Treading cautiously on the final Naga peace agreement


*The Hindu*

M.P. Nathanael
OCTOBER 24, 2019 00:05 IST

The Centre should not be rigid in its stance
Around the time that the Centre announced the abrogation of special status for Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) under Article 370, there was a flutter of anxiety, bordering on panic, in the North-Eastern States, particularly in Nagaland, which enjoys certain special privileges under Article 371(A) of the Constitution. The State’s Governor, R.N. Ravi, assuaged the angst through assurances that there would be no tampering with Article 371(A).
Given that J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik had given a similar assurance to the denizens of that State when former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah met him two days before the constitutional change was announced, the Naga people are justifiably sceptical about the statements of their Governor that Article 371(A) is a “solemn commitment to the people of Nagaland…” and that they “don’t have to worry at all.”

Separate flag, Constitution
For reasons best known to the concerned officials in the government and the signatories on behalf of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), the Framework Agreement, which was signed with much fanfare in the presence of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015, has remained under wraps. Was there something in the agreement that was hindering its disclosure? Perhaps it was a clause regarding a separate flag and Constitution for Nagaland? Could the Centre have strategised that the final agreement for Nagaland would only be announced after the decision on J&K, so that the latter could serve as a precedent event and render reversal of any aspects of the Naga agreement — including clauses on its flag and Constitution — impossible?

Herein lies the crux of the matter. While the Nagas maintain that “the Naga national flag is the symbol of the recognised Naga entity… the Constitution of the Nagas is the book form of the recognised sovereignty,” the Centre has conveyed its firm stand that the matter stands rejected.
Meanwhile, akin to actions taken in J&K, leaves of all government officials including police personnel have been cancelled and the State put on alert. While the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), an umbrella organisation of seven insurgent groups, has consented to be a signatory to the agreement for the time being, it has asserted that the Naga Constitution, must be drafted by a committee of distinguished personalities from every Naga tribe. Though the NNPG does not distance itself from the final agreement, it holds the view that such a Constitution could be drafted subsequently. Currently, to meet the deadline of October 31, the agreement seems to be getting pushed forward, with the Centre hopeful that the talks slated for October 24 will be decisive and final.

However, with the NSCN (I-M) obdurate in its stand of having a separate flag and Constitution, the situation could take a turn for the worse. In a reference to the armed outfit of NSCN (I-M), the Centre has categorically stated that talks at gunpoint are not acceptable and has directed all armed outfits including the NSCN (I-M) to decide upon a date for surrender of all arms in their possession. While the other outfits like NSCN (Khaplang), NSCN (Unification) and NSCN (Reformation) may readily agree to surrender their arms, the NSCN (I-M) may not give up as easily, unless of course the prospect of governmental berths being offered in the Nagaland Assembly might be allurement enough for it to do so.

The Centre also could do well to step back from its rigid position of forcing an agreement that a major political stakeholder is not willing to ink. The government will have to tread cautiously in tackling the situation lest a variant of the pre-1997 militancy returns to the State. That would be a retrograde development, especially given the last 22 years of hard-fought peace.

M.P. Nathanael is a retired Inspector General of Police, CRPF

NMA objects to ‘policy of exclusion’


Affirming its commitment towards an ‘inclusive and just peace’ that respects Naga aspirations and long years of struggle, the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) has raised objection to what it described as “the policy of exclusion” of civil society organisations like Naga Hoho, NMA, NSF and NPMHR by the State agencies and the Interlocutor for the Naga Peace talks. In a press release, NMA asserted that as women and mothers they have suffered as victims of the conflict, but also made their contributions to peace making and peace building.

As regards, NMA has appealed to Naga leaders and brothers from different Naga political groups to come together in peace and speak for a solution that brings sustainable peace to the Nagas and their children. Naga mothers also appealed to the state government to “impartially” play its role of facilitators for peace by taking all Nagas forward. Further, NMA urged the Interlocutor to “abstain from selective division” of Nagas. It reminded that Naga women’s voices must also be counted in the process of peace building. NMA maintained that Nagas cannot afford another period of violence. “Let there be no more bloodshed and peace be brought through mutual respect and understanding,” NMA underscored.

Source from Nagaland Post.

An empty accord won’t usher in Naga peace


By Bharat Bhushan a senior journalist based in New Delhi.

24th Oct 2019

The Modi government, reluctant to learn anything from the Nehru regime, may be headed towards a similar misadventure.

Are those who do not learn from history condemned to repeat it? It would certainly seem so in the case of the proposed Naga settlement that the Narendra Modi government hopes to reach with the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs). The main insurgent group with whom the government has been negotiating for 22 years is likely to stay out of the agreement.

India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, did something similar.

