Onus on Modi to deliver: Naga Separatism not dead, 'Siphoning' of funds an issue

Nirendra Dev *

The 'first' BJP Chief Minister, N Biren Singh, had made a difference in the Naga peace deal progress in 2019. Now, he says again - the ongoing or what is said to be at the final stage, the Indo-Naga peace talks will not have any effect on the territorial integrity of Manipur state.

This means things are moving on the Naga Peace parleys front but nothing like 'Greater Nagaland' or bringing Nagas under one administrative head could materialise.

This brings us to the vexed and touchy issues of 'tribalism' in Naga affairs. The ethnic divisions among various tribes including 'amongst Nagas' is a serious matter and if often takes an ominous dimension. Other ethnic communities like Meiteis and Kuki too have their viewpoints.

The Tangkhuls and the Sema Nagas dominate the NSCN(IM) - which has been in formal talks with the Government of India since August 1997.

Tangkhuls, the native community of mercurial NSCN (IM) leader Thuingaleng Muivah, reside mostly in Manipur and Semas have strong presence in the Zunheboto district in the Nagaland hills and in and around Dimapur township in the foothills bordering Assam.

Other tribes have dominance in other respective districts in the state of Nagaland. A large number of Hemi Nagas reside in Myanmar and there is an overwhelming presence of Konyak tribes in parts of western Myanmar. Nagas also live in Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Assam and hence all these only suggest that things are complex and not easy to comprehend at one go.

Now that the peace talks have hit a major roadblock and some groups and 'influential Naga organisations' still remain committed to the early completion of the peace process suggest the Nagas are appearing divided. There are indications that the Government of India would not mind inking a pact with 'Nagas within the state of Nagaland'.

This may not be ideal things to do or recommend, but either the talks would collapse in toto and we may be heading for a 'fractured mandate-type' peace deal.

The risk of doing such a thing is that the insurgency will be far from over. Mind you, the 'Naga insurgency' is northeast India's oldest insurgency and Naga hills have seen enough killings and at least 4,000 fratricidal clashes since the beginning of the ‘ceasefire’ in 1997.

For long, the Nagaland watchers have heard a statement - Nagas are clamouring for an honourable and acceptable solution. But things may not be really heading towards such a goal -- at least for all stakeholders ! Quizzed on these lines, one Naga leader on the condition of anonymity - and predictably so - said: "Instead, we are heading for horrible days".

The worrisome point is, - in the past also, accords have been inked but the Naga insurgency did not end. In 2001, 'The Indian Express' in an edit had said: "From one blunder to another. That has been the performance of the central government vis-a-vis the Northeast".

Thus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team yet again face a very complex challenge.

In my book 'The Talking Guns: North East India', my diagnosis was that the 'Naga problem' was never studied by the central government and New Delhi experts in its totality.

".....politicians insisted on cheap popularity and piece-meal solutions. There were often conflicts of purpose between different government agencies".

Thus, there is a need for tightrope walking. Of course under Prime Minister Modi, things are being monitored at the top level and with regard to talks and related developments - there is a singular command.

Ajit Doval, PM's trusted NSA, is leading the pack and it is given to understand that RN Ravi is also working in close coordination with the right people in the government. Ravi also has ensured that he has NNPGs, a conglomerate of seven groups, on board. The 14 Tribal Hohos and the village elders have backed him. These suit the government of India.

A much influential Lotha Hoho too has done some plain speaking. “Is it not an attempt to derail the near-solution negotiation process? If we change the interlocutor (RN Ravi) it will be an attempt to undo all the 23 years of input into the negotiation on Naga political settlement and thus derail the process of settlement," it said.

The Central Nagaland Tribes Council (CNTC) has also endorsed the stand of the 14 tribes of Nagaland, Nagaland GB Federation (NGBF) Zeliangrong Baudi (AMN) in opposing change of interlocutor of Naga talks, RN Ravi. As again, the ball is in the court of Prime Minister Modi.

As of now in the given context, will it be wrong to say - Prime Minister's 'formula of creative solution' may not work any longer? Or is it - the NSCN (IM) is cornered?

In May, 2005 also the NSCN (IM) leadership was almost cornered and was fuming in anguish. On May 10, 2005, Muivah had arrived at Dimapur airport and about 2500 people had waited for three hours as the flight was delayed.

But the entire episode turned out to be a low-key affair and when Muivah had landed, according to many locals, he looked pensive. There were allegations that 'another armed faction' was being encouraged. Of course things have gone far beyond now. It is time for a final and lasting solution.

The nexus between politicians and armed groups ought to be curtailed. This is precisely the point R N Ravi as the state Governor has underlined lately.

The letter, sent by Governor on June 16, 2020 - said “Law abiding citizens – be they daily wage earners, petty vendors, businessmen, shop-keepers, owners of restaurants or government servants are made miserable by rampant extortions and violence by the armed gangs".

The letter further said the steady slide of Nagaland in all parameters – road connectivity, health and education infrastructures and livelihood – can be attributed to “siphoning off a large chunk of government funds meant for development”.

Will Modi now bell the cat ?

On July 23, Justice Uma Nath Singh, Lokayukta Nagaland, had called on Nagaland Governor Ravi at Raj Bhavan, Kohima.

* Nirendra Dev wrote this article for
The writer is a longtime northeast watcher and had penned a few books including 'The Talking Guns: North East India'
and can be contacted at nirendev1(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on August 14 2020 .

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