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E-Pao! Opinion - Naga Peace talks: 'Little hopes'

Naga Peace talks: 'Little hopes'

By: UA Shimray *


In the post-colonialism, India has followed two pronged policy for territorial integration, that is, use of armed might (coercion) and negotiation. For instance, Kashmir issue was discussed under the shadow of gun whereas Naga political issue intermittent with "Point Agreements," "Accord" and "Ceasefire and Talks."

First round of Naga peace talks was initiated in 1960s under the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and also Mrs. Indira Gandhi period. However, the outcome was a major failure. In fact, the failure of 1975’s "Shillong Accord" politically divides the Naga society.

Discontentment to the Accord spread the germ of sectional rivalry and political split, leading to the formation of underground movement called National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). Further, the NSCN experienced a major setback in 1980s with the split of two faction viz., Isak-Muivah (IM) group and Kaplang (K) group. In spite of all political divides and personal differences, Naga political movement sustains because of historical truth.

The present Naga ceasefire and peace talks between the Government of India and National Socialist Council of Nagaland (lim) (IM) is conditioned by the following terms: "unconditional talk," "highest political level" and venue outside India. The 31st July mark significant day for both the Indian Government and NSCN (IM).

This is an official date of the Naga ceasefire vis-à-vis extension of ceasefire. Nine years of peace process registered the third innings of political change in New Delhi from National Front Government to NDA and now Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government. During BJP-led NDA regime, Naga peace process was virtually taken controlled by the bureaucrats and giving "important role" to the Indian Government’s emissary.

No doubt, Nagas are having peace dialogue with the Government of India. But the question is who run the Government. It is the political party. Yesterday, it was NDA, now UPA. The change of guard in New Delhi may alter the track of peace process.

Historically, Naga issue is close to the Congress party starting right from Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Rajesh Pilot et al. However, Congress party did not do much in resolving the much-protracted Naga problem. Many Congress leaders are out of touch with the Nagas vis-à-vis Naga leaders also distanced the Congress Party in the last seven years.

With installation of UPA in New Delhi made a little "adjustment" in the Naga peace process by inserting Minister of State Oscar Fernandes. Under the leadership of Oscar, the two groups have met several times. Although, detail of the discussions have been kept well-guarded secret. Yet, it is obvious that the crucial agenda Naga integration (all Naga areas) must have raised.

The contesting speculation is how the present Congress-led coalition Government would perceive on Naga problem. Today’s coalition form of Government is virtually based on the "political compromise" and programmes. Hence, in such situation the Naga issue needs a "political consensus" in order to arrive certain understanding. And political consensus is no easy task to achieve.

Talks and hopes

The introduction of electoral process based on ballot box in the Naga Hills created two "power centre"- the traditional institution and the peoples’ representative. In spite of several elections and elected Government, yet there is no any substantial political intervention on Naga issue. Unfortunately, the electoral process and "money power" steadily eroded the traditional institution and social structure.

As an alternative, Naga civil society initiated social consolidation process and has created significant platform to redress the peace process. Several rallies, workshop and seminars were organised to strengthen the movement. Such project aims to generate greater opinion and discourse.

Present demand of integration "Naga Homeland" under the aegis of Naga Hoho (Naga apex organisation) is overwhelmly acknowledge in Naga society. In this process, Naga civil society organisations draws the strength from the people and traditional institution and seem to have achieved something that state has failed to in all these years.

The political struggle should not be one-sided track but adopt multiple approaches appropriating present Naga social system, economic parameters and political paradigm. The "Collective Leadership" of the NSCN (IM) should acknowledge the perception of Naga civil societies vis-à-vis capitalise the intervention of church organisations, politicians, intellectuals and bureaucrats. Undermining certain section of society and forum could create unpreceden-ted misunderstanding.

Recently, Naga public openly evaluates the basic responsibility of NSCN (IM) and its cadres’ activities. There is an instance, where they directly involves and interferes on local issues. And also taking control of developmental activities, supplies and contract works (which later translate it as extortion).

Worst to come is active "partisan participation" in General Election of Manipur and Nagaland. Sometimes, such interference diverts the core issue and capitalises the non-issue becoming main agenda of discourse. In other words, the core issue is subdue and justified by the "periphery activities" indulged by the underground. The Naga political struggle is not a commodity meant for business but legitimate political issue that every Naga citizen has the right of ownership.

Today, Naga peace process becomes sensitive because of the "reactive attitude" of the neighbouring communities. There is strong reaction particularly vocal by Meitei community in regard to the demand of Naga integration. The so-called 18th June "uprising" in the Imphal valley left bad scar in ethnic co-existence in Manipur state. The Meitei community is strongly asserting on upholding the political territory of Manipur.

In the region, ethnic relationship is uneasy at the moment. Therefore to minimise the ethno-political tension, political negotiation is necessary among the various ethnic groups. Recent NSCN’s statement of desires to consult other communities is very important political stand.

One can remember that the Naga ceasefire "without territorial limits" opened the Pandora’s box in the region. Hitherto, "territorial politics" is recent intervention but now this has play significant role in the Naga peace process.

Indeed, the old map which the British had introduced for the first time has become a major bone of contention between the different ethnic groups.

Therefore, it is imperative that the talks continue and the rational role of the civil society organisations both within and outside the Naga society is crucial.


UA Shimray wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on July 20th, 2006

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