Gathering the tribe

_With different groups involved in the Naga peace talks process, hope of a solution grows_

– Patricia Mukhim| The Hindu|Editorial| 3rd Nov. 2017(Friday)

Perhaps one of the most talked
about issues as far as the North-
east is concerned is the Naga
struggle for sovereignty which
started a day before India’s Inde-
pendence. In the Naga mind, this
issue oscillates between nostalgia
for its unique history and the
promise of a better future without
disturbing this irreplaceable past.
The problem with reality is that it
does not allow us to romance the
past.
Myth and reality
The Naga national workers are no
longer in the prime of their lives.
The chairman of the National So-
cialist Council of Nagaland (I-M),
Isak Chisi Swu, has passed away
and Thuingaleng Muivah too is get-
ting on in years. In an article, ‘The
Presence of the Past’, Roger Cohen
says, “As we grow older the past
looms larger. The past is full of pos-
sibilities. The future may seem wan
by comparison and, for each of us,
we know where it ends. With a
bang or whimper…”
Reams have been written, sev-
eral seminars and workshops or-
ganised, and there have been daily
cogitations on the Naga peace talks
since they started in 1997. In Au-
gust 2015, when the Framework
Agreement was signed between
the Government of India and the
NSCN (I-M), expectations were
high that an “honourable settle-
ment” was in the o�ng. The prob-
lem is with the use of words which
lend themselves to several inter-
pretations depending on who the
stakeholders are. What is honour-
able for the NSCN(I-M) may not
seem honourable enough to Naga
society as a whole, with disparate
aspirations and interpretations. Be
that as it may, the Centre’s Inter-
locutor for the Naga Peace talks,
R.N. Ravi, has taken on a formid-
able task.
No other interlocutor has inter-
acted with and met so many Naga
National Political Groups (NNPGs)
and civil society groups. For the
�rst time, Mr. Ravi was able to push
the envelope and create that integ-
ral space where all voices are heard
with equal respect, sometimes at
the risk of the NSCN (I-M) calling o�
the talks, since they felt that being
signatories to the Framework
Agreement, they alone have the
right to call the shots. This fact
needs to be appreciated. And it has
to be understood that the Indian
establishment too is not an easy
customer. There is scepticism and
there are doubts whether wider
consultations would result in caco-
phony, making the task of arriving
at a solution much more di�cult.
A di�cult path
For the interlocutor it’s a tightrope
walk. The Naga people are a proud
race and have held fast to their cul-
tures, traditions and language. Yet
it cannot be denied that tribal loy-
alty often comes in the way of a col-
lective discourse for the future of
Nagaland. Perhaps one organisa-
tion that has brought together
people from all tribes is the ACAUT
(Against Corruption and Unabated
Taxation), which is seemingly in-
clusive of all tribes and a mass
movement of sorts to protest
against taxation by di�erent armed
groups and factions. So far, about
33 delegations, including the dif-
ferent tribal Hohos and recently
the six NNPGs, have had their say.
For Mr. Ravi, it is an opportunity to
further understand how the
Framework Agreement should pan
out.
But Mr. Ravi’s visit to Dimapur
last month was also seen with
some scepticism. A video clip of
the public reception given to him
drew some uncharitable com-
ments. Is the pent-up rage and frus-
tration among the youth due to the
protracted peace talks or does the
rage spring from something else?
The way forward
For the Naga people at this junc-
ture, the most pragmatic step is to
take a balanced view of the past.
Obsession with one point of view
hinders any kind of progress. With
16 major tribes, each with a sense
of nationality of its own and every
tribe having its village republics
which is a crucial part of their cul-
ture, there will be divergent ‘na-
tional’ narratives. Naga national-
ism is both a sentiment and a
movement.
Ethnic boundaries of yore which
went beyond geopolitical borders
of the present nation can be both
problematic and defy pragmatism.
Then there is the issue of the In-
dian nation state, a term that is also
problematic but which has
provided its own stability for 70
years. If one were to go by Benedict
Anderson’s “Imagined Communit-
ies”, then all the communities of
the Northeast fall in that ambit.
In an interview to the Nagaland
Post, Mr. Ravi said the ongoing
peace talks may have been initi-
ated by the NSCN (I-M) but it has
now become more inclusive. One
ray of hope as far as the Framework
Agreement is concerned is that
there appears to be a political con-
sensus and faith in the process.
This in itself is a huge step forward.
Now that the tribal Hohos and the
NNPGs have all thrown in their sup-
port, there is hope that the much-
awaited political solution will ar-
rive sooner than later.

(Patricia Mukhim is Editor, `The Shillong
Times’, and former member, National
Security Advisory Board)

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