NSCN-IM: From spotlight to marginalised bystander?
If the media reports are true, it is indeed a dramatic twist to the protracted dialogue going on between Government of India, NSCN-IM and seven other Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) based in Nagaland. Of late, there have been several media reports which indicate in clear terms that the Government of India is keen to seal a final deal by September, and the latest report says that a formal, final agreement would be signed soon irrespective of whether NSCN-IM led by Thuingaleng Muivah is a party to the deal or not. Paradoxically, it was the NSCN-IM which the Government of India first engaged in a political dialogue after the two sides signed a ceasefire agreement way back in 1997. Since then, multiple rounds of talks have been held between the sides both inside India and beyond. A landmark breakthrough was achieved when the two sides signed a Framework Agreement on August 3, 2015 which Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed as a historic accord. Yet, the two negotiating parties could not bring the political dialogue to an official conclusion. Then came 2017 and the Government of India took seven other Naga militant outfits under the banner of the Working Group of Naga National Political Groups into the ambit of the political dialogue. While many hailed this move as a significant step towards taking all Naga militant groups on board the dialogue process, it also heralded a new dynamics of negotiation. In less than two years since the NNPGs were taken on board the political dialogue, Government of India succeeded in working out a solution sans NSCN-IM. It was reported in 2019 that the political dialogue with the NNPGs was over and it was only awaiting official announcement. Yet, the dialogue has been going with NSCN-IM which implies New Delhi and NSCN-IM are still unable to find a meeting point on some key issues/demands.
If the news reports are any indication, NSCN-IM’s insistence for a separate flag and separate constitution for the Nagas is the principal bone of contention. What is rather surprising is New Delhi’s readiness to seal a final deal to the protracted dialogue with or without NSCN-IM. A Naga solution without NSCN-IM can never be complete, howsoever its demands are unacceptable to New Delhi. The protracted political dialogue cannot be termed a success if the final settlement is not affirmed by any of the stakeholder. New Delhi needs to learn a lesson or two from the Shillong Accord even if the objective conditions have changed. The Government of India negotiated the Shillong Accord with some moderate Naga leaders within the NNC, not with the collective leadership of the outfit, and the accord was signed in 1975. As expected, many leaders and cadres were disillusioned and disappointed at the manner how their leaders negotiated with the Government of India and what they got from the accord. The radicals quickly capitalised the situation and formed the NSCN which soon intensified the war against the Government of India. In fact, the Shillong Accord was the immediate and most prominent factor for the rise of NSCN after their leaders split from the NNC leadership. The new leadership also condemned those who signed the Shillong Accord as betrayers. Coming to the present peace talks, it must be acknowledged that there is no meeting point between the Government of India and NSCN-IM on the latter’s demand for separate flag and constitution. To break the deadlock, either of the two negotiating parties or both must concede something. If both the parties choose to stick to their guns, we fear the much hyped and long awaited solution may turn out to be another Shillong Accord.