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NSCN(IM) leader Th. Muivah with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the signing of the Framework Agreement on August 3, 2015

Is Re-Engagement of the NSCN (IM) in the Naga Peace Process A Pre-Election Exercise?

After signing the Framework Agreement between the Government of India (GOI) and the Isak-Muvah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, NSCN (IM) on August 3, 2015, the Indian Prime Minister Nrendra Modi claimed as the decades-old Naga insurgency problem once and for all as if the lasting peace is achieved.

However, the signing of the Framework Agreement between the GOI and NSCN (IM) on August 3, 2015 at the residence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Delhi can’t resolve the Naga insurgency in spite of the much hype and hope of strkiking a final peace accord before October 31, 2019.

There were rounds of talks or consultations between the then India’s interlocutor R N Ravi and the leadership of the NSCN (IM) and there was also spat between R N Ravi and the NSCN (IM).

Moreover, the Government of India also entered into an agreed position with NNPGs in December 2017 having a separate peace talk on Naga insurgency.

The GOI has held two separate peace talks with the NSCN (IM) since 1997 and the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) comprising seven organisations since 2017.

The deadline for making final peace deal had expired on October 31, 2019 without any accord being signed, following which the NSCN (IM) has a falling out with R N Ravi, who was replaced with A K Mishra as the interlocutor. A K Mishra, a former special director of the Intelligence Bureau succeeded R N Ravi as the Centre’s interlocutor for the Naga peace process in September 2021. The latter is the Governor of Tamil Nadu. Interlocutor and Nagaland Governor R N Ravi, was subsequently appointed as the Tamil Nadu Governor.

Among other issues, a key sticking point in the negotiations between the two sides has been an apparent impasse over the Naga flag. While the Government of India reportedly offered to accept the flag as a cultural symbol, the NSCN (IM) was not “impressed” by the idea.

“The Naga issue is not a cultural issue that the Government of India should change the Naga flag as a cultural symbol and forgo the Naga political identity as symbolised by the Naga flag”, the NSCN (IM) had said earlier, maintaining that this flag was not “just a piece of cloth” but a “symbol” of the Naga people’s “pride and values”.

Moreover, the NSCN (IM) sticks to their stand for the Naga flag and the Naga Constitution besides bringging all Nagas under one administrative umbrella.

Since October 2019, a deadlock has persisted on the Naga insurgency talk between the Government of India and the NSCN (IM).

However, significantly this September 2022, the NSCN (IM) held meetings with a representative of Government of India in New Delhi, in an effort to find a permanent solution to the decades-old Naga insurgency. The meeting which started from September 20 is said to continue till September 22, 2022.

Reports said the NSCN (IM) delegation, led by senior leader V S Atem, met interlocutor A K Mishra at an undisclosed location in the national capital.

The participants discussed the NSCN (IM)’s core demands, including a separate flag for the Nagas. But the dialogue remains inconclusive. The NSCN (IM) delegation also requested the interlocutor to arrange for a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reports said.

The NSCN (IM) leader Thuingaleng Muivah did not take part in this round of the meeting.

Notably, the Government of India’s re-engagement with the NSCN (IM) besides the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) will be appreciated by everyone. And also the decision by the NSCN (IM) to resume in talks with the Government of India, conditionally, on the basis of the Framework Agreement signed in August 2015, is a welcome one.

The re-engagement of the NSCN (IM) in the process of resolving the Naga insurgency problem breaks a deadlock that has persisted in talks since October 2019 between the GOI and the NSCN (IM).

However, the NSCN (IM), on September 20, 2022 in its monthly Bulletin News of its mouthpiece ‘Nagalim Voice’, said the NSCN (IM) stood by its demand for the unification of the Naga-inhabited areas for the Nagas and a separate flag and those were “non-negotiable”.

The NSCN (IM) has urged Prime Minister Narednra Modi not to “shy away” from Naga issue but have a relook through the prism of Framework Agreement (FA), “his own political brainchild”. The credit he has taken in bringing about FA should be unerringly interpreted to take forward in solving Naga issue, said NSCN (IM).