In July 1960, the Nehru government signed an agreement with the Naga Peoples’ Convention instead of the underground insurgents led by Angami Zapu Phizo. Known as the 16-Point Agreement, it led to the merger of the Naga Hills District of Assam and the Tuensang Frontier Division of NEFA into a single administrative unit, the present state of Nagaland. The Naga Peoples’ Convention was initially organised to facilitate dialogue between the armed insurgents and Delhi. However, the facilitators themselves became the main party to the agreement. That did not resolve the Naga insurgency.

The Modi government, reluctant to learn anything from the Nehru regime, may be headed towards a similar misadventure.

Three major hurdles have emerged: the Naga insurgents do not want to be a part of the “Indian Union”; they want a separate flag and a separate Constitution. The roots of these differences lie in an agreement reached in 2015 which has become different to sustain after the developments in Jammu and Kashmir after August 5.

After 18 years of prolonged negotiations with the largest armed insurgent group, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) or NSCN(IM), a “Framework Agreement” was signed with them on August 3, 2015. It was precipitated by the ill-health of Isak Chishi Swu, chairman of the NSCN(IM), who was fighting for life in the Intensive Care Unit of a private hospital in Delhi. An agreement to guide future negotiations was hastily put together and Swu’s signature appended to it from his hospital bed. As a Sema Naga from Nagaland, Swu’s agreement indicated the wider acceptance of the peace process since Thuingaleng Muivah is from Manipur. The agreement was projected as historic and lent legitimacy to subsequent negotiations.
Perhaps it was the hasty drafting of the Framework Agreement that has led to the present impasse. Celebrating “better mutual understanding” between the two sides, the agreement notes that after “due appreciation of the imperatives of the contemporary realities and regard for future vision” they agreed to end violent confrontation to “usher in comprehensive progress in consonance with the genius of the Naga people”.

Further, recognising that in democracies sovereignty lies with the people, the two sides committed themselves to respecting the peoples’ wishes “for sharing the sovereign power as defined in competencies [referring to subjects in Union, State and Concurrent Lists of the Indian Constitution]”.

This was followed by the statement that, “it is matter of great satisfaction that dialogue between the Government of India and NSCN has successfully concluded and we are confident it will provide for an enduring inclusive new relationship of peaceful co-existence of the two entities (emphasis added)”. This phrase is the nub of dispute now.

The use of the term “two entities” had created confusion earlier in a ceasefire agreement signed in June 14, 2001. Since then the standing instruction to Indian negotiators was to never use the term which suggests that India and Nagaland are two separate entities. It is difficult to understand why then it was used again in 2015.

By the term “two entities” the Indian side probably meant the two signatories to the agreement, India and the NSCN (IM). However, it is being interpreted by the Nagas to mean that India and the Nagas are different sovereign entities. And as two different entities they have decided to forge a new relationship by sharing sovereign power, they believe that they have a right to retain their own flag and Constitution.

Similarly by an “inclusive” relationship Delhi means inclusion of other Naga groups in negotiations. This was used to justify dealing with the NNPGs. The NSCN(IM) insists that “inclusive” means applicability of the agreement to all Nagas whether living in Nagaland or in contiguous states. Their fear is that the settlement could be with the state of Nagaland alone as the NNPGs are based there.
After removing the separate flag and Constitution of J&K, the Modi government cannot concede them to the Nagas. Since the Prime Minister himself has apparently set a deadline to conclude the peace agreement by October 31, the attempt is to either bring the NSCN(IM) to heel or sign the agreement with those who were never a part of the 22-year-old negotiation but are eager to assume political power in Nagaland.

However, instead of trying to force a separate and meaningless “peace”, the Modi government can still avoid repeating Nehru’s mistake.

To begin with, it can admit that the framework agreement had been drafted in ambiguous language. Since that cannot now be undone, the government can suggest to the NSCN(IM) leadership that it take the draft final agreement of power sharing, which is indeed unique, to the Naga people through public consultations.

The people may well conclude that the power sharing they can achieve through this agreement is sustainable, pragmatic and satisfies their political aspirations even without a separate flag and a Constitution. That may give the NSCN(IM) leadership the opportunity to sign the agreement citing the people’s wishes.

If the people say that they are willing to convert the flag into a state insignia or emblem and that the peace agreement itself, incorporated in the Indian Constitution, can be called “Yehzabo” or the Naga Constitution, then that could be considered favourably. Then the “Naga Constitution” would become an
Article of the Indian Constitution.

However, setting artificial deadlines and not allowing time for the NSCN(IM) to hold public consultation on the flag and Constitution would be unwise.
Thuingaleng Muivah who has led the Naga peace negotiations with great patience and commitment is already 85 years old. Should these peace talks fail, it will take a few more decades for another visionary Naga leader to emerge.