The 2015 Naga framework agreement signed between the NSCN (IM) and the government of India was a sign of hope after decades of conflict in the Naga-inhabited areas of India. On that day, many celebrated. Yet some were sceptical as the details of the framework agreement were not divulged by either of the signatories. Till date, the details are sketchy at best. In response to a Right to Information (RTI) filed by RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak, the Central Information Commission (CIC) upheld the decision of the government not to reveal details. CIC chief Radha Krishna Mathur stated:
"The Commission is of the view that non-disclosure at this stage gives space to the government to solve a longstanding issue and bring about enduring peace and prosperity. This option is, therefore, more beneficial and is accepted by the Commission..."
Secret negotiations to resolve long-standing conflicts are not unusual, and details are often kept close to the negotiators for fear that "spoilers" might jeopardise the process before the final settlement.
Theoretically... the idea of "shared sovereignty" is far more complex than simply sharing a national government initiative between two in-country entities.
Notwithstanding the desirability of secrecy, the 2015 Naga framework agreement has thrown up several questions. Naga community leaders and academics are wondering what the framework agreement amounts to. Some accuse the NSCN (IM) of selling out to the government on the Naga cause; others suspect that the Naga framework agreement is just an empty piece of paper, with nothing promised. Some point out that there is actually no resolution in sight. A growing perspective amongst those who study the Naga issue is that the framework agreement enables the NSCN (IM) to continue with parallel governments, including recruitment and training, procurement of illegal weapons and running extortion networks. This perspective has been vindicated by the 8 May arrest of nine NSCN (IM) members with a huge cache of illegal weapons, including AK-47 and 56 rifles. Furthermore, the NSCN (IM) continues to levy taxes on local people at a rate of 24%annually, depending on the salary bracket. Recently, the group announced that it was reducing the taxes from 24 to 12% annually (1% of salary per month). Ironically, resident Naga tribes are exempted from paying taxes to the state and Central governments. The annual budget of the NSCN (IM) is ₹180 crores (2016-2017). While most view NSCN (IM) taxes as "coercive extortions", the non-payment of which could result in severe physical harm, the NSCN (IM) describes them as necessary to continue their fight for the Naga cause.
The issue of representation is another factor. While the NSCN (IM) is the most dominant armed group, there are others like the NSCN (K) and NNC that claim they represent Nagas. Amongst Nagas, Konyaks view the NSCN (K) as representing them and Angamis look up to the NNC. This divisive issue has to be resolved for long-term peace and acceptance of the final accord by all Naga tribes.
[T]he serious policy question that arises with the NSCN (IM)'s acceptance of "shared sovereignty" is: what does it amount to, legally and constitutionally?
On 9 May, the NSCN (IM), in a press release, stated they have accepted the idea of "shared sovereignty" and to co-exist with India. The concept of "shared sovereignty", as understood from the NSCN (IM)'s perspective implies that it can share in the Central government's initiatives. This has resulted in an increase in local recruitment to the outfit (from 2000 to 5000) with new NSCN (IM) recruits aiming to be inducted into a central service.
Theoretically, however, the idea of "shared sovereignty" is far more complex than simply sharing a national government initiative between two in-country entities. According to researchers Hadii M. Mamudu and Donley T. Studlar, in a paper titled "Multilevel Governance and Shared Sovereignty: European Union, Member States, and the FCTC:
"Under this arrangement, state actors have the authority to enter into agreements that would compromise their Westphalian sovereignty, with the goal of improving domestic sovereignty. While states preserve their authority to enter voluntary agreements, they cede their autonomy by pooling their resources into a multilateral organization or their commitments into an international treaty, which then become vehicles for international collective action."
Given national governments have been unable or unwilling to develop the status of some sections of their population due to incompetence or lack of material resources—thus denying these citizens access to healthcare, education, safety and economic well-being—the only viable way, as per the idea of "shared sovereignty" is to include these areas within an international organisation or trusteeship that partners with the national government to improve the lives of the common people.
Shared sovereignty in Naga areas would mean that the state is no longer the sole authority in policymaking, but that function is shared with the NSCN (IM), NGOS, community leaders...
So, the serious policy question that arises with the NSCN (IM)'s acceptance of "shared sovereignty" is: what does it amount to, legally and constitutionally? For one, it could suggest that the NSCN (IM) accepts its future within India, but seeks to keep on enjoying an empowered status of crafting its own policies for the Naga areas. Alternatively, the concept of shared sovereignty could mean that the NSCN (IM) will evolve into an institution that will share in the development of Naga areas. For this to work, the outfit would require vast resources, which cannot be based on "taxing" or extorting from the very people it claims to work for.
Shared sovereignty in Naga areas would mean that the state is no longer the sole authority in policymaking, but that function is shared with the NSCN (IM), NGOS, community leaders, amounting to a supra-state structure encompassing all these actors. Given Nagas live across internal state borders in India, this institutional arrangement does make sense. Complicated issues like "shared sovereignty" should, however, be legally vetted so that conflict does not raise its head again on a later date. I trust the government of India and NSCN (IM) are seriously considering these issues and hope their negotiations result in a wise peace agreement.