The bone of contention: Separate flag & constitution
It is indeed confusing and disappointing that the political dialogue which went on between the Government of India and Naga militant groups, particularly NSCN-IM has neither been brought to a conclusion nor terminated. It is also not clear whether the dialogue is going on or stalled completely but one this is clear. It has hit a deadlock. Till some years back, the current of the political dialogue followed certain expected lines though little headway was achieved. 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. In spite of the initial euphoria generated by the Framework Agreement, the political dialogue dragged on. 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. Soon after, the NNPGs too became a dialogue partner and NSCN-IM lost its position of being the sole party mandated to negotiate with the Government of India on behalf of Naga people. Taking the NNPGs on board the dialogue process was a very significant step. This step sent an unmistakable message that NSCN-IM does not carry all the mandate of Naga people, thereby undermining its position of being the principal negotiator. At the same time, the Government of India successfully transformed the dialogue process into an inclusive process by taking along the NNPGs. No doubt, the dialogue process became an inclusive one after the NNPGs came into the picture. After the NNPGs joined the dialogue process, many observers felt that no section of the Naga society would be left out of the peace process and its final settlement but the reality signals something otherwise.
The entry of NNPGs into the dialogue process did not bring the much awaited final settlement. Rather, it tended to take the dialogue process to a totally unexpected line as testified by the signing of the Agreed Position between the Government of India and NNPGs on November 17, 2017 and it was widely reported that the talks had concluded on October 31, 2019. But no official declaration has been made yet regarding the purported conclusion of the dialogue process. NSCN-IM, the main militant group with which the Government of India initiated the dialogue process way back in 1997 stayed way from signing the Agreed Position. They made it very clear that it would not sign any solution sans provisions for separate flag and constitution. When the NNPGs signed the Agreed Position with the Government of India, everyone came to know that there is no synergy between NSCN-IM and NNPGs on the issue of separate flag and constitution. By leaving out NSCN-IM from the Agreed Position, the Government of India sent an unmistakable message that it was not going to concede to the NSCN-IM’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. The bone of contention between the two negotiating parties is now the separate flag and constitution. The decades long peace process would be an abject failure if NSCN-IM is left out of the final settlement. At the same time, it would be a tragedy for all parties and stakeholders if either NSCN-IM or Government of India abrogates the ceasefire just because they cannot see a meeting point on the issue of separate flag and constitution. Both parties need to review their positions and explore a middle ground if the political dialogue must be brought to fruition.