By Krishna Koundinya Mothukuru
“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”
– Abraham Lincoln
The Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) signed a draft treaty in August 2015, and it was dubbed as a ‘historic’ accord. While it is true that it is a positive step to deal with the oldest insurgency issue in India, the specifics of the deal are completely shrouded in darkness.
The crux of the Naga imbroglio is the preservation of Naga identity via the formation of Greater Nagalim, by unifying all the Naga inhabited areas. The Nagas have, for decades, fought for a separate homeland and this homeland, “Greater Nagalim” includes areas from Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar. NSCN (I-M), according to the accord, has given up the demand for Greater Nagalim – which is truly a remarkable achievement. Looking for a solution within the framework of the Indian Constitution is indeed a welcome step. However, the question of ‘in return for what’ has not yet been made public.
Brief History of the Issue
It all commenced with the British annexation of Assam in 1826. The Naga hills areas were brought under the British empire in 1881. With the induction of Nagas into the British army, the educated became aware of the happenings in the rest of the world, and understood the inherent differences in cultures and the ruthless exploitation of the Nagas. Hence, the Naga Club was formed in 1918; which was the first sign of resistance. It submitted a petition to the Simon Commission in 1929, asking to be left alone. Angami Zapu Phizo formed the Naga National Council in 1946, which declared its independence in 1947. A referendum was conducted in 1951 and over 99% voted in favour of an independent Nagaland. Akbar Hydari, the Governor of Assam, immediately signed a nine point agreement with the moderators of the movement but this was rejected by Phizo.
The insurgency started way back in 1952 when Phizo formed the Naga Federal Government (NFG) and the Naga Federal Army (NFA). The Indian army was sent in to bring order and the very contentious, Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was enacted in 1958 to deal with the situation.
In 1975, a segment of the NNC signed the ‘Shimla Accord’ with the government, and agreed to give up its violence means. Muivah refused to accept this and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. In 1988, after a violent clash, the NSCN bifurcated into two factions- the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) and the NSCN (Khaplang). In 2015, the NSCN (K) violated the ceasefire agreement by attacking the Indian army. It is quite remarkable to note that the same Muivah have now agreed to give up armed struggle in favour of peaceful solutions.
The Bangladesh China-Myanmar Angle
The NSCN(K) is one of the most important insurgency groups, and operates predominantly from Kachin state in Myanmar. The state has a border with the Chinese Yunan province, and the Kachin Independence Army receives help from China and poses as a threat to the integrity of Myanmar.
After Sheikh Hasina came to power in Bangladesh, many North Eastern separatist outfits were ousted, and have taken refuge in the China-Myanmar border, pledging their allegiance to the NSCN (K).
Myanmar cannot be expected to deal with NSCN (K) directly. Its inability to exercise control over its sovereign areas is a testimony to that. With the arrival of the “United National Front of West South East Asia” in the scene (backed by the Chinese) as an umbrella, and with all the fringe elements and political uncertainty in Myanmar, India needs to be very cautious with its future course of action.
Will it work ?
The Nagas are not a homogenous group. There are more than 50 different tribes within the Nagas, each with their own agenda. A good thing about the NSCN (I-M) is that it has been successful in maintaining its presence in all Naga inhabiting areas, unlike the NSCN (K). This has been achieved via People’s Consultative Meetings (PCM) groups such as the Naga Hoho, Naga Students’ Federation, Forum for Naga Reconciliation, and the larger Naga civil society across States1. They have been instrumental in keeping violence at bay. This also created a mechanism of accountability for channelizing Naga pride, which makes the NSCN (I-M) very pragmatic. Hence, a higher degree of success can be expected from the NSCN (I-M) as opposed to other political parties.
However, one must also remember that Nagas are not homogenous and the NSCN (I-M) does not represent all of them. There are other issues in the accord as well. The Home Ministry has been kept out of the loop during the entire process, along with the Ministry of Defence. The Chief Ministers of the concerned states were also kept in the dark. The ‘agreement’ has not been made fully public and is more of a ‘framework’. Chalking out the specifics and implementation will be a long and arduous task for both the parties. The previous peace accords were viewed with great caution, and received guarded responses2 from Nagas. The exact role of the NSCN (I-M) leadership is still not clear, and pending criminal cases against the Naga leadership have not been addressed.
Although this is a welcome step, calling it a ‘historic agreement’ would be an over statement.
Krishna Koundinya Mothukuru is a student of Sociology and Public Policy.