The 15th of August is just a few hours away. A sense of mixed feeling including pessimism has dawned on Naga people and sections of public leaders, civil societies and also ‘well wishers’ of the valiant community in the northeast longing for a lasting peace.
Amid these, all eyes are on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Red Fort on Monday morning.
The ‘delay malady’ to arrive at a solution ‘continues’ and the Solution to the 25 year peace negotiations that was launched in 1997 now remains elusive. More importantly, the August 15th deadline as suggested in more ways than one including by BJP leaders is now knocking at the doors; but nobody is sure what is at the end of the tunnel.
Yet, some Naga leaders and representatives of civil societies have not given up hopes.
Matching their confidence and trust, reportedly the Government of India has assured some ‘genuine and committed’ peace workers among Naga leaders that things would be ‘workable’ and a Solution to the long pending Naga problem is therefore not far off.
Some civil society Naga leaders have ‘got in touch’ with the Government of India and they have been counselled not to give up ‘optimism’.
“Nagas are fighters and brave and hence, let us not give up the sense of optimism. Let’s wait for brighter things,” one informed source said.
A public rally was organised on August 5 in Dimapur where various social organisations including village elders’ body (Gaon Burrah Federation) and community leaders pressed for Solution “at the earliest”.
The official stance of the Central government is that issues of Naga Flag and a separate Constitution were not on the agenda and cannot be negotiated. The formal talks were over in October 2019, but no substantial progress could be made because the NSCN-IM and its leader Thuingaleng Muivah have raised the bogies of Flag and Constitution as ‘afterthought’.
On Sunday, August 14, NSCN-IM leader Muivah stated in his statement that “The Ball is in the court of Govt of India to make the right move,” and went on to add: “We see no meaning in the ceasefire that does not embark upon political negotiation. We see no meaning in negotiation if it does not deliver solution”.
Muivah referred to August 3, 2015 Framework Agreement inked by him and the then negotiator R.N. Ravi (currently the Tamil Nadu Governor), and said: “We have endured 25 years of gruelling ceasefire… We have also waited patiently for seven long years (since 2015)”.
Muivah’s strategy has been to put the ball in the Government of India’s court; but those in the know of things in Delhi maintain that the fact is the hardline posturing on Flag and a separate Constitution have stalled the peace process.
Sources in Delhi are, however, optimistic that a Solution to the Naga problem is ‘workable’.
Reportedly, important stakeholders are in touch with ‘each other’ and also some Naga militant leaders were advised or ‘invited’ for a cup of tea with senior army officials both at Kohima and Rangapahar near Dimapur.
But another source claimed there has been ‘no formal or informal channels’ between the Government of India and NSCN-IM for the last 90 days or so.
“We are trying to connect the dots. To make a garland you need the finer work at the last moment,” the source said.
But for its part, the pro-early Solution, NNPG — an umbrella organisation of seven militant groups — in their August 14 (Naga Independence Day statement) said — “History will remember who wasted 25 years in fruitless parleys amassing wealth and enriching themselves.”
The remarks were targeted at the NSCN-IM role for the ‘delay’ in arriving at a solution.
“… many Naga leaders have become self-worshippers and too slippery in their utterances, unable to define the real meaning of Sovereignty, Independence, Integration or Naga identity,” NNPG convener, N. Kitovi Zhimomi said.
The NNPG leader is also critical of NSCN-IM move to raise the demands for Flag and a separate Constitution months after August 3, 2015 Framework Agreement.
“Apparently, since the Govt of India started negotiations with NNPG, the sudden demand and claim for Flag and Constitution became necessary (allegedly for NSCN-IM) in order to prolong and sabotage possible Indo-Naga solution,” Kitovi said.
He also made a veiled reference to NSCN-IM’s alleged communist tilt as the militant organisation had enlisted support and training from China in the 1980s.
“Till date, the details of Framework Agreement have been kept away from the Naga people. The bits and pieces which have come into the public domain points to hegemonic, despotic and diabolic agenda straight out of the communist rule book,” Kitovi said.
The observers say Kitovi is trying to make a strategic move by referring to ‘communism’ as Nagas known for their devotion to Christianity are strictly opposed to communism.
Earlier this year, reports surfaced that the NSCN-IM had proposed with the Government of India ‘a Pan Naga’ governance system which would probably make the ‘chairman’ of the militant group more powerful than any constitutional authority in India and will be virtually at par with the likes of Xi Jinping of China and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The NSCN-IM has, however, denied any such move and the group keeps pushing its slogan ‘Nagaland for Christ’.
The government agencies are treading the path cautiously. Politically, the BJP took a decision last month making a ‘sacrifice’ and agreed for a 20:40 seat share in favour of regional partner NDPP.
Incumbent Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio is NDPP leader and reportedly he has been asked to exert influence on the NSCN-IM to come forward for talks ‘practically’ and ink a solution and final peace pact at the earliest.
As such this year’s August 15 deadline for a Solution pact was indicated among others by Nagaland deputy chief minister Y Patton. Timing is also running out for BJP as it had promised ‘Election for Solution’ in 2018 and now elections are due in the state in February 2023.
In 1985, the Rajiv Gandhi government had signed a pact with agitating Assam students at around 3 a.m. on August 15.
Rajiv later disclosed about the agreement during his Red Fort speech and the rest is history as that created a political party AGP — chiefly made out of student leaders including P.K. Mahanta — who later became Assam Chief Minister.
Will Modi take a leaf out of Rajiv’s page and at least make a big announcement vis-a-vis Naga peace talks?
Some Naga leaders including regional party NPF leader Kuzholuzo Azo Nienu had made — “Take it or leave it” statement vis-a-vis the Naga peace talks earlier this year. BJP leader Patton also had insisted that solution should be worked out at the earliest.
(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. He is also author of books, ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ and ‘Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth’. Views are personal)