The signing of the historic “Framework Agreement” between the Government of India (GoI) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland Issac-Muivah (NSCN-IM) on 3 August 2015 had brought glimmers of hope amongst the Naga populace. The contents of the framework agreement are, however, not in the public domain, leading to differing perceptions amongst the various stakeholders.
The NSCN-IM has been able to galvanise broad consensus amongst the Naga political and social entities with respect to its ongoing negotiations with the GoI. Prominent Naga social bodies including the Naga Hoho, Naga Student Federation, Naga Mothers Association, Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights and United Naga Council – most of whom were already amenable to the NSCN-IM’s idea of a settlement for the Nagas – have given their consent to the process. There are continuous efforts by the outfit to re-establish its clout and dominance in the claimed areas of Nagalim, including the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Attempts by the outfit to reshape the existing construct of tribal loyalties in Eastern Nagaland has gathered pace after the defection of self-styled ‘General’, Khole Konyak, of the erstwhile NSCN-Khole-Khitovi (NSCN-KK) to the NSCN-IM, which was followed by a large scale defection of Konyak leaders as well as cadres.
The Nagas of Manipur, in general, are known to be supporting the ongoing peace process despite the prevailing anxiety over the contents of the framework agreement and its possible impact on their status. There is an ongoing awareness campaign on the social media in Manipur wherein the Over Ground Workers (OGWs) of the NSCN-IM have been highlighting the apathy and discriminatory policies of the Manipur government against the tribals. The outfit’s attempts to create divisions among the Aimol tribe, which is mainly based in Chandel district of Manipur, and its continuous engagement with the Lamkang tribe is aimed at the merger of such smaller tribes into the Naga fold. In Assam, especially along the border areas with Manipur and Nagaland, there are attempts by NSCN-IM cadres to intimidate the non-Naga population in Naga-dominated areas which conform to the territorial claims of greater Nagalim.
Developments in the aftermath of the Framework Agreement indicate that the NSCN-IM has been engaged in a focused manner on extending its influence over the entire Naga populace. The organization is making full use of its military strength, financial prowess and strong support bases in Western Nagaland and Manipur. In areas where it is relatively weak, as in Eastern Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, the NSCN-IM is either creating divisions within existing tribal constructs or is exploiting historical linkages with smaller tribes. The outfit’s usage of terms like “shared sovereignty” and “sovereignty lies with the people” is possibly aimed at addressing vulnerabilities generated on account of its changed stance on the issue of Naga independence. Besides raising the slogan of “no integration, no solution”, the NSCN-IM leaders, in an August 18 statement to the press, also hinted at walking out of the ongoing process if the issue of Naga integration is not addressed by New Delhi. This could well be part of the outfit’s pressure tactics in the ongoing negotiations. And in case the talks fail, the presence of sizeable cadres along the Indo-Myanmar border in Ukhrul and in Somra areas of Myanmar could cater for armed contingency scenarios.
Other Naga factions have responded variously to the ongoing peace negotiations between the GOI and NSCN-IM. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland Khaplang (NSCN-K) has rejected any form of engagement with the GoI and is continuing with its acts of violence. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland Khitovi-Neokpao (NSCN-KN) views the ongoing process as an arrangement for the Nagas of Manipur only, and not for the Nagas of Nagaland. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland Reformation (NSCN-R), which had earlier supported the Framework Agreement, is now complaining of delays and emergent complications in the process. Finally, factions of the Naga National Council (NNC), the Manipur-based Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) and the Manipur Naga Peoples’ Front (MNPF) have all expressed their disagreements with the current format of negotiations.
Likewise, some of the prominent Naga civil society organizations including the Eastern Naga Peoples’ Organisation (ENPO), Naga Tribes Council (NTC), Against Corruption and Unabated Taxation (ACAUT), and Zeliangrong Baudi (based in Manipur) have all denounced the framework of the talks. The NSCN-IM’s expanding dominance in Longding, Tirap and Changlang in Arunachal Pradesh has elicited sharp reactions from the local bodies in these districts, which are currently not willing to be part of the proposed arrangement.
The GoI has undertaken significant confidence building measures, and is also trying to rally divergent stakeholders in support of the ongoing process, besides continuation of talks with NSCN-IM. The joint communiqué issued by the GoI and the NSCN-IM on the ongoing peace process, along with the release on bail of Anthony Shimrey, an important NSCN-IM functionary who was arrested on charges of arms smuggling, have generated goodwill and appreciated by the Naga public as well as civil society organizations.
However, there exist several unresolved issues, which could obstruct the ongoing peace process. These include: the issue of integration of contiguous Naga inhabited areas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh; the demand for a separate Frontier State by the tribes of Eastern Nagaland; addressing the aspirations of the people of South Arunachal Pradesh (areas of Longding, Tirap and Changlang Districts); rising differences amongst the ‘Naga political groups’ whose support is essential for any accord to succeed; and visible cracks in Naga society over the non-inclusion of all stakeholders in the pursuit of an acceptable and comprehensive political solution. It remains to be seen as to how the GOI and NSCN-IM work towards resolving these extant impediments.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.