Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 140, 12 August 2020

Northeast India: Centre and NSCN (IM) attempt to put Naga peace talks back on track 
Sourina Bej

In the news 
On 10 August, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) for the first time released the details of the 2015 Framework agreement amid peace negotiations in New Delhi. After skipping a meeting in Kohima convened by Governor R N Ravi, who is also the interlocutor in the Naga peace talks, the group is directly sitting with the Centre to salvage the decade-old dialogues. Requesting for a new interlocutor, NSCN (IM) has faulted Governor Ravi for deleting a crucial word from the original framework and circulating a modified framework with other groups. The agreement released by NSCN (IM) stated that along with sovereign power-sharing, an "enduring inclusive new relationship of peaceful co-existence of the two entities" will be provided. Governor Ravi has, in turn, dropped the word "new" while sharing the framework with other umbrella groups like Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs). 

Issues at large 
First, the trust deficit against the Nagaland governor as an interlocutor. The new revelation by NSCN (IM) has widened the existing mistrust against Governor Ravi. In the past, peace talks between NSCN (IM) and Governor Ravi had concluded in a stalemate over the demand for a separate constitution and flag. Since then the governor has come down heavily on the extortion trails of NSCN (IM) and also pressurized the government department for details on those involved with different groups. This has irked groups like NNPGs, who has been critical of the governor's lack of empathy towards diverse interests in the process. The publication of the framework echoes a common sentiment amongst groups who had so far cooperated with the Centre that the governor is using a deal to force a consensus in the peace process. 

Second, the declining popularity of the NSCN(IM). The ongoing NSCN (IM) 's talks with the Centre follows a time when the group is facing resistance on its ability to represent the collective Naga identity. Even though NSCN (IM) continues to be the largest group championing the nationalist cause, it still has not been able to balance out concerns on its overpowering Tangkhul character. Since the death of Isak Swu and Muivah's deteriorating health, the group has been deemed as Tangkhul centric in its decision-making by the larger Nagas in Nagaland. The top leaders of NSCN (IM) had in the past decided against disclosing the 2015 framework, thereby giving in to the fears of a peace process being dominated by one tribe. Hence as the group looks to enter the political process and represent the larger Naga identity, its acceptance in the state will depend on how it holds its end in the peace talks with the Centre. 

Third, long-drawn peace processes in the Northeast with no resolution. The peace processes in the Northeast have become less about peace, and more a strategy aligning with the development and security-centric approach of the central government. On the one hand, the Centre sits in the negotiating table ironing out the issues and on the other adopts a strong policing to keep insurgency in check. The fear of the return of insurgency has become imminent as the peace talks end in stalemate. Similar has been the fate of the Naga peace process structured around the NSCN (IM). It has been failing as the group's acceptance in Nagaland, and Manipur shrinks and the ailing old leaders continue to lead the peace process alienating the youth in the cadre-based group. The current government has, in turn, lost patience and made the process transactional with ignorance towards the emotive nature of the Naga identity assertion. 

In perspective 
First, replacing the governor is not the solution but imperative and will put the talks back to square one. The approach of 'What's in a word' has costed the interlocutor as he fails to heed the emotive and political significance of the framework. The Naga peace process needs a strong interlocutor who represents the region. As the Centre looks for a September resolution it is important to remember signing the final peace deal is not the end but only the beginning of a larger political process towards inclusion. 

Second, the peace talks between the NSCN (IM) and the Centre raise faint hopes of a peace agreement, but the sovereign nature of the group's demands will further delay the process unless a middle path is achieved. A separate federal arrangement is unlikely to be heeded by the Centre as one takes lessons from J&K. At the root of Naga nationalism is the demand for a separate representation of their identity which could be solved through an autonomous Naga territorial council but will depend on how the different groups would want their share of representation in the council. 

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