Another Naga accord: Now let’s make it work
The recent accord that was signed between the Centre and the largest faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland NSCN (IM) is welcome. The group has given up its demand for a sovereign state outside India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the NSCN leaders at the signing ceremony of historic peace accord, in New Delhi. PTI
A pact has been signed between Government of India and Naga faction of NSCN (I.M.). The details will be officially released in due course of time. It is a good sign, if as reported by the government that (I.M.), which is admittedly the largest Naga group, has given up its demand for a sovereign State outside India, as was originally the demand of A.Z. Phizo.
It is also a good sign that T. Muivah has agreed not to insist on including the areas inhabited by Nagas in the other states of Manipur, Assam, Arunchal Pradesh in the state of Nagaland. This demand which required cutting off areas from those states was a non-starter. No government could afford to settle on terms which would provoke counter movements in other North-East states. Of course, it will require the Central Government to honestly abide by the spirit of Article 371A of the Constitution.
Right since 1947, the Naga question has been the unsolved knot leading to almost a war-like situation between the Nagas and the Indian government. Some respite came when the then Prime Minister I. K. Gujral, made the following announcement on July 25, 1997: “In recent talks with the Isac Muivah group of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), it has been mutually agreed to ceasefire with effect from 1 August, 1997 and initiate discussions at the political levels.” Of course, a serious drawback was that ceasefire did not extend to other North-Eastern states that had a considerable Naga population, even when subsequent governments were so advised by some of us. So the situation continued to remain unsettled and fluid.
I have had a fair deal of inkling of the open hostility and anger of Nagas towards India. As President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, I had occasion to meetn some of the top leaders of the Naga movement, including T Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu.
It was in 2000 that I was invited by Asia forum for a conference and also watched the proceedings in a Court at Bangkok (Thailand) where T. Muivah was being prosecuted for travelling on a fake passport. The delicate situation was because NSCN believed that the information about the movements of Muivah had been given by the Indian government — that later denied it.
I also attended the court proceeding and was able to chat with Muivah, courtesy the security guards. Later in the evening, some of us were invited by Isac Swu and his team, who were all underground, for dinner. We were taken from our hotel in a car with dark curtains on both sides, obviously so that we could not see the route from the hotel. We understood their delicate concern, because the place was in Bangkok itself. At the meeting we suggested to Isac Swu and his colleagues that in the meanwhile talks need not be stalled and Muivah (who was in prison) could nominate a team to continue the dialogue in his absence. We even then felt that Muivah and others were genuinely in favour of a peaceful settlement, especially when Rh Raising, member, NSCN Steering Committee, openly told us that “Nagas are totally committed to solving the problem through peaceful means. They want to solve any problem through mutual discussion, understanding, respect and consent”. We told them plainly that no government in India can be a party to allow Nagaland to secede from India. Of course, a degree of autonomy can be worked out mutually within the broad parameters of the Constitution. It is thereafter that talks between Nagas and the Government of India, represented by its Home Secretary. K. Padmanabhaiah, started.
Even when both Muivah and Swu came to Delhi and a meeting was held by some of us, along with V. P. Singh, at the latter's residence. V.P Singh had ceased to be the prime minister. They reiterated their desire for settlement with more autonomy, in a dignified manner. It is a pity that it has taken such a long time for the accord. One may now be hesitatingly optimistic, especially when Muivah has openly welcomed it by describing it as: “Better understanding has been arrived ……based on the unique history and position of Nagas”. It is also a sign of practical wisdom that the Indian government has agreed to facilitate the visit of the Muivah group to travel to Myanmar to consult and bring on board the Khaplang group. One has still to be cautious because the Prime Minister has isolated the Congress chief ministers of Assam, Manipur and Arunchal Pradesh details with them because they too have a similar issue about Nagas. It’s a relief that the Centre has now told those states that the deal will not affect their territories and also assured them that the details will be discussed with them before a final accord is signed.
If it is any satisfaction, even Raj Nath the Home Minister, was excluded from the initial talks (when all the previous negotiations were held by the Home Ministry). It would seem that the Prime Minister realising the gravity of the Naga problem, was keen to find an equitable settlement when he said in his speech : “We will not only try to heal wounds and resolve problems, but also be your partner as you restore your pride and prestige and that the only path to peace and understanding can come about when we deal with each other in a spirit of equality and respect, trust and confidence; when we seek to understand concerns and try to address aspirations.”
Would not the Prime Minister like to express the same sentiments and approach with respect to minorities in our country, especially to Muslims, the largest minority of 14 crore? This course is not only Raj Dharam but a practical and realistic approach that any top leader would adopt.
The writer is a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court.