Even as peace talks in Nagaland are progressing, there are serious apprehensions that the state is heading for a bloodbath. The talk of an interim government to be headed by the NSCN-Isak & Muivah, instead of happiness, has caused serious concern in the Naga society.
Nobody seems to trust the course of the talks. The secret nature of the talks has created an apprehension that the Central Government'snegotiators have not taken the reality into account and have put their eggs in the basket of NSCN-IM. The Naga society is today the most divided and NSCN-IM does not seem to enjoy its confidence.
This has emerged as a serious security threat in the sensitive region. Continuing large infiltration of Bangladeshi nationals, supposedly at the behest of the ISI, has created more distrust. Nagas wonder while any non-Naga Indian needs an inner-line permit to enter the state, how these infiltrators are reaching deep inside Nagaland without a check. They doubt that the NSCN-IM is behind it as they receive safe shelter in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshis are creating serious communal and law and order problems in the state. They are at the forefront of criminalising the society and functioning through many newly built mosques. The Centre is seemingly least bothered and the state government has yet to act on it.
The Naga society is against ignoring this serious problem as the Bangladeshis are enticing Naga girls and marrying them to settle down in the state where a non-inhabitant cannot own any land. There is a slow process of changing the demography. If not checked, and there is little sign of it, this would pose a serious problem and can complicate the social and security situation in the state.
The Naga talks have taken a different dimension as the inhabitants of the state fear being swarmed by ?non-Nagas? from neighbouring state of Manipur. They fear that NSCN-IM'sdemand for Nagalim comprising the areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur is a ploy. They only want, Nagas say, the four districts of Manipur with large Tangkhul Vanvasis to be amalgamated with Nagaland. Tangkhuls are the backbone of NSCN-IM'sinsurgent military outfit. They are considered most ruthless and also more numerous. They are, it is feared, would outnumber most of the 16 major Naga Vanvasi communities and would be in a position to control the state not only politically but also would be disturbing peace in the state.
The present Nephu Rio government in the state supports the peace initiative and is supposed to have a soft corner for NSCN(IM). The coalition of Nephu Rio is perceived to have won the elections, not merely because of anti-Congress sentiment and rampant corruption of the SC Jamir government, but also with forceful support of the NSCN(IM).
The Centre is going ahead with the talks in a unilinear direction apparently ignoring the claims of other Naga Vanvasis. At the initial stage it might have been a good strategy for cessation of armed conflicts. But now the scope of talks has to be widened for a lasting solution and peace in the state. The younger generation is far less alienated and feels that if any understanding is reached with NSCN(IM) it would be an injustice to most of the Nagas and lead to bloodbath.
The indication has already come from the NSCN-Khaplang's?Quit Nagalnd? notice to Tangkhul Vanvasis. Muivah belongs to this community. It is said to be only a retaliatory step by NSCN-K. Sometime back NSCN-IM had given such quit notices to Kukis, who are a major strength for the Khaplang group.
Except for Muivah and his NSCN(IM), nobody, not even the NSCN (Khaplang), is demanding ?Greater Nagaland??the Nagalim. All the Naga groups say they have too many problems within Nagaland and do not want people from outside?Manipur?to come and join the main Naga stream.
They say that Vanvasis in Manipur, (Tangkhuls are the most numerous among them) are not Nagas and should not be integrated into Naga society of Nagaland. The Vanvasis in Nagaland, Aaos, Angamis, Phom and even NSCN(Khaplang) recently opposed the move of Manipur Vanvasis to allow them to be a part of Nagaland Board of Secondary Education. An agitation is on in Manipur'sfour so-called Naga districts. They have burnt Meiti, the Manipuri language, textbooks and demanding separation from Manipur to join Nagaland. The Nephu Rio government at one stage had almost acquiesced to their demand but had to backtrack because of severe protest from almost all the major 16 Naga Vanvasis.
Nagaland has become a classic case of lop-sided communication. The feelings of Naga people are known only to themselves. The state government is aware of it but does not seem to convey it to the Centre. The Centre does not have an effective mechanism, except possibly the intelligence agencies. A divide has grown between the actual aspirations, feelings and the need of the people and the understanding of those who are in command of the negotiations.
In this kind of a complex scenario, the real affairs have changed during the past few years of ceasefire. Prior to it, there was largely a perception that various NSCN factions?IM and Khaplang, control the Naga affairs. They do it only marginally after nine years of ceasefire.
