Modi's arduous journey and fate of Naga peace process

Oken Jeet Sandham *

When Narendra Modi assumed office as the Prime Minister in 2014 after his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won 282 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Naga peace process remained fragile and moribund.

Less than four months after assuming office, he appointed RN Ravi as the Interlocutor for the Naga talks to revive the moribund Naga peace process. He also announced that the Naga political issue would be resolved in eighteen months.

Remarkably, Ravi signed a Framework Agreement with the NSCN (IM) on August 3, 2015, less than a year after he was appointed as Interlocutor for the Naga talks.

He, however, failed to keep the NSCN (K) in the ceasefire loop. The outfit walked away from the ceasefire with Delhi in March 2015 after maintaining a fourteen-year ceasefire with them since 2001. Delhi never tried to hold talks with the NSCN (K) in their fourteen-year ceasefire while holding talks with the NSCN (IM) in full swing.

Delhi’s non-seriousness towards them caused discouragement to the rank and file of the group. During the ceasefire with Delhi, they too had a rift; eventually, with no other choice, the group abandoned the ceasefire.

Two years after the signing of the Framework Agreement, Ravi signed another accord—Agreed Posi- tion (AP)—with the Working Committee of the NNPGs (WC-NNPGs) on November 17, 2017.

Despite signing the Framework Agreement and the Agreed Position, Prime Minister Modi could not show any visible sign of resolving the Naga political issue during his first tenure, 2014–2019. It became clear that the Naga issue would not be resolved during his first tenure.

As the 17th Lok Sabha polls were approaching, the Naga people became worried about the fate of the Naga issue. Their principal concern was that the Naga peace process would restart from scratch if Modi was unable to win back power. But Modi returned to power with his party, the BJP, winning 303 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, further increasing its substantial majority.

He also surprised the people of Nagaland by appointing Interlocutor Ravi as the State's Governor, even as the celebration over his party's resounding win continued. But the surprise did not stop there as Ravi came with a message from him that the talks with the Naga Groups should be concluded in three months. That means, the talks should be concluded on or before October 31, 2019.

Many, however, doubted that it was a ruse to prolong the problem, as the Governor, who is also the Interlocutor, would have limitations for the peace talks.

On the other hand, the NSCN (IM) leadership was vehemently against the timeframe for concluding the talks, questioning how they would manage to do so without addressing the symbolic issues surrounding the distinct Naga Flag and Constitution.

The "Indo-Naga talks" had descended to a "mere Governor's level," they claimed. They demanded that the talks be restored to their previous status, that they be held at the highest level, in a third country, and without pre-conditions.

Ravi, however, cautioned that there would not be any more meetings after the deadline was passed. Finally, the talks concluded on October 31, 2019, in Delhi, but went untraceable. After wrapping up the talks, Governor Ravi turned towards the Neiphiu Rio Government.

He pulled the Chief Minister up saying the law and order in the State had collapsed. “Armed gangs” were running parallel Governments in the State, he said, drawing sharp reactions from the Government and the NSCN (IM).

In fact, after the conclusion of the talks, friction between Ravi and the NSCN (IM) leadership soared. NSCN (IM) general secretary, Th Muivah, in an interview with The Wire on October 16, 2020, charged Ravi of betraying the NSCN (IM), throwing them away at the behest of the Union Home Ministry. He even warned that the Nagas would never join the Indian Union nor accept the Indian Constitution.

Finally, Ravi was transferred to Tamil Nadu as the Governor on September 9, 2021. After the transfer, he resigned as the Interlocutor for the Naga talks. After the Opposition NPF MLAs joined Rio's NDPP-BJP-led Government in Nagaland, the Government no longer faced resistance. Later, on April 29, 2022, before the State's general elections in 2023, 21 MLAs from the NPF merged with them.

The Opposition-less trend continued after the 2023 general elections in the State as NPF, NPP, NCP, LJP (RV), RPI (Athawale), JD (U) and Independent MLAs came for- ward and joined the NDPP-BJP-led Government. Rio said the Opposi- tion-less Government was for the cause of the Naga solution.

Currently, the State has no Opposition lawmakers, which is terrible for a democracy. Nonetheless, the Government devoid of Opposition could not persuade the Naga Groups to unite. More Naga Groups have emerged today, and more are anticipated given the lack of a clear resolution to the political problem, facing the Naga people. This will make solving the problem even more difficult.

Modi’s silence over the Manipur issue that started on May 3 last year impacted the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. His inability to go to Manipur and Nagaland during the 2024 Lok Sabha electioneering reflected his image, and the BJP's support has decreased as a result. In Nagaland, all 60 MLAs are with the ruling NDA but failed to stop Congress candidate S Supongmeren Jamir from winning.

Of course, the people from the ENPO areas and their 20 MLAs abstained from participating in the elections. It seemed inevitable that the BJP or NDA would lose these 2024 Lok Sabha elections in Manipur, Nagaland, and Meghalaya.

Now, resolving the Naga political issue will be a difficult assignment for Prime Minister Modi. In contrast to his previous and second terms, during which his party, the BJP, held absolute majority, his Government's stability is now in doubt.

During his second term, Prime Minister Modi had the chance to address the Naga issue since all the important issues had been settled and the negotiations with the Naga Groups had come to an end, but he missed it. Most significantly, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and Manipur— Nagaland's neighbouring States—have all been ruled by the BJP.

The Modi administration was the one that was missing the bus, not the Naga Groups, unlike what the Central leaders say.

*Oken Jeet Sandham wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 19 June 2024

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