TODAY -

The Naga Conundrum

By Asia Defence News International (ADNI) Bureau *



On March 2, the Isak-Muivah (IM) faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) held the first round of talks with the Government of India's new interlocutor, RS Pandey, and submitted a 30-point charter of demands, including the "core" demand sovereignty for Nagalim, a greater Nagaland comprising the present-day Nagaland and the Naga-inhabited areas carved out of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Myanmar.

According to reports, Pandey conveyed to the Naga rebel leaders that there was no possibility of sovereignty for Nagalim as proposed and that the talks could centre only on "grant of more autonomy".

Before the first round of talks with the government's interlocutor, the NSCN-IM delegation paid courtesy calls on Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister P Chidambaram. After the meeting with Chidambaram, NSCN-IM general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah told the media that the outfit's delegation "had a comprehensive discussion" and it would "continue the negotiation with the Government of India".

He, however, gave the rider that "if the Centre is serious, then we'll talk", implying that the outfit will not talk if the Centre is found lacking in seriousness. But this is nothing new. Ever since it entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India on July 9, 1997, the NSCN-IM has unfailingly questioned New Delhi's "seriousness", given the impression that the Centre is not at all serious about a solution of the Naga impasse, and yet continued talking with the government.

On its part, the influential Naga Hoho the apex tribal council of Nagaland appreciated the "display of political maturity" shown by both the NSCN-IM and the Government of India to resume the Naga peace process after almost a year. The Hoho said that the "time has come for New Delhi to meet the Naga leaders at the negotiating table with a strong zeal and commitment".

However, the Khaplang faction of the NSCN (the NSCN split into the Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions in the wake of an assassination attempt on Muivah on April 30,1988) harangued Muivah for making compromises. In a statement, the NSCN-K said that conceding to arrangements such as autonomy or economic packages was unacceptable and that "sovereignty" for Nagalim could not be "negotiated".

The NSCN-K wondered as to what was the "true intention" of Muivah when he "says sovereignty cannot be negotiated with whereas the GoI (Government of India) repeatedly declared that sovereignty and integration will not be discussed as it is not feasible at this juncture (sic)" (The Times of India, Guwahati edition, March 5, 2010). The Khaplang faction suggested that Muivah should visit Nagaland, reassess his mandate, and then pursue the Naga political right in commonality and in equal measure with the rest of the Nagas, following which "neither will the GoI drag on the talks for thirteen years nor will the question of who has the Naga people's mandate matter".

The Khaplang faction's disagreement with the Isak-Muivah methodology is crystal clear. There is also a manifestation of the NSCN-K's desperation to prove its mandate to espouse the Nagalim cause as against the claim of the Isak-Muivah faction that it alone has been mandated by the people of Nagaland to orchestrate the Naga struggle. But that is natural when two rival factions of an outfit with the same objective carry out their agendas in different ways, with also a record of fratricidal killings all for the sake of the "Naga struggle"!

Both the Khaplang and Isak-Muivah factions are pursuing the cause of a "sovereign Nagalim", which, apart from the Naga-inhabited areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, has the Naga-inhabited areas of Myanmar too on its grandiose map.

Since the Centre has stated unequivocally that sovereignty as demanded will not, and never, be conceded to the NSCN or to any other secessionist outfit, and since the three neighbouring States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur have already sent out the unambiguous message to the NSCN leadership that not an inch of their territories will be ceded towards the making of Nagalim, which the Centre has also appreciated, a solution to the Naga quagmire remains as elusive as ever.

When it comes to the areas in Myanmar that the NSCN would include in the proposed Nagalim, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the Myanmarese junta would come to an agreement with the Naga rebels for ceding its territories to help them realize their Nagalim goal. Even if it were to happen as part of a strategic arrangement one fine day, the Naga rebels would have to be content with what they have today, Nagaland, and merely the areas of Myanmar in question.

The governments of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, and more importantly, the people of the three States, will never allow the proposed Nagalim to take shape in its entirety. They will never part with their lands. And if the Centre acts against their will, let there be no doubt in anyone's mind that the three States will turn into a boiling cauldron resulting in complete unrest and instability with serious consequences for the whole of the Northeast, given especially the Pakistan Army's Inter-Services Intelligence's (ISI) designs to exploit instabilities in India's northeastern region to destabilize it further and thus wreak its vengeance on a rising India.

Will New Delhi still afford it just to appease the NSCN leadership (both factions) and to solve the Naga tangle? Very unlikely. Likewise, the China factor will come into the reckoning, given Beijing's desire as harped on extensively by a Chinese strategic expert last year to see India splintered into 20-30 independent states. An unstable Northeast will definitely be a godsend for Beijing, which New Delhi cannot be unaware of.

Therefore, the proposed integration of the Naga-inhabited areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur for the making of a greater Nagaland, let alone the romanticist notion of a "sovereign Nagalim", must remain a mere Utopia if New Delhi is introduced to the northeastern vulnerability stemming from factors like Pakistan, its ISI, and China, which it surely is.

On March 21, speaking at Camp Hebron, the NSCN-IM's headquarters about 40 km away from Dimapur, Muivah said that any kind of imposition by the Centre obviously a pointer to New Delhi's stress on a more liberal federal arrangement instead of sovereign Nagalim would not be accepted by the Nagas, while the statement issued by the outfit's chairman, Isak Chishi Swu, read: "If the invaders do not understand their mistakes of aggression, only the victim cannot build peace."

Such intransigence will take the Naga militant leaders nowhere except to a more irretrievable morass the issue will continue to linger and worsen, while a pretentious consolation will be reflected, as it is even now, by the so-called peace process, protracted and unyielding. This surely cannot be in the interest of any Naga?

What the Isak-Muivah duo, or for that matter Khaplang, ought also to ponder is whether the educated Naga youth of the 21st century would still view New Delhi as an "invader" as the NSCN-IM chairman would have him maintain rigidly regardless of the times that have changed since the Naga insurgency first took roots.

The Naga militant leaders would do well to ask the educated Naga youth as to whether the idea of an India with Nagaland in its present geographical form as a federal State of the Union is still so repugnant to him as to spontaneously drive him towards a "sovereign Nagalim" goal.

Sans pragmatism and the ability to negotiate the changes around, will not the NSCN factions continue to meander against the very interests of the people they claim to represent? Let this be food for great thought.


* Asia Defence News International (ADNI) Bureau wrote this and was published in Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition) . This article was webcasted on April 29th, 2010.



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