Naga Peace Talks: Insurgency in the Northeast and the Road Ahead

All you need to know about the Naga Peace talks, aimed at resolving one of India’s oldest armed conflicts. 

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Explainers
6 min read
Image of a Naga rebel used for representational purposes.
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Snapshot

While the situation in Jammu and Kashmir continues to make headlines, the mainstream media in India has maintained a safe distance from insurgency in the Northeast.

As the Naga Peace Talks deadline ends on 31 October, the inability of the Government of India and other key players involved, including the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), to reach conclusive ground has landed the 22-year-old negotiation process in a deadlock.

While the NSCN(IM) has maintained that it will not sign the final deal unless the demand for a separate flag and constitution was met, the Centre in light of abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir, is unlikely to entertain any such concession.

Further, speculation is rife that the NSCN (IM) will not be part of the peace accord and talks will now be held between the Government of India and the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) – an umbrella organisation of 7 rebel groups.

It only seems unclear if the Narendra Modi government will extend the deadline to avoid any disturbance in the law and order situation in the region or will go ahead with the accord with or without the NSCN (IM) on board.

So, what’s the story behind one of India’s oldest insurgencies and what triggered the current situation? Let’s find out.

Naga Peace Talks: Insurgency in the Northeast and the Road Ahead

  1. 1. Why the Naga peace talks?

    The Naga issue finds its roots in the Colonial era when the Naga Hills became a part of British India. The year 1946 saw the creation of the Naga National Council (NNC) and after India’s independence in 1947, Nagaland was declared an independent state under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo by the NNC.

    A nine-point agreement was signed between the Governor of Assam and the NNC granting legislative and executive powers to the people of Nagaland.

    One of the clauses in the agreement states that the Governor of Assam as the agent of the Government of India will have a special responsibility for a period of ten years to ensure that due observance of this agreement is extended for a further period, or a new agreement regarding the future of the Naga people is arrived at.

    The Nagas contested that the clause meant independence from India after the stated period of time while the Government of India has contested that the clause called for a new agreement after 10 years.

    NNC under Phizo rejected the nine-point agreement on grounds that it failed to address the issue of Naga Sovereignty. A referendum was conducted in May 1951 to claim that 99.9% of the Nagas supported a sovereign Nagaland.

    A 16-point Agreement followed in July 1960 leading to the creation of Nagaland on 1 December 1963.

    Although, the Naga struggle remained largely peaceful in the 40s and the 50s, the insurgency took a violent turn in 1956 when an armed ethnic conflict led by the Naga National Council (NNC) was launched with the aim of forming an independent Nagaland.

    The government of India sent in the army to crush the insurgency. In 1958, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was enacted in the state. The conflict watered down in the mid-1970s but returned with the NSCN led by Muivah and S S Khaplang.
    Expand
  2. 2. Who Are the Key Players?

    The three main players involved in the ethnic conflict of Nagaland are:

    1. The Ethnic Nagas
    2. The Government of India
    3. The Government of Myanmar

    The Nagas were historically represented first by the Naga National Council (NNC), which in the late 50s took up arms and formed an underground Naga army.

    The NNC split in 1975, the breakaway faction being the NSCN, which split further in later years, most prominently into the NSCN(IM) and NSCN (Khaplang) in 1988.

    The objective of the NSCN was to establish a Sovereign, Naga State by unifying all the Naga-inhabited areas in the Northeast of India and Northern Burma which the organisation and the people of the area proposed as Nagalim.

    Later, Isak and Muivah founded the NSCN(IM) faction of the organisation and Khaplang founded the NSCN-K faction of the group.

    Another group involved in the peace talks is the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), an umbrella organisation comprising all Naga tribes.

    RN Ravi, the present Governor of Nagaland has been the Centre’s interlocutor for the peace talks. Ravi who was appointed as the Governor of Nagaland on 20 July 2019, is also serving as the Deputy National Security Advisor of India.

    Expand
  3. 3. What Does the 'Framework Accord of 2015' Say?

    After the Shillong Accord signed between NNC and Government of India in 1975 where NNC agreed to give up arms and the Ceasefire agreement between NSCN (IM) and the Centre in 1997, the Modi government signed a framework agreement with the NSCN(IM) On 3 August 2015.

    This was in line with the poll promise of Bharatiya Janata Party which claimed that it would work towards a permanent solution to the Naga issue. The move was described as historic and unprecedented and was believed to have opened the doors for further talks.

