On Monday evening the Indian Prime Minister tweeted , "today, we mark not merely the end of a problem but the beginning of a new future," referring to the 'historic' peace accord between Indian government and the Naga armed separatist group, NSCN(IM).
It may not be 'historic' but it is certainly very significant. It's significance is three fold: it brings to an end to an 'almost two-decade-old' ceasefire and endless rounds of 'talks'; it opens up windows of peace talks with several other militias (some created by NSCN(IM) themselves), particularly those who were watching this process of negotiation very keenly; and finally it will (hopefully) end a regime of intimidation, abductions against ransom and levying of illegal taxes on the people of Nagaland and Manipur by this very group.
It is also significant from the point of view of Narendra Modi's speech; he spoke in English immediately connecting with the region, he repeated words of reconciliation expressing his admiration of "Naga courage and commitment", Naga "peace efforts" and said India wants to restore "your pride and prestige". He also spoke about the "huge toll on generations of our people" striking a chord of solidarity in the protracted struggle by the Naga people.
"Till such time the guns fall silent, it would be premature to call this accord 'historic'."
Yet, it is not 'historic' only because the Indian government in the past has signed such 'landmark' agreements with NSCN(IM)'s predecessors and the very creation of this group was in reaction against those agreements. This accord will also test itself with other Naga armed groups still active and striking hard on Indian forces. One will have to see how India addresses them and how they react to this accord. Till such time the guns fall silent, it would be premature to call this accord 'historic'.
It was a rather strange 'agreement' with not a hint of what has been agreed upon. The most contentious clause in the demand put forward was the integration of Naga inhabited areas in neighbouring states of Nagaland, a demand that has faced intense opposition from the concerned states, particularly Manipur. The last time an Indian government agreed on these terms in 2001, Manipur went into a frenzy and the government had to roll back its decision of a Greater Nagaland or Nagalim. How has the government negotiated on this clause would be of immense importance and decide the future course of action. In 2001, the government had promised not to interfere with the territorial integrity of Manipur. Given that Muivah himself belongs to Manipur and the rank and file of the group comes from the Thangkul tribe of Manipur, this demand is crucial to Muivah's credibility as a leader of Naga cause. If the government has conceded to even an inch of land it will face violent opposition. If NSCN(IM) has scaled down from its Greater Nagaland demand then they will be seen as betraying the entire struggle. Whatever the agreement has been, it will face fierce criticism from a section of Muivah's former colleagues.
"Yes reconciliation is the key to moving ahead but mere words may not be enough."
It would be interesting to note that the NSCN(IM) held their first talks with Vajpayee and the talks found a resolution under another NDA regime of Modi, something that Modi didn't forget to claim. But does this translate into peace? Not necessarily. Yes reconciliation is the key to moving ahead but mere words may not be enough. The Naga issue is not an isolated one; it connects the dots across the region and spreads itself to various underground activities within and outside India. Will the group now put an end to its illegal activities? For the record, the group with its army of trained guerillas run an empire of narcotics, gun running and extortion despite the ceasefire ground rules strictly banning such activities. They continue moving around with arms with impunity violating all sections of the ground rules. Nobody tried to rein them in.
The current interlocutor Mr. R N Ravi, who knows this issue and the region in-depth is the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and a former Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau. He was given a free hand to bring this endless seasons of talks to a time bound resolution, and he did it in record time. Though we are yet to know how he managed to do it and what is the fine print of the 'deal'.
Like many believe that the Naga issue is a "work-in-progress", this accord would certainly turn around the otherwise slow pace of arriving at a resolution with all stakeholders.