Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 165, 23 September 2020

India: In the northeast, grim road ahead in Nagaland peace talks as NSCN(I-M) resolute on flag and c
Sourina Bej

In the news 
On 18 September 2020, in its joint council meeting, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah, unanimously adopted a resolution reiterating its stand that the Naga "national flag" and Yehzabo (constitution) "must form a part" of the political solution "in order to qualify" it as "honourable and acceptable" amid the ongoing peace talks with the Centre. 

The NSCN (I-M) statement after the council meeting also stated that the Centre "must" seek a final pact based on the Framework Agreement of 3 August 2015. The agreement, according to NSCN (I-M) and its general secretary Muivah recognizes the sovereignty of the Nagas and "inclusive, peaceful coexistence of the two entities sharing sovereign power."

Issues at large 
First, NSCN (I-M) hardens its demand for separate flag and constitution. The strong-worded resolution only signifies that the peace talks now hinge on respecting the spirit and principles of the 2015 Framework Agreement that agrees to preserve the "historical and political rights" of the Naga people and in it, the flag and constitution has more than symbolic meaning. NSCN(I-M) has interpreted the 2015 agreement as Centre's recognition of the sovereignty of the Naga people that agrees in principle the Nagas will co-exist but not merge with India. This understanding of coexistence has in turn, given way for the demand for separate flag and constitution as a cultural and political pathway to preserve the Naga identity. 

Second, Article 371A as the principle of coexistence. The principle of coexistence interpreted in the 2015 Agreement draws on the legal connotation of the Article 371A. The article was enacted in the Indian Constitution to preserve Naga identity, the root cause of the insurgency and opened the channel for peace negotiations. A modified version of the principle with additional concessions or safeguards is seen as the likely key to the final Naga Accord. However, after scrapping of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the NSCN (I-M) have become increasingly suspicious and hardened its stand on a constitution and flag, and even threatened to walk out of negotiations. The Centre has responded by roping in six other armed Naga outfits under the banner of Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) for the negotiations. Home Minister Amit Shah also gave assurances on the sanctity of Article 371A and in turn sought to preserve the agreements that have been signed with various Naga groups including NSCN(I-M).

Third, mistrust and intragroup fault lines push peace talks to the brink of breakdowns. NSCN(I-M) has hardened its stance also because of its differences and mistrust against the interlocutor RN Ravi, whom they see as one who will not support their demand for a separate flag. At the same time, other groups in the peace talks like the NNPGs have backed Ravi to resolve the Naga problem. As NSCN(I-M) remains firm on demand for flag and constitution as the bedrock of the 2015 agreement, the same cannot be said for the other groups in the peace negotiations. NNPGs and other tribal heads groups have maintained that a final agreement may or may not depend on a separate flag and constitution, an agenda that could be acceptable to the public in the long run. It has become increasingly clear that constitutional and statutory position do not favour the allocation of a flag rather the right of the Nagas could be preserved through their own insignia, emblem and Naga Federal Hoho. This view runs opposite to that of NSCN(I-M), who remains one of the largest groups negotiating in the peace process. 

In perspective 
As the September deadline nears to clinch for a final solution to the question of peace in Nagaland, an alternate reality should be considered that of a peace deal without NSCN(I-M). Through the 2015 agreement with the NSCN(I-M), Centre had in the past kept the option open for a separate flag and constitution. But time has shown that in the short term even if signing the 2015 framework was important in countering the violence and bringing the largest group to the negotiating table, in the long run, a separate flag and constitution will not be something the Centre will hinge the peace talks on. While the other groups looking for a federal solution with an administrative refashioning, keeping the demand for a separate flag alive will only push the NSCN(I-M) further in the peace table. Or it is what the group wants. To return back to being an armed group.  

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