It’s time Muivah and NSCN (I-M) realise that demand for sovereign Nagaland won’t work
The intellectual class loves to listen to the seemingly taciturn, and intrinsically recalcitrant Thuingaleng Muivah, now in his eighties but pugnacious as ever, except that he has nothing new in his repertoire of dialectics with the capacity to shock. With TH Muivah, the word ‘soul searching’ has taken on a new meaning. It means ‘India’ searching its soul to list the harm it has done to the Naga people, but not Muivah searching his soul to take stock of the killings by the NSCN (IM) – the gunning down of voices of dissent. And there are too many of them perhaps not resting peacefully in their graves.
The supremo and general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN (IM), is not inclined to peace, because the future after that peace is uncertain. The cadres would have to earn their honest bread — something they have not done because taxing the people of Nagaland is a regular livelihood. Hence the peace talks have to drag on and Muivah has to make new and intransigent demands — a separate flag and a separate Constitution. With time, the ability to understand if such demands are indeed popularly accepted by the Nagas of Nagaland and those spread out in other States atrophies.
The question of identity
For Nagas born after 1997 and used to being ‘Indian’ citizens and carrying an Indian passport, the romance of a Nagalim passport is passé. Look at the Tetseo Sisters, a musical quartet comprising four sisters from Nagaland who can sing English, Hindi, Punjabi, and what have you, and who travel the length and breadth of India to entertain their fellow citizens with their songs. They don’t see themselves apart from India, but a part of it.
That the Nagaland State was created in the 1960s is a fact of history. There’s no going back on that now. Also, that the Naga people have been voting since then to put in place a democratically elected Government means that the Nagas have accepted the Indian Constitution. This fact is irreversible. Also, that there are areas inhabited by Naga people in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, and Assam is a reality and no State will concede to being sliced and diced to meet the aspirations of one insurgent outfit.
Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz had once said that “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” When any group picks up arms and uses military tactics to arm-twist the State — in this case, the Indian State, which the Nagas famously refer to as “India” — it becomes a classic case of pursuing politics by other means. The Naga problem is a political one and talks cannot be held under the shadow of the gun, but the reality is that armed groups still control the proceedings of Nagaland and act as parallel Governments, with the elected Government looking on pusillanimously. A militarised posturing is hostile to democracy.
Muivah’s oft-repeated rhetoric is that the other nine armed outfits are creations of the Government of India (GoI) or the Intelligence Bureau. Muivah gives more credit than is due to the GoI. But if he is correct, then the GoI must be a shade better at the cat and mouse game than the China-trained NSCN(IM).
Interestingly, one would have thought that following the peace talks between the NSCN(IM) and the Government of India in 1997, development would have speeded up. But that’s not the case. Statistics reveal that the human development indicators have just gone south after 1997. Education, the surest indicator of the development of a State, is in shambles. While the all-India student-to-teacher ratio is 30:1, it is 8:1 in Nagaland (one teacher for eight students). And all this is on paper only. There are schools with zero enrollment, but teachers are drawing their salaries regularly because they are under the patronage of one or the other armed group. There are primary health centres with no activity, leave alone a doctor. Hospitals in the distant districts of Mon, Tuensang and Kiphere function in the breach, and all because the doctors too are patronised by underground outfits whose primary duty should have been to serve the people of Nagaland, especially in the underserved districts.
The road between Dimapur, the commercial capital, and Kohima, the State capital of Nagaland, is perhaps one of the most decrepit of highways that does not lend itself to any improvement because any attempt to create better infrastructure is met with demands from militant outfits. That’s how much they care for their State and people. This abdication of duty by the Nagaland Government and the shabby governance is what the current Governor of Nagaland, RN Ravi, has been calling out against. Naturally he has riled all those used to the status quo marked by a decadent, oppressive and notoriously inefficient and corrupt political ecosystem and a non-responsive bureaucracy. As of today, entrepreneurs find it difficult to start any enterprise because of the culture of extortion.
Back-and-forth peace talks
The present arrangement between the Centre and State Government is as per the arrangements listed in Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, where State and federal powers are clearly laid out. What has been offered as part of the Framework Agreement beyond the semantics is that the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh would be given governance autonomy along the lines of the Bodoland Territorial Council to facilitate speedier development of infrastructure and institutions for human development.
Perhaps the sticking point is that Nagaland Governor RN Ravi has expanded the scope of the peace talks by involving civil society organisations (non-political Naga groups) and other armed groups. So long the NSCN (IM) was the solo player and dictated terms without taking the people of Nagaland into confidence. Now the people of Nagaland have repeatedly said they are agreeable to the terms of the Framework Agreement of 3 August 2015 and want a settlement at the earliest. Where does that leave the NSCN(IM) and Muivah ? In typical Muivah idiom, the other armed groups have been termed by him as ‘traitors.’ RN Ravi’s counter-argument is that if the other armed groups are left out of the ambit of the talks and a peace deal is signed only with the NSCN (IM), is there any guarantee that there will not be a bloodbath later ? His contention is that there should be no more scope for any parallel Governments after the peace deal is formalised.
In a democracy, there are numerous demands from different dissatisfied groups. The NSCN (IM) demand is one such. Just because the Narendra Modi Government has engaged in talks with it, does not necessarily imply that their demand for sovereignty is accepted. India is a sovereign country and Nagaland is an integral part of India. On that, perhaps, there can be no further deliberations. And it is precisely because of the non-acceptance of the sovereignty demand that the talks between the two sides are ongoing.
Nagaland as a separate country is an untenable demand today, and Muivah must realise that there is no loss of face in accepting this reality. His personal predilections of a sovereign Nagalim is out of sync with the reality now.
The author is a journalist and Editor of The Shillong Times. Views are personal.