Intro : The inking of a peace accord between New Delhi and NSCN (IM) – the largest Naga insurgent group – is a game changer. Not only does it raise hopes of a final political settlement to India’s oldest insurgency, but also opens the door for greater development in the North-east.
The Naga deal comes nearly two decades after the government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) signed a ceasefire agreement on July 25, 1997. The Naga nationalism first reared its head with the formation of the Naga Club in 1918 by soldiers who served in World War I. As Indian Independence approached, the Naga National Council (NNC) took birth in February 1946, with the objective of safeguarding Naga interests in free India. It submitted a four-point memorandum when the British Cabinet Mission visited India in June 1946, saying the NNC stood for “the solidarity of all Naga tribes, including those in the un-administered areas”. Later, the NNC changed its stated stand to separate statehood for the Naga Hills. Phizo, a more aggressive leader of NNC,
started propagating for an
On August 14, 1947 a day before India became Independent, the NNC declared Independence. Post-Independence, the Nagas also claimed to have popular support through a plebiscite held in 1951. In 1952 Nagas boycotted independent India’s first general elections. What followed was a cycle of violence, right from the declaration of civil obedience by the NNC to violent protests against the Indian state and later, an armed insurgency. In 1956 Phizo proclaimed the formation of the Federal Government of Nagaland, with a military wing. Tatar Hoho, an underground parliament too took shape. The Naga cause found its support from Burma, where the Communist Party backed the rebels against the Indian state. India sent the Army to quell the violence in the Naga Hills, but by its own admission, its presence and the scale of the operation only increased the anger towards the Indian state. As part of the resolution in 1957, the Naga Hills was to be declared a Union territory, and later, in 1963, with the passage of the Nagaland Act in 1962, it received full statehood. That did not end violence, though. Rebel activities continued with support from Burma and China.
The Naga Peace Council was formed in 1972 by the Baptist church. In 1975, the Shillong Accord was signed between the Government of India and the Naga rebels, where the latter had to accept the Constitution of India, surrender arms and drop demands for an independent Nagaland. Rather than settling the issue, the Shillong Accord opened new wounds, with some foreign-based leaders like Isak Chisi Swu (then NNC vice-president) and the China-based Thuingaleng Muivah (then NNC general secretary) openly voicing their disapproval. In 1980, along with SS Khaplang, Isak Swu and Muivah formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), heralding a new era of violence and bloodshed. Its objective was to carry an armed struggle against the Indian state to establish a “People’s Republic of Nagaland”. The NSCN established its foothold over Naga sovereignty with rebel tactics like bank robberies, assassinations and its association with other rebel groups in the region, most notably, the Kachen Independent Army in Burma. However, in April 1988, the NSCN went through a violent, vertical split, with one faction led by Isak and Muivah, and the other by Khaplang. The NSCN-IM has been running a sort of parallel government in several regions of Nagaland, with its members operating several ministries.
It was during Prime Minister IK Gujral’s tenure that a ceasefire agreement was finally signed with the NSCN (IM), setting the stage for further talks. The other faction, led by SS Khaplang (or NSCN (K)) followed suit and in December 2000, it announced a unilateral ceasefire, expressing its willingness to talk to the Government of India. That ceasefire was abrogated in March earlier this year.
The Peace Accord
The inking of a peace accord between New Delhi and NSCN(IM) – the largest Naga insurgent group – is a game changer. Not only does it raise hopes of a final political settlement to India’s oldest insurgency, but also opens the door for greater development in the Northeast. With the largest Naga group now signing on to a peace agreement, other militant outfits too can be persuaded to eschew violence and adopt dialogue. While details of the framework agreement are yet to be made public, it appears that both sides have agreed to a solution that doesn’t involve redrawing state borders. This is a big breakthrough as the demand for greater Nagaland clubbing together Naga-dominated areas in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam was a major stumbling block in negotiations. Reportedly, an alternative formula that allows for autonomy to Naga tribes outside Nagaland has been worked out along with a mechanism to discuss decommissioning of arms held by NSCN (IM). The challenges remain in terms of operationalising the peace accord on the ground with several details yet to be worked out. In addition to this the unfinished task of winning over other Naga rebel groups is to be completed. The Government would be hoping that NSCN (IM)’s influence within Naga society will bring all Naga stakeholders on board.
Assuming all this is done; the accord could bring peace to many other regions. One area of concern is the Karbi Anglong border area of Assam where Naga groups have been active. Consequently, the National Highway linking Guwahati to Dimapur remains largely non-operational for normal travel. The accord should hence serve to restore peace on the border between Assam and Nagaland, lack of which is disrupting commerce in that region. Similarly, the conflict with Manipur over the treatment of the Naga hill tribes in the Ukhrul hill region of Manipur has disrupted commerce between Nagaland and Manipur as the main road connecting Manipur and the rest of the country is via Kohima, the capital of Nagaland. Clearly, the Naga accord promises to restore normal road connectivity in the North-east. This connectivity is also crucial to the development of the region. At present, the only link from one state in the North-East to another is via Guwahati. This creates serious issues for economic development. For one, as a consequence, the hill states (barring, of course, Sikkim) are developing in slow pace. Thus we have uneven development with double-digit growth in states like Mizoram and Sikkim—well above the national average. The other states of the North-east were growing below the average rate during the 11th Plan (2007-12).
Given the proximity of these states to each other and the strong historical people-to-people links, such uneven growth is unsustainable. There is no doubt that poor inter-state coordination (largely because of poor connectivity) is the main factor behind this uneven development. Poor connectivity and inter-state coordination will also hamper efforts to link the states of the North-east to the countries of South-east Asia. One element of the “Act East” policy of the present government is to make the North-east India’s “gateway to the East”. An important part of this is the establishment of a sea link via the Sittwe port in Myanmar. It must be remembered that the people of Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram have close ethnic links to the Myanmarese. Only economic development will establish the large constituency necessary to perpetuate peace.
Peace in the region is vital for many key projects that Prime Minister Modi has in mind like the Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India road connectivity project as well as one that will link India to South-east Asia through Myanmar where India has an eye on its carbohydrates.
The neighbouring States should not politicise the Peace Accord for their selfish gains but see it in the larger interest of the region and for the country. This Accord has added another feather to the cap of Prime Minister Modi.
Anil Kamboj (The writer is Retired IG, BSF and currently Prof at New Delhi Institute of Management)