The level of contradictions and antagonism within the projected Naga conglomerate are much higher than the level of antagonism between proponents of Naga ‘territorial integrationist’ nationalism and neighbouring tribes/communities in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Assam.
By Dhiren A Sadokpam
Sometime during the last week of October, 2019, many keen observers of the political dialogue between the government of India and Naga negotiating groups were expecting the final settlement to the decades old Naga issue. With the reports of all decks cleared for inking the final agreement between Naga groups and the government of India, there were also wild speculations being churned out both by the informed and over-enthusiastic sections of the society.
Most of these speculations were based on the “fear of the unknown” rather than a well formulated and meticulous culling of information already available in the public domain. The situation was further compounded by spreading of conjectures with an attempt to knowingly or unknowingly influence public opinion, especially in the states of Nagaland and Manipur.
What one noted then was that most of these speculations were burdened with the pressure generated by flippant generalization of key indicators without properly digesting the dynamics of the phenomenon right under their own noses. The unfolding situation called for a clear analysis of Naga peace talks with concrete frames of reference – or what has been often dubbed as “ground realities” in common parlance.
There are self-conferred social scientists, political analysts and many motivated individuals who had grossly misread the whole process of the Naga negotiation while others have inadvertently mixed up the process of “talks” with the process leading to the “final signing of the agreement”.
Nothing else explained why these constituencies had collapsed the two as if they were one with specific reference to the Naga peace deal. Many from the national as well as the community of observers, analysts and media also have not properly taken note of the key principle followed by the then government of India’s interlocutor for the Naga talks RN Ravi – “one process and one solution”. How RN Ravi could not complete the set task will need another space/time to ponder upon.
The modalities under “one process and one solution” during RN Ravi’s stint as the interlocutor meant that the government of India would ensure efforts were put in place to unify all those engaged in the peace talks as one entity. In simple words, it was more or less envisaged that NSCN (I-M) and Working Committee (WC) of Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) would be on board as one group in the days to come and before the actual signing of the agreement. RN Ravi envisioned no two separate signing of agreements with two groups. How the NSCN (I-M) and Working Committee (WC) of Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) are brought together as one was left to either the maneuvering power of the government of India or the self-realisation of all the Nagas as one permanent conglomerate bounded by a single contiguous political territory.
As this writer had on earlier occasions mentioned, another plain reading of the events that took place in the last leg of the political negotiation indicated that while the process of working out the “competencies” and unifying process goes on, there may be enough elbow room to reposition respective views on who would represent whom and what would be the content of the final pact. As this process continued, the government of India was expected to consult all stakeholders including representatives of the states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
However, recent dynamics do not bode well for the future of the Naga issue. There has been continuous duel of words between those who want to ink the final pact with the issue of Naga National Flag and Yehzabo (Constitution) resolved as demanded by NSCN (I-M) and those who want to close the chapter on the prolonged negotiation without emphasizing on the two demands. Since then, much waters have flown down the bridge.
In the backdrop of such unfolding situations, the Nagaland Tribes Council (NTC), comprising of all recognized tribes of Nagaland state, with its headquarters in Kohima on June 1, 2022 called upon NSCN (I-M) to be transparent and to put the “competencies” that it often talks about in the public domain.
In a hard hitting observation, NTC unequivocally and with a shade of sarcasm stated that the political negotiation between the government of India and the Naga negotiators has reached its “silver jubilee and that the people cannot wait any longer”.
The NTC stated that the government of India is absolutely clear on its parameters of negotiations with the understanding that was reached on October 31, 2019 and therefore it is incumbent on the NSCN (I-M) to take a call without wasting any more time.
It may be recalled that the NSCN (I-M) on September 11, 2020 informed that the “Indo-Naga political talks” has reached a critical stage. The group said that the Framework Agreement and the competencies were being worked out with “outside the box” approach towards a solution. “Honourable, acceptable and early solution that is inclusive can only be achieved through the basis of Framework Agreement and competencies being on the verge of completion”.
The NSCN (I-M) in recent times had emphasized that the Framework Agreement mentioned the sharing of sovereign power. The group’s supremo Th Muivah also stated that Nagas and the rest of Indians will coexist as two entities sharing sovereign power which will be defined in the competencies. Muivah said that in the competencies, “the government of India recognizes the territories of the Nagas – land and all the natural and mineral resources on the surface and beneath of it belong to the Nagas”.
Despite this clarification, the NTC, the council that represents only the recognized tribes of Nagaland seems to insist the NSCN (I-M) make the complete “competencies” public. How will making the competencies public expedite the final inking of the settlement pact remains to be adequately deconstructed.
NTC also took a dig at the performance of the Core Committee on Naga Political Issue (CCoNPI) under the ruling United Democratic Alliance (UDA) government, the “opposition-less government”. NTC observed that CCoNPI tends to “misuse its role” while projecting itself to be the indispensable broker between the centre and the Naga negotiators.
NTC also objected to CCoNPI’s apparent plan to apprise Assam chief Minister and NEDA convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma on the outcome of May 28, 2022 meeting between NSCN (I-M) and the CCoNPI so as to take forward the process of negotiation.
“We have the official Naga negotiators, namely, NSCN (I-M) and WC, 7 NNPGs and we too have a legitimate state government having equal status as Assam has. The NTC rejects the modus operandi of the CCoNPI as though the Naga negotiators do not have access to GoI through the official emissary and as though the state of Nagaland is secondary to any other state” said the NTC and warned the CCoNPI not to over indulge or to expose the competencies on the negotiating table sacred to the Nagas.
NTC also reacted to one of the resolutions adopted by the United Naga Council’s (UNC) Presidential Council held in Imphal on May 27, 2022 and asked what will UNC gain if the period of political negotiation is extended. “Such senseless resolution exposes the ground realities that the loss and the suffering of the Nagas of Nagaland is the gain and enjoyment of the Nagas in Manipur”, said NTC in an unbridled expression and exposing the flammable mixture within the Naga political cauldron. NTC said it detested the attempt of political group to curtail or intimidate the stakeholders from expressing opinions or observations. “Such attempts are alien to our culture”, added NTC.
The statement issued by NTC assumes significance in the backdrop of uncertainties that have enveloped the ongoing political negotiation between the government of India and the NSCN (I-M) in recent times. The apparent impasse set in motion by the issue of the group’s demand for Naga National Flag and Yehzabo (Constitution) and subsequent prolonging of inking the final pact will continue to spur comments and statements even if NSCN (I-M) had termed such comments and statements as “outrageous”. At this juncture, the decades old Naga political issue and the final inking of the pact seem to be heading towards a new direction predictably challenging. In several public and private meetings with political observers and public leaders, this writer has, over the last one decade, been arguing that the level of contradictions and antagonism within the projected Naga conglomerate are much higher than the level of antagonism between proponents of Naga ‘territorial integrationist’ nationalism and neighbouring tribes and communities in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Assam. It remains to be seen how the current government of India’s interlocutor to Naga political talks, AK Mishra faces the emerging contours of the political negotiation.
(Dhiren A. Sadokpam is the Editor-in-Chief, The Frontier Manipur)