Starting September 20, it is going to be a crucial week for Nagaland
- A week ahead to decide 'fate' of Peace and Guns in Nagaland -

Nirendra Dev *

A former top level Intelligence Bureau sleuth A K Mishra has landed in Dimapur. He has not been named as peace Interlocutor for Naga talks officially but for all practical purposes he is the one. At least he would be the go-between kind of person.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma too could arrive at Dimapur. Sarma is also chairman of BJP-led regional alliance NEDA and enlisting his services exemplifies the government's efforts to discuss things 'politically'. Nagas have a sizable presence in three states of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.

The Naga peace talks in formal structure began in 1997. Now, going back to jungles should not be an option in circa 2021. It may well turn out to be similar to the Afghanistan fiasco - and only the scale would be different. Even the Indian army cannot afford such a massive operation.

The centre has moved Nagaland Governor R N Ravi to Tamil Nadu in the same gubernatorial position. Like Mishra, Ravi too is a former IB top ranking official and was handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and NSA Ajit Doval to be peace Interlocutor for Naga peace parleys since 2014. Right from the beginning, the NSCN (IM) had an issue with Ravi.

Prior to his appointment as Interlocutor, in 2013, he had provoked anguish from the militant camp for penning a newspaper article.

He wrote: “Over 1,800 Nagas have been killed in some 3,000 fratricidal clashes since the beginning of the ‘ceasefire’ (1997-2013). Contrast it with the violence during the 17 years preceding the ‘ceasefire’ (1980-96) that took a toll of some 940 Naga lives in 1,125 clashes mostly with the security forces".

Ravi had said - the "vector of violence has turned inward with a vengeance". Predictably, Ravi's style of candid and 'bitter way' of speaking stuck even when he became Governor of Nagaland and also held the post of Interlocutor. But subsequently, Ravi has done his part pretty well and ensured the Framework Agreement with NSCN (IM) in August 2015 and a similar Preamble Agreement with seven Militant groups, NNPGs in November 2017.

The Framework Agreement was worked out when NSCN (IM) chairman Isak Chishi Swu was having serious health problems. Talks progressed well and the Modi government was hopeful of a final peace pact by October 2019.

The time table was set by Delhi mandarins only and it was done deliberately so that the Modi government had a major achievement to cite within weeks of their major decision to abrogate Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

First objections came from BJP-ruled Manipur as the apprehension was that the centre was giving in to the bargain of the NSCN (IM) and all that would not be in the interest of Meitei Manipuris and mostly Hindus in the Imphal valley and adjoining regions.

As Home Minister Amit Shah vetoed the deal. The government also said three adjoining states of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh would be taken on board as Nagas also reside in these states. The real trouble is in Manipur - where the hilly region in and around Ukhrul district is actually the home district of Tangkhul Nagas.

NSCN (IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah is a Tangkhul himself. The NSCN IM has a significant number of Tangkhul foot-soldiers and leaders and generals. Top brass in NSCN (IM) V S Atem, Apam Muivah and Anthony Ningkhan Shimray are all Tangkhuls.

For a longtime the NSCN (IM) dominated the Naga insurgency scenario and the group also committed themselves to greater Nagaland - encompassing the three neighbouring states and also parts of Myanmar. This is what they say - the Naga Contiguous areas but due to all practical purposes, the Government of India is unable to concede to this demand.

In Manipur, the rise and importance given to Muivah and NSCN (IM) is directly seen as a threat to territorial integration of the existing Manipur state. In October 2019, while talks progressed in Delhi, there were reports of violence in some parts of Manipur.

Details are not known but the NNPG of seven Naga groups under soft spoken convener Kitovi Zhimomi had made 'substantial progress' in parleys with the then Interlocutor and former Governor R N Ravi. Now the challenge before the centre and the neo negotiator - if AK Mishra is taken as one - is to strike a right balance.

Hence, Mishra's job in the next few days in Dimapur-Chumukedima parleys would not be easy either. The solution to the Naga political problem has direct bearing on corridors of power in Kohima and these obviously are linked to 'loaves' of profitability. All eyes are also on how Mishra and ultimately the Govt of India takes everyone along.

On September 18, all 60 legislators under Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio decided to form the United Democratic Alliance and there would be no opposition in the state assembly. The move, they say, is to facilitate a final peace accord 'inclusive' and acceptance and honourable to all. All these 'three words' coming together is a tough proposition. Here comes the persuasive skill of the central leadership.

Replacing R N Ravi, the incumbent Assam Governor Jagdosh Mukhi has taken the additional charge of Nagaland on Friday, Sept 17. Mukhi in his inaugural message has said, "....soon we will have a comprehensive and inclusive solution to the Naga political issue ensuring utmost honour and dignity to the Naga people".

Sources say by replacing Ravi, the centre has tried to give a clear message to the NSCN (IM) to give up its twin demands of Flag and a separate Constitution. Jingoism would not work and hence it is time to be pragmatic. We have taken a step !

In his departure message to Naga people and especially youths, Ravi also has urged them to build 'Nagaland of your dreams" and be ready to accept peace and truth instead of deceit and violence. All these boil down to one simple refrain that Mishra will have to do a tight rope walking.

Officially, the Nagaland Home Commissioner Abhijit Sinha in an Protocol department notification has designated A K Mishra as a 'state guest' and also maintained that he would be stationed in Dimapur till September 23. The first meeting is slated for sept 20, Monday with NSCN (IM). It is expected Muivah himself will lead his delebation. Half the things could be clear on Monday possibly.

The meeting with NNPGs would be more or less on expected lines and a formality as they have clarified that they do not insist on contentious demands for Flag and Constitution. Common citizens in Nagaland could be keeping fingers crossed about the whole scenario. All these talks are being carried out on the backdrop of ceasefire between Indian army and militants.

These ceasefires are also reviewed by security agencies, forces and the concerned leaders from militant groups. The Modi Government's handling of Kashmir is fresh in people's minds. The dispensation in Delhi could be unpredictable at times.

But in any given case, what is important is what people want. The Nagas are certainly clamoring for peace. And the peace parleys that commenced in 1997 have come a long way.

* Nirendra Dev wrote this article for
The writer is a New Delhi based journalist and author of the book 'The Talking Guns: North East India'
and can be contacted at nirendev1(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 20 2021 .

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