    In August 2017 another armed umbrella outfit Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) joined the peace talks with the Centre,

    The government refused to divulge any details regarding the agreement in public. However, in 2018 The Hindu published a report revealing details of the government’s statement to a Parliamentary panel regarding the framework agreement.

    The report said that the government informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs that the framework agreement that was “just about the recognition of the uniqueness of the Naga history by the Government of India”, and some special arrangements will have to be made for the Nagas.

    The Committee was told that with respect to Nagaland, Article 371A of the Constitution makes it clear that they are special and a special status has been accorded to them. A similar kind of status, with some local variation, and some change to the Nagas in the neighbouring states can be explored. 

    The report also said that while briefing the committee, R N Ravi, interlocutor for Nagas, stated that the government has been talking with the NSCN (IM) for the last 20 years and their position from the very beginning has been that Nagas were exceptional, Nagas were not Indians, Nagas were sovereign and any settlement could be reached only on the basis of the fact that this is a settlement between two sovereigns.

    Expand
  4. 4. What Meaning Do the Talks Hold for Other Northeastern States?

    While the NNPGs want a solution for Nagas within Nagaland, the NSCN (IM) seeks integration of Naga-inhabited areas beyond the geographical boundary of Nagaland.

    NSCN(IM)‘s demands have not gone down well with Nagaland’s neighbouring states who are very closely observing the negotiations with the central government.

    Most leaders across party lines have preferred to stay silent on the issue. However, Manipur has begun protesting. Assembly Speaker Y Khemchand Singh has told Prime Minister Modi in a petition that any compromise with Manipur’s territorial integrity would not be tolerated.

    The other two, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, are still in a restive phase, waiting and watching what lies ahead.

    Expand
  5. 5. What's in Store: Peaceful Settlement Or Conflict in the Making?

    Push for Peace

    The Naga insurgency has given rise to one of India’s oldest armed conflicts. What was a peaceful agitation in the 40s and early 50s turned into an violent conflict in 1956 as the NNC went underground to build an army.

    In 1975, a peace accord was signed in Shillong in which the NNC leadership agreed to give up arms. However, this led to the formation of Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland or the NSCN (IM). The NSCN (IM) didn’t agree with the peace accord.

    Then in 1997 the NSCN(IM ) signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1997. The NSCN (IM) mentioned that the ceasefire agreement was signed to seek a lasting political solution to the problem.

    Since 2015, the NSCN (IM) has been one of the key representatives of the Naga interests in the peace process. However, the inability of the Government of India and the NSCN (IM) to reach conclusive grounds has led to the emergence of Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), an outfit which is more flexible in its demands. Thereby, increasing the peace prospects.

    Conflict in the Making

    The elimination of NSCN (IM) from the peace talks might give a violent turn to the events. Even the Centre is aware of this, especially ahead of the official bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.

    The state government of Nagaland has summoned all police and administrative personnel on leave to return to station immediately. As per reports by The Scroll , this has created a state in panic among the locals who are hoarding food and other essentials in case of an emergency.

    So, will the Modi government be able to resolve the Naga issue or is is Naga peace a distant dream for the prime minister? Only time will tell.

    Expand

Why the Naga peace talks?

The Naga issue finds its roots in the Colonial era when the Naga Hills became a part of British India. The year 1946 saw the creation of the Naga National Council (NNC) and after India’s independence in 1947, Nagaland was declared an independent state under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo by the NNC.

A nine-point agreement was signed between the Governor of Assam and the NNC granting legislative and executive powers to the people of Nagaland.

One of the clauses in the agreement states that the Governor of Assam as the agent of the Government of India will have a special responsibility for a period of ten years to ensure that due observance of this agreement is extended for a further period, or a new agreement regarding the future of the Naga people is arrived at.

The Nagas contested that the clause meant independence from India after the stated period of time while the Government of India has contested that the clause called for a new agreement after 10 years.

NNC under Phizo rejected the nine-point agreement on grounds that it failed to address the issue of Naga Sovereignty. A referendum was conducted in May 1951 to claim that 99.9% of the Nagas supported a sovereign Nagaland.

A 16-point Agreement followed in July 1960 leading to the creation of Nagaland on 1 December 1963.

Although, the Naga struggle remained largely peaceful in the 40s and the 50s, the insurgency took a violent turn in 1956 when an armed ethnic conflict led by the Naga National Council (NNC) was launched with the aim of forming an independent Nagaland.

The government of India sent in the army to crush the insurgency. In 1958, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was enacted in the state. The conflict watered down in the mid-1970s but returned with the NSCN led by Muivah and S S Khaplang.

Who Are the Key Players?

