The National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM), which has resumed talks with the Indian government, met members of the working committee of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), an umbrella organisation of seven insurgent groups from Nagaland, in an attempt at reconciliation last week.
The NSCN-IM, one of the largest insurgent groups in the Northeast, and the NNPGs have been traditional rivals and have had seemingly irreconcilable differences over the Naga peace accord. They came together for a meeting in Kolkata on October 17-18 to “find common ground” on how to proceed with the peace process.
The meeting was attended by five members from the NNPGs and two from the NSCN-IM.
The two-day meeting was organised by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) — a civil society body that has in the past arranged similar meetings between the rival insurgent groups. Having started the process in 2008, in anticipation of a possible Naga accord, the FNR had tried creating a united front of Nagas that could negotiate with the Indian government.
But despite meetings and dialogues between Naga groups, the meetings came to a halt in 2015 after the NSCN-IM signed the Framework Agreement with the Indian government unilaterally, without having consulted either the NNPG, the FNR or Naga civil society.
“This was really seen by many as a stab in the back by the IM,” said one source.
But with the Nagaland elections around the corner (the polls are likely to be held in February-March next year) and the NSCN-IM resuming talks with the government once more after a hiatus, the FNR has resumed its activities, reaching out to the rival groups for the first time in seven years earlier last month.
“It was a very fruitful meeting. There have been tensions between the groups, and we have opened channels once more for dialogue which is a big step, and a welcome one. We have decided to set up a joint committee and have decided that from now on, the top leaders of the groups — including the IM chairman and the NNPG Working Committee convener — will meet regularly and that no decision with regards to the accord will take place without permission from all sides,” said a leader who was present at the meeting.
This is a significant decision considering that the IM and the NNPGs have been on opposite sides of the Naga peace talks, with the NNPGs having acquiesced to the Indian government’s position of not being able to give sovereignty, a flag, or a separate constitution, which the NSCN-IM vehemently opposes till date. The NNPG has also in principle agreed to an accord, with their conditions to the Centre having been finalised, something has not happened with the NSCN-IM yet.
A joint statement issued after the Kolkata meeting reads: “In response to the Naga people’s yearning for reconciliation and unity in purpose, the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), with a renewed spirit of commitment met in Kolkata… taking forward the September Joint Accordant’s resolve to ‘chart a path forward’ we have agreed to form the Council of Naga Relationships and Cooperation…”
The IM and NNPGs have also said that they commit to choose a “shared future” instead of the “divisions of the past”.
“The ball is now in the court of the Centre to bring home the solution at this time,” said a senior insurgent leader.
The BJP’s ally, the NDPP-NPF (that now forms the United Democratic Alliance) government in Nagaland, has already announced “Election for Solution” as the main platform on which they will contest the assembly elections. They have been pushing for a swift solution to Naga political dialogue. Last month, the chairperson of the UDA, former Nagaland chief minister T R Zeliang, accompanied seven senior IM members to Delhi as they resumed talks with the Centre.
“While the UDA is a BJP ally, the fact is that if the Indian government manages to bring in a solution by the time of the elections, then they may even perform really well in the polls.
Nagaland is not a natural BJP territory as it is entirely Christian and the BJP’s Hindutva politics makes Nagas wary of the party. But if they bring a solution, we have no doubt that they may even be able to form the government in the state,” said a leader.
Resolving India’s oldest insurgency
The oldest militant movement in India, the Naga insurgency, began in the 1950s, after 17 groups under the banner of the Naga National Council demanded an independent Nagaland. Since then, the NNC splintered into numerous insurgent groups including the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) and NSCN (Khaplang), among many others. While the Indo-Naga peace talks began in the 1970s, various groups were opposed to the peace process, continuing to demand a separate nation. Under the UPA government, the peace talks progressed with many meetings taking place abroad, including in Bangkok. However, the UPA was unable to bring about a solution. Talks were once again resumed under the Narendra Modi regime, with a push from the Prime Minister himself. The Framework Agreement, within the confines of which the talks were to take place, was signed in August 2015. But despite the conclusion of these talks, with a deadline of October 31, 2019, relations between the Centre, its interlocutor R N Ravi and the NSCN-IM deteriorated, with the group digging in its heels by demanding a separate flag for Nagaland as well as a separate constitution. The Indian government refused to accept this. The talks have resumed intermittently since last year with former IB officer A K Mishra now the interlocutor, but even with this development little progress had been made. The talks once again resumed last month, with sources saying that both sides were now determined to find a solution by the time Nagaland goes to polls early next year.