TODAY -

Secret Naga autonomy talks near resolution
Source: The Sangai Express / The Indian Express

New Delhi, February 26 2017: At secret meetings held every week, RN Ravi, the Indian Government's official inter-locutor on Nagaland, and insurgent leader Thui-ngaleng Muivah have been hammering out details of a political autonomy deal for Naga communities living inside and outside the state, a top government official familiar with the talks told The Sunday Express.

Held at hotels, guest houses and conventional venues, the meetings have involved 16-18-member delegations of the Muviah-led National Socialist Council of Naga-lim's Isak-Muviah (NSCN-IM) faction, the primary insurgent group in the state, while New Delhi has been represented by Ravi alone.

"The idea of not having a delegation from the Government of India side," the official said, "is to be able to tell the Nagas, look, here is one person who enjoys the confidence of the political executive, and will take what you propose straight to the top to get a yes or no answer" .

In order to ensure that a consensus develops around any future deal, the official said, Manipur's government has been regularly briefed on the negotiations, with New Delhi and Imphal regularly exchanging formal correspondence on the issue.

"However," the official added, "this process has been on hold since November, when the election pro- cess was initiated in Manipur" .

In a press release issued on Friday, the NSCN appeared to suggest an early deal was possible, saying "the Government of India has recognised the legal rights of the Nagas and candidly proclaimed integration the legitimate right of the Nagas… Whether we like it or not there is going to be a transformation in the history of the Nagas very soon" .

Large Naga populations live in Manipur's hill areas, and Naga insurgents have long demanded that these communities be made part of Nagalim, a territory encompassing all areas where the ethnic group lives.

The demand has been bitterly resisted by Manipur, especially by the Hindu communities of the plains.

New Delhi, the official said, believes a breakthrough has been made in the talks with the NSCN agreeing, in principle, that Naga communities can exercise autonomous political rights within existing state boundaries.

The evolving formula, it believes, would meet the group's demand for integration, while at once addressing Manipur's territorial anxieties.

"I'm afraid I can't share more details at this stage," the official said, "but I do believe we have a formulation all sides can live with" .

Though the secrecy that has surrounded the talks has bred scepticism on the Framework Agreement signed in 2015, the legal basis of the ongoing deal, the official said "the fact that frequent, granular negotiations are underway should tell you something about the level of understanding that has evolved" .

In a recent interview, Ravi said the Framework Agreement remained secret as the Government did not wish to "serve half-cooked meals" .

"As and when we reach the final agreement, the Framework Agreement will be part of that," he said.


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