The editorial of the Nagalim Voice, Vol 014, Issue 22, September, 2022 ironically points out that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “who loves to advertise his achievements” is expected to take the Naga issue to logical conclusion as the stalled “Indo-Naga talks” pick up the threads with focus on FA and now the “Formulated papers”.

Seven years ago when Modi took the initiative to supervise the high profile FA signing ceremony on August 3, 2015 at his residence, it generated much hype and hope going by the tone of his “highly enchanting speech” he delivered. He took pride in announcing to all political leaders who matters that he has solved the longest insurgency movement in Southeast Asia, said the editorial.

The NSCN (IM) added “Going beyond that, the ceremony was live-telecast all over the world to put on record his achievement in solving Naga issue. He began his speech, “This day marks the beginning of a new age. The 3rd August, 2015 will be inscribed in the pages of Indian history with golden letters.”

“25 years of Indo-Naga political talks and 7 years of Framework Agreement (FA) is a long period of endurance and commitment exhibited by Naga people for peaceful settlement of Naga issue. Modi also said, “Six-seven decades is a prolonged time period; you must have been through numerous hardships, and the wounds must be deep.” These beautifully framed words still remains hollow, said the editorial.

The NSCN (IM) stated that its stand on FA has been distinctly stated time and again and the decision of the National Assembly on May 31, 2022 and the declaration (resolution) adopted on August 26, 2022 by the Naga National Workers of NSCN from Nagaland State reaffirming “one people one nation” and to stand by the FA is on record.

“The unifying principle of One People One Nation symbolized by the God given Naga Nation Flag is non-negotiable in the name of Naga political solution”, said the editorial of the Nagalim Voice.

However, the reality is that Nagaland’s neighbouring States — Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh — have been vehemently opposed to the idea of the unification of Naga-inhabited areas under their jurisdictions.

Moreover, the Government of India is also holding peace talks separately with splinter groups of the NSCN after entering into ceasefire agreements. The groups which have entered into ceasefire agreements are: NSCN-NK, NSCN-R, NSCN K-Khango and NSCN (K) Niki.

Earlier, the NSCN (IM) had said, “NSCN cannot drag the Naga people to make another blunder by falling into the trap being machinated by the Government of India.” The group had also told the Core Committee that it would resume peace talks with the Centre if it is based on the 2015 Framework Agreement and Ravi’s formulation papers.

Another significant development in the process of resolving the Naga insurgency, on September 14 this year, the NSCN (IM) and the NNPGs pledged in a joint statement to “overcome the cynicism” and that they are “committed to a dialogue in order to move forward and live in peace.” They also admitted to be “aware of our differences”, stating that both sides would guard themselves against rifts between them.

Meanwhile, there are reports that a team of Government of India has been working on a new set of “formulation papers” for packaging a set of offers, along with the old, to facilitate the final peace deal soon.

It may be mentioned that T R Zeliang, the Co-Convenor of the Core committee on Naga Political Issue (CCNPI) the NSCN (IM) delegation was unhappy with A K Mishra for omitting some important political points that R N Ravi had included in his formulation papers earlier.

Zeliang also said the onus was now on the Centre and the NSCN (IM) to sign the final agreement before the Assembly elections due by February 2023. The Working Committee of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) is ready to sign the final agreement any time, he added.

The NNPGs consist of at least seven groups that have traditionally been the rivals of the NSCN (IM).

Moreover, the formulation papers have to be accepted by the neighbouring states of Nagaland particularly Manipur since a number of ideas and formula floated so far in public domain for reaching a final agreement between the GOI and the NSCN (IM) always threatens to dismember Manipur and the coexistence of the different ethnic groups.

Now, working on formulation papers is vital to let the NSCN (IM) sign the final peace accord for the Naga insurgency problem.  Will the interlocutor A K Misra and the team of the Government of India be able to finalise the formulation papers acceptable to all the stake holders besides the official parties to the peace talks?  Or will the re-engagement of the NSCN (IM) in the Naga peace process a pre-election exercise?

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