After more than 60 years of bloodshed, recent moves suggest that the Nagas are inching towards a possible breakthrough, Avalok Langer follows the trail
After years of fruitless parleys held abroad, National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) leaders Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu returned to New Delhi in February 2011. They gave the ‘peace talks’ a new lease of life by moving away from the idea of “complete sovereignty” and suggested a middle-path solution, which sources believe is a “Constitution within a Constitution, a loose federal structure”.
As talks in Delhi progressed, NSCN(K) leaders Kitovi Zhimomi and General Khole expelled Myanmar-based chairman SS Khaplang from the outfit last June, as he did not want to talk to India. Kitovi and Khole then approached Delhi for talks, tried to build bridges with other Naga groups and dropped the demand for greater Nagaland, making themselves “relevant to the peace process”, suggests a Union Home Ministry source.
Shortly after the split in August 2011, the NSCN(IM), NSCN(KK) and the Federal Government of Nagaland agreed to set up a collective government comprising all rebel groups. Naga National Council sources suggest that Muivah is trying to involve them in the process as well. While the groups continue to iron out their differences and the structure of the government as part of the ‘solution’, this collective government will replace the present Nagaland Assembly, govern the state and may have cultural rights over Greater Nagaland. However, this will only be an interim solution. Left out in the cold, Khaplang is currently trying to push his way back into Dimapur and return to the forefront.
PUSH TO PLAN B
Moving away from their earlier demand for integration into Nagaland, the Nagas of Manipur are seeking an “alternative arrangement” within the ambit of the Constitution, either a separate state or Union Territory. Their demand is based on years of economic and political neglect, coupled with ethnic disharmony. While talks are on between the Union Home Ministry, Manipur government and the United Naga Council, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’s party, the Naga People’s Front (NPF), took part in the Manipur Assembly election held last month. While the NPF is slated to win only 4-6 seats, it seems that Rio is securing his political future in the alternative arrangement of the Naga Hills, because his regime will have to make way for the collective government, if and when it comes.
Since 2010, there has been a substantial shift in the idea of sovereignty demanded by the groups. Moving away from sovereignty in its absolute form, groups are adopting a more pragmatic view, in the hope that if the Government of India respects the historical and cultural rights of the Nagas, a realistic and workable solution can be found.
Though the Naga cause still enjoys huge popular support among the people, the stalemate has engendered a growing sense of disillusionment and frustration. This is pushing the groups to work towards a real-time solution, not just rhetoric.
Khaplang Cannot Be Ignored
Despite being based in Myanmar, Khaplang has a substantial support base in Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. For a lasting solution, Khaplang will have to be brought in at some stage.
Will The Groups Be Able To Reconcile?
Though the rebels have maintained their commitment to reconciliation, pushing aside years of bloodshed and differences poses a complex problem. If the groups cannot come together, a solution will not be possible.
Ageing Leadership Holds Key To Solution Any hope of finding a solution lies with the ageing Naga leaders, most of whom are in their 80s. If the government tries to find a solution with the next generation, many feel that the youngsters, driven by personal motives rather than historical precedents, will further fragment the movement, making a solution impossible.
Will The Centre And Manipur Allow For Such Drastic Changes?
Will New Delhi be willing or even able to modify the Constitution to create a special arrangement for the Nagas? Will Imphal allow four of its districts to be taken away? It remains to be seen how sincere the Central government is in finding an out-of-the-box solution.
Trust Deficit Having been slighted in the past, the Nagas and the rebel leaders are wary of New Delhi and its “double talk”. On its part, the Centre is cautious of the Naga groups who continue to arm themselves and recruit cadres. Trust has to be built between the two sides.
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