To sign or not to sign:
What do Nagas think about Indo-Naga peace talks?
Dr Pamreihor Khashimwo
While the Modi once again formed new Government at New Delhi, Naga is expecting from the crucial and protracted peace talk which kick-started in 1997, which are expected to be a fierce intellectual battle. Modi can prove to be “make it or break it” moment, which are presently in a watershed moment. Naga’s leaders saw their imprisonment (hunger of power and corruption) along with the lack of India’s political commitment to resolve the issues. This was compounded by a deterioration of democratic values of Naga leaders, who are spearheading the political talk.
Amid concern over the way the political process was being conducted, many Naga organisations and individual concern have been seriously voicing, that the dialectical approach of both the leaders of Naga and India and could derail the peace process, which has spent over 21 years negotiating.
At first glance, what do Nagas think about Indo-Naga peace talks? Might seem a strange question.
However, it is the one that many populations of Naga as well as the non-Naga are increasingly asking themselves and understandably so.
After 21 years of the negotiation, India seems to have lost interest in it. The primacy that Naga issue once assumed in Indian domestic issues and foreign policy has rapidly vanished. What do the Naga want? Is there any vision left? From start, the ceasefire has rested on a hope. When Naga leaders opted for a ceasefire in 1997, they wagered that Naga’s could converge toward one another; with all the different tribes demographically living in different states, would have become a little more like one, by accepting each other to form a consolidated ‘Nagalim’ as one common body. This did not occur now.
Today, Naga is politically, socially, and economically in a jumble, the true implications of the gamble are becoming clear. The struggle continues with little sign of political pact almost after 22 years of negotiations, which led to vulnerability instead of freedom, indebtedness instead of autonomy, and a deep political, economic and spiritual crisis instead of hope, optimism, and fraternity.
And yet desired for freedom lived on.
James A. Barker III once said, “Almost every achievement contains within its success the seeds of a future problem.”
This political and social mess provides a trenchant example of this phenomenon. When the long-sought but uncertain operation of a cease-fire finally began, as a part of a bundle of deals that produced Naga under one umbrella, it represents a significant accomplishment. The implementation of cease-fire provided the necessary catalyst for all the success of that achievement, however, is left behind fateful seeds, which is sprouting.
The mess resulted not only from the Government of India insincerity, lack of political vision, and divide and rule policy but also from flaws in Naga leaders approach and long-term decline in interest in true Naga issues cooperation. We are in muddling through the period.
The presence collective Naga leaders have done a remarkable job managing the short-term symptoms of the chaos, although the costs have been great and tragic. Yet the long-term challenge remains. For this to happen, Naga must align politically, socially and other areas, which will first require Naga to reject the common misdiagnoses of the current mess. It is the result of a fundamental disequilibrium within the single political zone, which the current leaders apply a single political and social policy to diverse Naga tribal groups.
Thus, presence leaders must trust in the essentially democratic nature of the Naga society, which will encourage them to distribute the cost of convergence more fairly within and among the tribes.
The burden must be shifted from the top-down public policy to periphery political, social and economic activities of respective tribes who involves in the mainstream of the society. If this does not occur, then survival of the so-called Nagalim will be called into question and Naga will face a long-term social, economic and political tragic that could drain its political strength and social coherence for the rest of this decade and beyond.
If the Naga is to continue to function, some damage control is required.
The present leaders must show a constructive leadership role, which includes greater willingness to discuss people contribution in strengthening the nation formation as demanded, as well as the presentation of a vigorous case to the people.
The present leaders have thus far reacted to the stunning loss of momentum by entering a holding pattern. The hope is to buy enough time for new leaders to emerge who will reclaim the Naga project. However, buying time may not be the best the leaders of Naga can do for now.
Naga needs a new generation of leaders who can breathe life into a project that is perilously close to expiring in this unthinking generation. For now, they are nowhere to be found. However, history is knocking on the door. So what will determine whether the Naga stalls in its Naga projects or moves forward? The current political negotiation with the government of India narrative is unsure, fragmented and does not provide the necessary political foundation for a wide-ranging institutional capacity building.
The lack of consensus about the correct political formula for Naga seriously compromises any further progress. Today we are witnessing a rise of political intolerance, crony capitalism, and social detachment. Now is the time for Naga to produce a constructive result from the crisis with strong political will and creativity to respond with decisive innovation. There has been a striking lack of coordinated political leadership across the Naga area in the face of political pressure. Dialoguing is the best way to unlock misunderstanding.
