“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.” We saw this happen when the Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi signed a peace accord with the Naga insurgent outfit, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah)or NSCN-(IM). The Modi government deserves all of the praise for sealing this accord with the most notorious of insurgent groups in the North East region. The implication of this accord, if Nagas stick to their commitment, will be a game changer for the region. Given that most developmental projects in this region were hampered by insurgency, a peaceful North East in tandem with government’s Act East Policy will rapidly inch towards toward higher growth trajectory.
Initially, NSCN’s demand was far more than what is realistic. Demand was for a sovereign “Greater Nagalim” with all Naga inhabited areas of Nagaland, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and even some area of Myanmar. NSCN’s way to achieve its demands was insurgency.
The Naga insurgency is not a recent phenomenon. It was born with India’s Independence. In fact under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo, the Naga National Council(NNC) declared Nagaland an independent state on August 14, 1947, the same day Pakistan was formed. The insurgent group grew in popularity among the Naga people. Subsequently, Phizo formed an army to fight for a sovereign Naga state.
To address the problem of growing insurgency in the North East, Indin Govt passed Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. Since then, hundreds have lost their lives in armed conflicts. After enacting AFSPA, the government always kept a door open for peace talks with insurgent NNC. Shillong Accord of 1975 was an outcome of such initiative by the Government of India. The NNC agreed leave the path of armed insurgency and accept the supremacy of the Indian Constitution. However a faction of NNC led by Thuingaleng Muivah, was not happy with the idea of giving up the demand for a sovereign Naga State. He along with Isak Chishi Swu and S S Khaplang formed National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. Internal conflict among the leaders of NSCN resulted in splitting of the outfit into (1) the NSCN-IM (Isak-Muivah), led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah (2) NSCN-K led by S S Khaplang. If we look at the last two decades, we can see NSCN-IM being associated with almost all major insurgency incidents in the region.
Apart from the Indian Government, the Nagas are also in conflict with other ethnic groups. Conflict with the Kukis for instance. The Kukis demand a Kuki majority district in Sadar Hills which is also inhabited by Nagas. Nagas claim that Kukis are later migrants to the Sadar Hills and hence it’s a part of “Greater Nagalim”. PM Modi while addressing at the event on August 3, 2015 said that the Naga problem “is a legacy of the British rule”. It indeed is. The British had settled Kukis in the Sadar Hills during mid-eighteenth century to counter the Nagas. The fire of hatred hasn’t died since then. There have been incidents of violent conflicts between the Kukis and the Nagas claiming many innocent lives.
The India Government had taken numerous steps to bring NSCN-IM to the table for a peace talk. Past Prime Ministers did their bit to restore peace to the North East region, but with little success. P V Narasimha Rao the then Prime Minister met Muivah in Paris in 1995. Three years later, PM AB Vajpayee met him in the same city. He left a lasting impression by acknowledging the unique history and culture of Naga people.
When Mr. Vajpayee visited Kohima in 2003, he was greeted with a warm welcome which none of the earlier PMs has received. He not only recognised their uniqueness but also praised their contribution to India. A shift in Government of India’s tone during NDA regime under Vajpayee won the hearts of the Naga people.
During that time, NSCN-IM gave up the demand for sovereign “Greater Nagalim”. Instead, in 2003, they settled for a special status within the constitution of India which will give them more socio-political space. Note that Nagaland already enjoys special status under Article 371-A, which ensures that “Acts of Parliament shall not apply to Nagaland unless so decided by the Nagaland Legislature with regard to:- (i) religious or social practices of the Nagas; (ii) Naga Customary Law and procedure; (iii) administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga Customary Law; (iv) ownership and transfer of land and its resources.”. NSCN-IM wanted enlargement of the scope and special status. The terms of recent Naga Peace Accord has not been relieved yet. However, if the government agrees to the above, then Nagaland would get more powers then even Jammu and Kashmir.
Apart from that, there were two other issues to be address – rehabilitation of the fighting cadre of Nagas and pending criminal case against it leaders. There was a proposal to rehabilitate Naga fighting cadre in the Indian army, paramilitary forces or state police. Dropping criminal cases against Naga leaders will not be a bad deal. It will be interesting to see if the Modi, the government has agreed to this.
On the national level, this whole episode will encourage various Left Wing Extremist groups of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar et. al. to leave the path of violence and join the mainstream.