The three main players involved in the ethnic conflict of Nagaland are:

  1. The Ethnic Nagas
  2. The Government of India
  3. The Government of Myanmar

The Nagas were historically represented first by the Naga National Council (NNC), which in the late 50s took up arms and formed an underground Naga army.

The NNC split in 1975, the breakaway faction being the NSCN, which split further in later years, most prominently into the NSCN(IM) and NSCN (Khaplang) in 1988.

The objective of the NSCN was to establish a Sovereign, Naga State by unifying all the Naga-inhabited areas in the Northeast of India and Northern Burma which the organisation and the people of the area proposed as Nagalim.

Later, Isak and Muivah founded the NSCN(IM) faction of the organisation and Khaplang founded the NSCN-K faction of the group.

Another group involved in the peace talks is the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), an umbrella organisation comprising all Naga tribes.

RN Ravi, the present Governor of Nagaland has been the Centre’s interlocutor for the peace talks. Ravi who was appointed as the Governor of Nagaland on 20 July 2019, is also serving as the Deputy National Security Advisor of India.

What Does the 'Framework Accord of 2015' Say?

After the Shillong Accord signed between NNC and Government of India in 1975 where NNC agreed to give up arms and the Ceasefire agreement between NSCN (IM) and the Centre in 1997, the Modi government signed a framework agreement with the NSCN(IM) On 3 August 2015.

This was in line with the poll promise of Bharatiya Janata Party which claimed that it would work towards a permanent solution to the Naga issue. The move was described as historic and unprecedented and was believed to have opened the doors for further talks.

In August 2017 another armed umbrella outfit Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) joined the peace talks with the Centre,

The government refused to divulge any details regarding the agreement in public. However, in 2018 The Hindu published a report revealing details of the government’s statement to a Parliamentary panel regarding the framework agreement.

The report said that the government informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs that the framework agreement that was “just about the recognition of the uniqueness of the Naga history by the Government of India”, and some special arrangements will have to be made for the Nagas.

The Committee was told that with respect to Nagaland, Article 371A of the Constitution makes it clear that they are special and a special status has been accorded to them. A similar kind of status, with some local variation, and some change to the Nagas in the neighbouring states can be explored. 

The report also said that while briefing the committee, R N Ravi, interlocutor for Nagas, stated that the government has been talking with the NSCN (IM) for the last 20 years and their position from the very beginning has been that Nagas were exceptional, Nagas were not Indians, Nagas were sovereign and any settlement could be reached only on the basis of the fact that this is a settlement between two sovereigns.

What Meaning Do the Talks Hold for Other Northeastern States?

While the NNPGs want a solution for Nagas within Nagaland, the NSCN (IM) seeks integration of Naga-inhabited areas beyond the geographical boundary of Nagaland.

NSCN(IM)‘s demands have not gone down well with Nagaland’s neighbouring states who are very closely observing the negotiations with the central government.

Most leaders across party lines have preferred to stay silent on the issue. However, Manipur has begun protesting. Assembly Speaker Y Khemchand Singh has told Prime Minister Modi in a petition that any compromise with Manipur’s territorial integrity would not be tolerated.

The other two, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, are still in a restive phase, waiting and watching what lies ahead.

What's in Store: Peaceful Settlement Or Conflict in the Making?

Push for Peace

The Naga insurgency has given rise to one of India’s oldest armed conflicts. What was a peaceful agitation in the 40s and early 50s turned into an violent conflict in 1956 as the NNC went underground to build an army.

In 1975, a peace accord was signed in Shillong in which the NNC leadership agreed to give up arms. However, this led to the formation of Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland or the NSCN (IM). The NSCN (IM) didn’t agree with the peace accord.

Then in 1997 the NSCN(IM ) signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1997. The NSCN (IM) mentioned that the ceasefire agreement was signed to seek a lasting political solution to the problem.

Since 2015, the NSCN (IM) has been one of the key representatives of the Naga interests in the peace process. However, the inability of the Government of India and the NSCN (IM) to reach conclusive grounds has led to the emergence of Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), an outfit which is more flexible in its demands. Thereby, increasing the peace prospects.

Conflict in the Making

The elimination of NSCN (IM) from the peace talks might give a violent turn to the events. Even the Centre is aware of this, especially ahead of the official bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.

The state government of Nagaland has summoned all police and administrative personnel on leave to return to station immediately. As per reports by The Scroll , this has created a state in panic among the locals who are hoarding food and other essentials in case of an emergency.

So, will the Modi government be able to resolve the Naga issue or is is Naga peace a distant dream for the prime minister? Only time will tell.

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