Look at the history of how the Naga movement comes into existing, the essential point is not only that cooperation is possible but also that it is, more importantly, desirable to improve socio-economic development and political independent. The facts that the Naga had been involved in bloodied fights against India were capable of cooperating under the umbrella of the NSCN and the leadership has become extremely significance on Naga contemporary politics.
The NSCN has an excellent record of recovering from the crisis and moving ahead even stronger than before due to firm political will.
It is astounding that the Naga, so long used to deals with each other with spear and guns, are now bound loosely together within strings of interlocking laws and institutions. In pursuing the political integration through institutional and market means rather than warfare and forceful acquisition the Naga has created a new type of political entity, one whose tight institutional linkages and political community will. As much experience demonstrates historical reconciliation is a critical element in developing the necessary political will for cooperation. In stark contrast, there has been no such effort in the present in our political journey.
Perhaps, that fresh breeze of air to get the Naga ship sailing again. Only together we can generate the policies and institutions. Observing under the magnifying lens, Naga leader’s policy on Naga political issue appears to be undefined based on tactics rather than strategy. It lacks a political vision and wisdom and uncomfortable with the active independent participation of people. In the background, three major developments have triggered a change in India views and policy towards the Naga issue: first, a shifting definition of the Naga national interest, second, new perceptions and priorities alongside a transformed Indian domestic and international agenda and third, the demise of a responsive political milieu. At no time in the history of the Naga national movement, the leaders have been less popular at home and leadership role has been of less relevance, but even that seems to be of little significance in the political discourse of the Naga.
The approval rates of Indo-Naga peace negotiation have been declining and the Naga public and elites would like to see the negotiation as the “maximalist” end game. The changes in the Naga political scenario have certainly influenced the metamorphosis of India’s political landscape. Seemingly, the negotiation has its lowest point and Naga leadership finds itself in conceptual disarray.
A disruption or breakdown of the hard earns peace talks would be a disaster for Naga political movement and India’s domestic political discourse and international image. The strategic approach would be to regain lost public trust over the overdue negotiation. Such is the Naga dilemma. What Naga’s ready to do didn’t settle the issue. What could resolve the problem, India isn’t willing to do.
If the Indo-Naga peace process is everything its most optimistic reading promises, it would underline one of the most resilient truths of ancient statecraft. Many years have passed since the signing of cease-fire agreement and more than three years have passed after the ‘Framework Agreement,’ which provide a closer than ever before to the final settlement and hope in times of no hope to conclude it sooner than later, this will usher in a new political era for all Naga, unfortunately the agreement has not been finalized yet. The ‘Framework Agreement’ informs that India has projected it as the first concrete fruition of the peace process, both Indian and Naga leaders claimed that now the negotiation has a focus-oriented approach to push for a final acceptable solution. However, both the parties remained tight-lipped on the content of the agreement, calling as ‘sensitive subject’ conceding only that it lays down broad principle within which final agreement will be based.
While ambiguity surrounding the ‘hidden contents’ of so-called the ‘Framework Agreement’ persists, some developments give an indication of the course of the talks. One of the major challenges for finalising a settlement is the drafting of an “inclusive solution” with a single Naga assemblage. Also, the spreading speculations about the contents of the agreements have also complicated issues on the ground.
The pressure to respond immediately to the New Delhi’s hastening bid on one of the most contentious Indo-Naga peace talk headaches, thus far, the future for Nagas living in the Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, etc. pre-divorce has started creating a huge amount of noise and punditry, with individual aspects hailed variously as a constructive reduction or terrible move. Twitter, Whatsapp, and Facebook is a blunt tool for analysing the complexities of an issue apprehensive with trade-offs, overwhelming political constraints, and one of the crucial political talks ever initiated. But the talks also contain some glaring holes and vague elements, which may explain why the reaction was so mixed.
While many described the talk as “constructive” and “good start,” I called it “minimalist.” Critic, pessimist and many groups from both India and Naga were also unhappy, with one calling the talk “deeply worrisome” and “mean-spirited.” And the rapid, multi-tweet, Whatsapp and Facebook reactions of free movement and Naga commentators on social media varied widely. In other words, the reception was very much in the eye of the beholder.
Given the current Naga political scenario, and any persistence of uncertainty can only feed the forces of destabilisation.
Even if a final settlement is not imminent, greater clarity on the status of the peace process, and on the terms of negotiations currently prevailing, can help contribute to a greater sense of calm in Nagaland and its neighbouring states. Vitally, whether the talk eventually works out as a Naga settlement or simply as otherwise; as a pattern of piece-meal appeared appeasement that the Naga have repeatedly rejected over the past several decades remains to be seen. This will certainly test the political sagacity of both New Delhi and of the Naga leadership.
The writer is post-doctoral fellow, University of Delhi