Beyond the Indo-Naga Talks: Some Reflections

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  • January 2014

    More than 16 years have passed since the government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah faction, or NSCN(IM))1 initiated peace talks that have come to be known as the Indo-Naga peace process.2 More than 70 rounds of talks were said to have been held during the period 1997–2012. If the Naga insurgency dating from 1954 is the longest-lived insurgency in the world today,3 the 16-year-long peace process is also equally unprecedented. The talks were based on three procedural principles: that they be conducted without pre-conditions; that they be conducted at the highest, prime ministerial level; and that they be held outside India. These ‘rites of negotiation’ carry more than symbolic value. As Samir Kumar Das observed, ‘It is perhaps the first time in history when the Constitution as an original document was no longer considered the beginning with a view to make a new beginning’.4

    Despite the lofty rhetoric, the talks soon unravelled. By and large, the core agenda evolved from the original Naga demand of sovereign statehood to integration of Naga-dominated areas in India, and now to some form of non-territorial integration model. Despite these compromises and climb-downs on the part of the Nagas, and despite a broad political consensus in India in favour of a negotiated solution, resolution of the Naga problem seems as remote now as it was in 1997, when the present peace process started.

    • 1. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed in 1980, mainly by those Naga nationalists who did not accept the Shillong Accord of 1975. The organisation split into two—NSCN (Isak-Muivah) and NSCN (Khaplang)—in 1988. While the NSCN(IM) has de facto been accepted as representing the Naga people, the government has also had a ceasefire agreement with the NSCN(K) since 2001, although no political talks took place between the two.
    • 2. The genesis of the present talks may be traced to the meeting that the NSCN(IM) leaders held with then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in June 1995 in Paris. There was another meeting in Zurich between then prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda and NSCN in February 1997, followed by a ceasefire agreement in May 1997. The talks were later held in India too.
    • 3. Bethany Lacina, ‘Rethinking Delhi’s Northeast India Policy: Why Neither Counter-insurgency nor Winning Hearts and Minds is the Way Forward’, in Sanjib Baruah (ed.), Beyond Counter-Insurgency: Breaking the Impasse in Northeast India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009, p. 331.
    • 4. Samir Kumar Das, ‘Peace sans Democracy? A Study of Ethnic Peace Accords in Northeast India’, in Sanjib Baruah, Beyond Counter-Insurgency, no. 3, p. 250.