Conflict Alerts # 70, 15 April 2020
In the news
Recently, Thuingaleng Muivah, General Secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) is reported to have written an eight-page letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The essential intent of the letter is known to be, an allegation that the Indian government and its chief interlocutor, R N Ravi, who is also the Governor of Nagaland was responsible for the delay in closing the peace deal being negotiated.
A framework agreement signed in 2015, in a much-publicised meeting, became the toast of news headlines. The Indian government hailed it as a historic agreement, to end what is often dubbed the mother of all insurgencies in India's Northeast. However, differences have begun to emerge between not only the Indian government and NSCN-IM but even among the Naga groups. Now, amidst the national lockdown to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the tensions among the stakeholders seem to be brewing, showing mostly a looming uncertainty.
Issues at large
Differences over the issue of NSCN-IM's demand for a flag and constitution during the negotiations has emerged as a deal killer, although public statements point to continuing efforts to find an amicable settlement. Moreover, the volatile and controversial demand by the NSCN-IM for a Greater Nagalim, constituting the Naga inhabited areas of neighbouring states remains another powder keg in the whole exercise.
While the NSCN-K faction has shared a more violent relationship with the Indian government, the ceasefire between the Indian government and the NSCN-IM, that paved the grounds for negotiations, is more than two decades old.
From secessionism, the NSCN-IM, led by Muivah, has been lately focussed on extracting a legacy of relative autonomy for what is referred to as the "unique history and identity" of the Naga people. Specifying the expectations and the red lines of the broadly defined peace framework has added new layers of complexity to the process.
Uncertainty looms, in what seemed like a clinched deal, a few years back. The appointment of the head interlocutor from the side of the Indian government RN Ravi, also a former intelligence officer, as the Governor of Nagaland was made with a focus on fast-tracking the negotiations. Has that decision paid off well, for the sake of the peace agreement? There could be divisive opinions on such a question.
With each passing day, the gap seems to be widening not only between the NSCN-IM's and the Indian government's positions but among the different Naga groups now involved in the process. What does this portend for peace efforts? The thin veneer of trust among the stakeholders in the negotiation seems to be dissipating, with narratives and counter-narratives beginning to appear, as to who is actually responsible for delaying the settlement.
How productive are efforts to link such peace agreements with the larger vision of the 'Act East Policy' of economic development, better infrastructure and connectivity in the Northeast? The verdict is still out.