India’s Naga Issue: ‘Historic’ is Still Some Way Away

Clarity of thought and brevity of expression are needed to work out a solution to the Naga issue. The government must refrain from claiming success until a final settlement is worked out and implemented for a problem that has lasted six decades

Posted on 09/1/15
By Subir Bhaumik | Via The Hindu
Nagaland leader and Indian government officials exchange landmark peace agreement documents in New Delhi on August 4. (Photo from video stream)
Leader of National Socialist Council of Nagaland and Indian government officials exchange landmark peace agreement documents in New Delhi on August 4. (Photo from video stream)

After much initial confusion, it is now clear that the Muivah-Ravi agreement or the Peace Accord of August 3, on the Naga issue, is not a “historic accord” as was originally claimed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his colleagues. The Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, and the Nagaland Chief Minister, T.R. Zeliang, have now both clarified that it was only a “framework agreement”, which means that it is an agreement to pave the way for a final settlement by laying out the framework on which it will be worked out.

 

So why the drumbeating that is becoming a signature tune of the government? Why the rush to the media to proclaim something that has not happened? Why call an agreement “historic” when the final agreement is yet to be signed? Why make the claim of there being “significant casualties” in a raid ‘deep inside Myanmar’ when Indian para-commandos only hit two rebel bases, one of them abandoned, and then killed only a few rebels? Jumping the gun is becoming a dangerous habit, something better avoided, especially on sensitive issues like the Naga problem.

The Naga journalist, Bano Haralu, has quipped that if 18 years has only led to a “framework agreement”, it left one wondering how much longer the Nagas and India would have to wait for a final settlement. Her poser: Is it “historic” because this accord has taken the longest to work out? Surely we will need to wait a while because contentious issues still dog the agreement to settle India’s longest running ethnic insurrection. The haze has not yet lifted over many of the contentious issues involved.

Sovereignty and federalism

While Mr. Rijiju told The Hindu recently that the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) or NSCN(I-M) has given up on “Naga sovereignty”, the NSCN’s Thuingaleng Muivah said the opposite on August 14, at the 69th Naga Independence Day in his Hebron headquarters near Dimapur town in Nagaland. The Naga rebel chieftain clarified that the NSCN had never given up on Naga sovereignty. But he clarified that the Indo-Naga final settlement will be based on the concept of “shared sovereignty” because if India recognises the “unique history of the Nagas”, the Nagas should recognise India’s problems and limitations. That spirit of give-and-take is most welcome but should not be misconstrued as a compulsion instead of a choice.

 

“Shared sovereignty” is not a bad idea because it can take Indian federalism forward to new heights. The Naga settlement can provide a new benchmark to fulfil autonomist aspirations elsewhere in the Republic and actually strengthen the bonds that hold this huge country together, because “shared sovereignty” within the Indian constitutional framework is an acceptance of the multiplicity of the Indian identity as a historical fact. In this subcontinent that straddles the crossroads of Asia, there are many with unique social identitites and who have a unique history and a distinct way of life despite an acceptance of trans-regional religions and an over-arching post-colonial state that many feel is rooted in an ancient civilisation. Yet, there are others who feel that it grew out of the British colonial experience that produced a unique nationalism that was federal in aspiration but unitary in terms of the state structure. A unique federalist solution would mean greater autonomy and more powers to the Naga state (and to other Indian States as well in future), whatever its final territorial shape is. But, Mr. Muivah’s insistence that they have not given up on Nagalim does complicate the scenario.

Regional reactions

The Assam Chief Minister, Tarun Gogoi, and the Manipur Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi Singh, have already issued warnings that they will oppose any final agreement on the Naga issue that has adverse impacts on the interests of their respective States. While there has been a war of words between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress over the Congress Chief Ministers being provoked, the truth is neither Mr. Gogoi nor Mr. Ibobi Singh can accept an accord that will make Nagalim a reality through a territorial reorganisation. So, the Indian government’s interlocutor R.N. Ravi and Mr. Muivah will have to work hard to find a “non-territorial solution” to meet Naga aspirations of unity and one that does not upset neighbouring Assam and Manipur. The “supra-state model” that Mr. Ravi’s predecessor, R.S. Pandey, worked on to provide cultural integration for the Nagas may find its way into a final settlement because a territorial solution will be difficult to sell to stakeholders.

 

The secrecy surrounding the August 3 accord is understandable because the claims about it do not clearly match what was achieved. So, unlike all the previous accords the Indian government signed — like in Punjab, Assam, Mizoram and, finally, Tripura, between 1985 and 1988 — the August 3 accord was kept under wraps. The signing of the previous accords, many of which I have personally covered as a field journalist, were immediately followed by the text being released to the media and into the public domain. Secrecy only triggers speculation and makes no sense in a democracy like India, where even a “framework agreement” should be subjected to some public debate.

Click here to read the complete article at The Hindu.

(Subir Bhaumik, a former BBC Correspondent, is the author of the books on the Northeast, Insurgent Crossfire and Troubled Periphery.)

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