Revisiting The Road To The Naga Peace Accord

08/08/2015 1:16 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
An armed member of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) patrols at their central headquarters at Hebron, on the outskirts of Dimapur, in the northeastern Indian state of Nagaland, Wednesday, May 5, 2010. India is offering wide autonomy to the group though it has already rejected the rebels' demand for an independent homeland in northeastern India bordering Myanmar, where most of the 2 million Nagas live. The Naga rebels began fighting more than 50 years ago, although a cease-fire has held since it was signed in 1997. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

As the TV news flashed on 3 August with images of Naga Peace Interlocutor, R N Ravi and Thuingaleng Muivah, the leader of the NSCN (IM) inking the Naga Peace Accord, it took me back to my visit in 2007 to the Naga People's Consultative Meeting (PCM) organised by the NSCN (IM) in their Camp Hebron near Dimapur. It was in this meeting that I first heard Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu (the outfit's co-founder) speak on the Naga political cause. Muivah, a charismatic leader, speaking to a gathering of about 5000 people, asked their opinions on whether to extend the ongoing ceasefire signed in August, 1997 with the Indian government for six months or a year as was the usual practice. The overall popular consensus was that it should be extended indefinitely, and that they did on 31 July, 2007.

This exercise in public consultation was a rare glimpse into the functioning of this well-organised insurgent group that has sustained itself since its formation in 1988. My research on insurgency over the years -- of several groups from the FARC in Columbia to the Shining Path in Peru -- has informed me that armed groups adept at establishing solid social networks are best at sustaining their fight. The other important insight I drew was that social networks also constrain insurgent behaviour as I would witness that day (27 July, 2007) in Camp Hebron. The Naga Hoho, an apex Naga social body advised the NSCN (IM) to establish a Code of Conduct (CoC) for its armed cadres especially when they meet with civilians. In response, Swu cautioned his cadres to be disciplined and warned of strict action for those who stray. This feedback mechanism created the social legitimisation process that has seen the NSCN (IM) talks held at the level of none other than the Prime Minister through the medium of an interlocutor.

"My research on insurgency over the years has informed me that armed groups adept at establishing solid social networks are best at sustaining their fight... social networks also constrain insurgent behaviour."

This social legitimacy has been a part of the Naga struggle for unique history, political representation and dignity. Starting way back in 1918 by the Naga Club, the Naga ethnic movement was further entrenched in 1929 when the Club submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission in which it stated that those from mainland India and the Nagas have nothing in common. The Naga Club was followed up by the Naga National Council (NNC) formed in 1946 by the charismatic A Z Phizo. The period of the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s were turbulent periods in Nagaland with insurgency and counterinsurgency resulting in civilian deaths. In 1964, a Nagaland Peace Mission was formed which signed a ceasefire with Phizo, only to last till 1968. In 1975, the Shillong Accord was signed in which the NNC agreed to give up arms and accept the Indian Constitution. Muivah and Swu, who were then NNC members revolted, and went on to form the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980 with S S Khaplang. In 1988, the NSCN split due to leadership differences, into the NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (K).

Today, the NSCN (IM) has emerged through its social networks and local political connections as the most powerful amongst the other factions, who are parochial at best. Moreover, unlike the NSCN (K) whose leader Khaplang has failed to maintain an integrated group with major splits occurring from within his ranks, the NSCN (IM)'s main leaders and cadres have remained intact since 1988. Hence, a peace accord with the NSCN (IM) by which the outfit gives up violence and joins a peaceful dialogue process is a breakthrough.

There are three significant contexts to the present Naga Accord. First is the fact that the NSCN (K) abrogated the cease-fire on 27 March, 2015 that it signed with the Government of India in 2001. This led to an atmosphere of lawlessness followed by the deadly ambush on the 6 Dogra regiment on 4 June. In return, there has been pressure from Naga civil society and the Government to lock in the peace process with the NSCN (IM) lest it follows suit. Second, there have been increasing demands for withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 from Nagaland. Third, the NSCN (IM) leaders, Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu were looking for a resolution framework that met some, if not all of their demands.

"A peace accord with the NSCN (IM) by which the outfit gives up violence and joins a peaceful dialogue process is a breakthrough."

As per the peace agreement, the NSCN (IM) has committed to follow a path of peace and abjure violence; the Government of India has bestowed special status to Naga history, culture and tradition within the Constitutional framework. Also, if reports that a non-territorial framework in the form of autonomous district councils for Naga-inhabited areas are in the offing, this would be in the interest of states like Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur that oppose the NSCN (IM)'s demand for Greater Nagalim as it retains territorial status quo.

While the details are being worked out, I end with the hope that the accord has awakened in a friend from Nagaland. For one, he hopes his 6-year-old daughter will not grow up seeing Indian soldiers in fatigues come in and check her home every other day. He also hopes the NSCN (IM) armed cadres will not make the house visit every month to collect "taxes" for the outfit; and finally, he hopes the accord offers him a life of dignity, where he is not pulled out of buses at every military checkpoint and asked to lay bare his personal belongings.

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