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Is Naga Autonomy the Centrepiece of Centre-NSCN(IM) Accord?

The Centre-NSCN(IM) peace accord is short on details, but recognises the Nagas ‘unique history’ in the northeast

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Four months after the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) walked out on a ceasefire with the Centre, the Narendra Modi government on Monday signed a “historic” peace accord with the principle faction of the Naga insurgent outfit led by Chairman Isak Chishi Swu and General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah.

In his speech at 7, Race Course Road, this evening, Modi stressed that the NSCN(IM) “would play a significant role” in the future development of Nagaland, but it should not be taken as a signal that the insurgent group, which has been in a ceasefire agreement with the Centre since 1997, would play any political part in the state yet.

The Centre-NSCN(IM) peace talks, which progressed steadily in the course of the 18 years, remained stuck for a while on the issue of territoriality, with the NSCN(IM) steadfastly sticking to Nagalim, or Greater Nagaland, that has sought to incorporate the Naga-dominated hill districts of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.

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The Centre-NSCN(IM) peace accord is short on details, but recognises the Nagas ‘unique history’ in the northeast
NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muviah (3rd from Right) at the signing ceremony between the Centre and the insurgent organisation. (Photo courtesy: @PIB_India)

Autonomy for the Nagas?

Nagalim is a fraught issue and if granted could potentially cause a bloodbath in the northeast because it would be to the exclusion of the NSCN(K) which stepped up attacks against security forces once it “unilaterally abrogated” the cease in March. Besides, Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, where some Naga tribes are scattered across some districts, will view the “integration” of Naga-dominated territories in the northeast with great suspicion.

Was this the Narendra Modi government’s goal then? If the government sought to stick to a deal with the NSCN(IM) it did so by recognising the “uniqueness” of the Nagas’ history. This, knowledgeable sources involved in the Naga peace talks, said, pointed to some sort of autonomy for the Nagas spread over Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.

It is learnt that the two sides agreed to keep aside the explosive issue of integration of all Naga areas in the northeast. The government did not brush aside the NSCN(IM)’s insistence on Nagalim, with its interlocutor driving home the point that this vexed issue, though permissible from the perspective of the Constitution was, however, not feasible politically given the anxieties of the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.

Broadly, the peace accord centres around granting the Naga areas in the three states greater autonomy which is expected to be articulated in a “new language” and not be modelled on the autonomy agreements that successive governments at the Centre have signed with other insurgent groups in the northeast.

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Road Ahead

According to a Press Information Bureau statement, the details of the “execution of the plan” will be released shortly, within the framework of the agreement. Needless to say this is a cautious approach in which neither side would jump the gun to announce the points of agreement. The government, for its part, will wait and watch how Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur will react to the announcement of the accord.

Beyond the autonomy question, the government and the NSCN(IM) will also have to oversee the issue of demilitarisation which is an integral part of the accord. While progress was achieved on restricting the armed cadres in designated camps, disarming of the cadres and complete surrender of all weapons will also have to be effected over a period of time.

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