Most Nagas now do not consider the faction of Muivah as representing their cause. Muivah in fact is not even considered a ?Naga?. He is considered a Manipuri by the influential Angamis and Aao Vanvasis as he is from the Tangkhul Vanvasi community, who live in Ukhrul, Senapati and Sandil districts of Manipur. Many of them have almost come out openly saying that Muivah does not have the right to speak on their behalf. Isak is a Sema but Semas now have started feeling that Isak is only playing a second fiddle to Muivah.
The NSCN-Khaplang feels that the talks are skewed as the Khaplang group has been kept out of it. Of course, the Centre has recently initiated some informal talk with the Khaplang group. However, it is not yet at the centre stage.
The Khaplang group is less armed than the IM, which remains the most organised armed outfits. But the Khaplang group has its influence among the Vanvasis living on and across the Myanmar border?Kukis, Karen, Shandil and Kyongyak. The Khaplang leaders have openly said that any agreement with IM would not bind them. The Khaplang alleges that IM has launched a reign of terror.
The reality is that the armed men of IM and Khaplang are fighting pitched battles in different areas of Nagaland to discomfort the peace-loving people of the state.
There is yet another group Naga National Council (NNC), claiming to be the ?elected? body of the Nagas having its influence among Angamis and other Vanvasis living around Kohima and some other neighbouring districts. The NNC also is alleging atrocities by the IM group and even has alleged that in 2005 the IM had virtually kidnapped ?Speaker? of NNC'selected ?assembly? and secretary of the Angami region (Kohima) Lhouvitsu. The Speaker'scar was taken away by them and has not yet been returned. NNC is today one of the most worried lot.
Lhouvitsu says, ?Any agreement good or bad will have nothing to do with Naga people. These people (NSCN-IM) were nurtured, supported and supplied with everything to silence the Naga people.? He alleges that they were raised by RAW under the guidance of the late Smt Indira Gandhi. ?Personally, I do not think anything conclusive can emerge out of the ongoing talks?.
The central board member of the NSCN-Khaplang group Kughalou Mulatonu, regarding Muivah in a sarcastic public comment says, ?Nagas should give Muivah a chance to prove if his crocodile tears are worth speeches and media propagandas.?
Mulatonu says, ?Fighting without nationalistic aspiration is terrorism and Nagas must not succumb to the tactical traits and baits of the terrorists. Further, Nagas must be clear that India will only talk to the Nagas to solve the political problem but not to the terrorists.?
The Centre has been buying time for strategic reasons. But delaying tactics has its limits. The situation has not gone out of hand as of now. If a solution is put off further, the issues are bound to complicate. All the involved groups agree that there is no armed solution to the conflict. The Naga society is keen on all-encompassing talks with all the groups first discussing with the Centre separately and then sit together to solve the six-decade-old problem.
This is certainly the best solution. It cannot be solved piecemeal. The complexity of the Naga society is reflected in their aspirations. There are many groups apart from the NSCN-IM and K. Naga National Council, founded by Phizo, is not a dead organisation. They also have pockets of influence among Angamis and Aaos Vanvasis. There is Naga women'sgroup. It is a vibrant body and have different views. Some smaller groups are also there. All of them want to become part of the talks and want that the centre hold talks in a more democratic manner with divergent social groups so that the solution is not one-sided.
Their concern is legitimate as the IM group with every passing day has been treating the Naga people, other than those belonging to Tangkhul Vanvasi community in a ruthless manner. The youth across the Vanvasi communities do not trust the IM. A number of Nagaland University students talking to this scribe on condition of anonymity said that they wanted the settlement to be made at a wider level and not restricted to the IM group. Some of them said that the IM group had been torturing Naga people to extort money and other favours.
In such a scenario, the Naga problem may spill over to the neighbouring states, as many Nagas may become refugees in their own state. The fightings have begun sporadically. Recently women in Mokokchung had taken up the cudgel to thrash IM activists as they had not only been demanding money, chicken and other facilities for one of their groups but they also allegedly raped some of the Aao girls. In the recent past IM men were involved in raping girls in the Chakasang area.
So far the talks are directed at buying peace somehow. It requires a wider perspective for a long-term solution. There are too many issues and if not handled properly it may give some of the neighbours an opportunity to meddle in the affairs of the state. China had earlier done it. Bangladesh is smaller evil but it remains mischievous. The small state requires an urgent solution. Nagaland has waited for too long. Its people want an early solution to integrate themselves with global developments. The Centre should not disappoint them.