THE NAGA PEACE PROCESS: ISSUES AND IMPLICATIONS


5 January 2007
Upasana Mahanta

The talks in mid-December between New Delhi and the Nagaland separatist group, the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), in Amsterdam, raises some faint hopes for peace in the region. The talks are seen as a fresh attempt at saving a nine-year ceasefire from breaking down. The ceasefire, which is in place since August 1997, faced rough weather in the recent past, with the NSCN-IM charging the Center with lack of sincerity in chalking out a plan for resolving the Naga issue. Against this backdrop, the recent talks and the consequent arrival of NSCN-IM leaders in Delhi to further the initiative hold crucial significance.


There are, however, a few critical questions involved here. During the inconclusive talks last October, the NSCN-IM had proposed "a special federal arrangement" and a separate Naga constitution under the arrangement. This would imply that like J&K, Nagaland be given a special position under the Constitution of India. This requires fundamental changes in the country's federal dynamics. Self-rule by the Nagas would also have serious implications for the other north eastern states. Various parts of the Northeast have already been suffering from violent insurgent movement. The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) in Assam, for instance, has displayed explicit secessionist tendencies. A self-ruling neighbour may not go down well with the rest of the North east.

Moreover, the core and the most controversial rebel demand is that of the creation of a 'Greater Nagaland', an integrated Naga homeland (Nagalim) that includes parts of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. This demand has been stiffly opposed by other northeastern states involved. The Kuki community, for instance, recently warned that they would go on the warpath if the areas they inhabit were handed to the Nagas. Such threats show that one slip on the part of the Centre may push the entire region to the brink of civil war.

Another aspect of the issue is that the other rebel groups in the region and in particular the NSCN-Khaplang, question the NSCN-IM's right to represent the Naga community. There have been reports of major clashes between the cadres of the NSCN-IM and NSCN-Khaplang that has resulted in the death of several people. It has been argued by other rebel groups that the talks have, so far, been unidimensional, completely ignoring the aspirations of the greater Naga community.

Keeping these critical aspects in view, the Centre needs to tread the path to peace with immense care.. The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, had promised an "honourable solution" to the Naga problem. At the same time, no move can be made that would hurt the sentiments of the other north eastern states. What is "honourable" for the Nagas, may not be "honourable" for the other states, and again, amongst the rebel groups themselves there are difference on what constitutes an ideal solution to the problem.

What, then, could be the way out from this seemingly no-win situation needs to be closely evaluated. The outcome of the recent talks is still unknown. This fresh peace initiative could well be the breakthrough in the process that was being hoped for. The talks have reportedly now entered a "critical" stage despite differences on several key issues.

The continuance of peace in the region is increasingly crucial. The Center has, over the past few years, invested heavily in infrastructure building in the Northeast and has plans for still more in the North East. Nagaland has the ongoing Dimapur airport project, and the NH39 project connecting Dimapur, Chumuk and Dema (four lanes). There has also been investment under the Indira Awas Yojna (IAY), and work is on for the reconstruction and modernization of hospitals at Kohima. If peace fails in the region, these projects would also suffer. Moreover, the tourism potential of the northeastern region, which is immense, remains unexploited.

Keeping these issues in view, one feels the need to encourage greater civil society initiative in furthering the Naga peace process. It may be observed that in the quagmire of demands and counter-demands, the Nagas may turn out to be the worst sufferers. A lasting solution to the Naga problem requires a thorough understanding of the situation in its entirety. People-to-people contacts need to be built up so that real problems of the people can be voiced on a larger platform. There is a need for more cross-cultural openness, not only between mainstream India and the Northeast, but among the northeastern states as well. A feeling of alienation has long been evident, not only among the Nagas, but also in the rest of the Northeast, with people feeling cut off from mainstream India. Peace would continue to be illusory in the region, if this fundamental grievance is not urgently redressed. A large number of students from the Northeast study in various colleges and universities all over the country, with the national capital itself being an academic home to many of them. Efforts need to be undertaken to organize regular cross-cultural dialogue with them, which would facilitate deeper understanding of the issues concerning the region, and fresh impetus may be given to the peace process with the involvement of young minds.

Originally published by The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS)  at http://www.ipcs.org/article/india/the-naga-peace-process-issues-and-implications-2180.html

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