence and co-development for the multi-ethnic state of Manipur, for a lasting positive peace. Otherwise, one-sided resolution of conflict will multiply the conflict and make it more violent with the recurrence of Naga problem in future.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics