Is Naga Peace Accord a Bridge Too Far? 

Naga interlocutor RN Ravi & Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba will appear before a Home Affairs panel on 27 November.

8 min read
  • Naga interlocutor RN Ravi will appear before a parliamentary panel to explain the status of the 2015 Naga accord
  • The accord remains shrouded in mystery after over two years
  • BJP’s success in saffronising northeast India is reflected in the Congress’ dislodgement
  • Kiren Rijiju earlier said that talks with NSCN (IM) are in final stage, with only few issues left to be addressed

Hardly a day passes by when acts of terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir don’t make it to the front pages and are considered as breaking news by both print and electronic media.

However, what is conspicuously absent is reportage of the more militarily intricate insurgency in northeast India, centred mainly around Manipur, which has never witnessed a ceasefire like Nagaland has since 1997.

On 22 November, Naga interlocutor RN Ravi was asked by the parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs led by P Chidambaram to appear before it to explain the status of the 2015 Naga framework agreement, reported The Hindu. Ravi and Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba will have to appear before the panel on 27 November, claimed the report.

An Ongoing Insurgency

Naga interlocutor RN Ravi & Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba will appear before a Home Affairs panel on 27 November.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the signing ceremony of historic peace accord between Government of India & NSCN, in New Delhi, August 3, 2015. 
(Photo: PTI)
Manipur has forced the central government to remove Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from its capital Imphal and evicted the Assam Rifles from its historical habitation of Kangla Fort.

And yet the indomitable flag bearer of human rights and campaigner for the removal of AFSPA, Irom Sharmila, won just 90 votes, 50 less than the 140 odd voters who pressed the NOTA button from her electoral constituency. Irom Sharmila was pitted against Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh.

The game of thrones played recently in Nagaland between Chief Ministers TR Zeliang of Naga People’s Front (NPF) and Shurhozellie Liezietsu over women’s reservation and the game of blockades in Manipur which dislodged a long entrenched Congress government reflects the success of BJP’s pointsman Ram Madhav in saffronising the region.

BJP’s ‘India Foundation’, of which Ram Madhav is the director, organised the first ever North East Development Summit in Manipur which was inaugurated by President RN Kovind on Tuesday, 21 November.

On 18 November, copies of prominent Imphal newspaper, Poknapham, were burnt by BJP youth wing workers as it allegedly criticised Prime Minister Modi, prompting other news dailies to run blank editorials on 20 November.

Last week, two incidents of violence by Naga groups operating in Manipur killed and wounded several soldiers of Assam Rifles in Chandel district. Such clashes are routine.

A Cat Among Pigeons

Naga interlocutor RN Ravi & Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba will appear before a Home Affairs panel on 27 November.
NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muviah (3rd from Right) at the signing ceremony between the Centre and the insurgent organisation. 
(Photo courtesy: @PIB_India)

Against this background, it would be instructive to scrutinise what is not known about the much touted accord between the government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak Muivah) [NSCN (IM)] on 3 August 2015. Was it a storm in a teacup to herald a notional achievement? Two years and four months hence, it is still a riddle wrapped in an enigma surrounded by mystery.

In January, MoS (Home) Kiren Rijiju said that talks with NSCN (IM) are in the final stage, with only a couple of issues left to be addressed.

In May, the NSCN (IM) spokesperson apparently spoke for all Nagas and said, “ of now, the Nagas have agreed on coexistence and shared sovereignty of two entities.”

Speaking at its citadel, Camp Hebron near Dimapur (which is a state within a state), on the 38th Republic Day of Nagalim on 24 March 2017, the supreme leader, Thuingaleng Muivah, pointed out that the agreement also recognises “the legitimate right of the Nagas to integration of all Naga territories”.

This set the cat among the pigeons as Nagas inhabit districts of Arunachal, Assam, Manipur and even Burma comprising Greater Nagaland or Nagalim. The Home Ministry was quick to refute as ‘erroneous’ the claim that the Indian government had agreed to the integration of Naga-inhabited areas.

Buying Time

Naga interlocutor RN Ravi & Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba will appear before a Home Affairs panel on 27 November.
Members of the rebel outfit NSCN(K) parade around their camps, armed with guns and guitars.
(Photo: Reuters)

Meanwhile, the government has extended the ceasefire for one year with two other NSCN groups and declared Nagaland and Manipur as ‘disturbed areas’ for another six months. Sensing that talks were far from the final stage, the government’s interlocutor, RN Ravi, decided to buy time by extending the ambit of talks to six breakaway groups of NSCN and also supplemented the dialogue with Manipur citizens’ groups.

For the first time he told the Nagas to resolve the vexed political issue “before the character of the government changes with change in leadership,” hinting that another government might not devolve power as generously as the incumbent.

An early breakthrough is optimistically forecast after BJP’s spectacular victories in Assam’s assembly polls, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur setting the stage for a BJP-NPF alliance to win elections next year in Nagaland.

The NPF is part of the BJP-ruled Manipur, which for the first time has a chief minister from BJP – Nongthomban Biren Singh. Prima facie, the BJP’s political victory can either be an open sesame or a Pandora’s box.

Govt’s ‘Appeasement Campaign’

Naga interlocutor RN Ravi & Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba will appear before a Home Affairs panel on 27 November.
Naga rebels celebrate the unilateral day of independence.
(Photo: Reuters) 

While theoretically it would be possible to link Naga-inhabited areas in Manipur constituting autonomous councils with contiguous Nagaland, it may be less practical to have similar tribal councils in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. But this appears to be the only creative solution within the Constitution, although even in BJP-ruled states such creative linkages will be difficult to forge and unlikely to satisfy Muivah for a Greater Nagaland.

Anthony Shimray (Lt General of the Naga Army and also a political commissar) was part of the talks that led to the framework agreement. A reading of his interview with The Caravan is revealing .

If we are to believe him, the government has agreed to give the Nagas more than it has given to the Kashmiris, for example, its own army, and much more. This is probably part of a propaganda campaign to please the Nagas.


Demand for Release of Framework Accord

Naga interlocutor RN Ravi & Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba will appear before a Home Affairs panel on 27 November.
A Naga rebel patrols the inside of Hebron Camp, in Nagaland, 14 August 2005. Here in the remote northeast of India, rebels from the Christian hill tribes of Nagaland fought a fierce insurgency against Indian rule for five decades until a ceasefire in 1997. 
(Photo: Reuters)

In Manipur, 90 percent of land is occupied by 10 percent of the hill population of Nagas and Kukis whereas Meiteis, the original inhabitants of Manipur (who constitute 90 percent of the people), hold only 10 percent of the land. This cruelty of geography over history, some say will be exacerbated by decoupling hill areas, geographically reducing Manipur to the confines of the valleys.

Senior Congressman and three-time Chief Minister of Manipur, Ibobi Singh has demanded that the government release the contents of the framework accord with NSCN (IM), adding that any kind of autonomy relating to administration, culture and finance (granted to Nagas in Manipur), would lead to chaos and disintegration of Manipur.

The Congress has decided to protest in all 60 assembly constituencies demanding the framework accord be made public. There is a military dimension to the Naga demand which is pivoted in Manipur where there are myriad armed rebel entities – 38 valley-based Meitei groups, 17 hill-based Kuki groups and several Naga groups.

The Army and security forces are fighting armed groups which are networked and many enjoy political patronage. The 1643 km India-Myanmar border is unfenced – 520 km with Arunachal Pradesh, 250 km with Nagaland and 510 km with Manipur with free movement 16 km on either side of the border.


The ‘Mother’ of All Insurgencies

The insurgency started in 1956 in Nagaland with expertise imbibed by the Nagas during World War II when they helped the British against the Japanese. The best-laid ambushes in mountainous jungle terrain are by the Nagas – well-sited, impressively equipped and bravely led.

Absent in J&K, the IED poses the biggest threat and is cause of major losses among the soldiers. Nagaland is called the mother of insurgencies in the northeast. And Manipur is the bee in the bonnet!

Take the 70km-long Khoupum valley in Manipur, a conglomerate of 17 villages, inhabited by Rongmei Nagas sympathetic to NSCN (IM). It is the birthplace of all Naga and Kuki militancy.

The rebel groups operating here are NSCN K, ZUF (Zeliangrong United Front consisting of five Naga groups originally drawn from NSCN(IM)); Kuki National Organisation; and no surprises – the NSCN(IM). Army officers compare Khoupum valley with the historic Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam.

Of Politics & Military Operations

The rebels have excellent early warning and a first-rate intelligence grid, which allow military cordons to be frequently intercepted by women to enable the escape of rebels.

Stone-pelting is quite common, involving at least 400-500 women, and loud hailers are used in Hindi to warn soldiers: ‘Do not fire in our village’.

Politics is entwined with military operations and rebels being ‘our own people’ (unlike in J&K where 60 percent of terrorists are Pakistanis) are a serious handicap to the conducting of operations. The Home Minister of Manipur was Gaikhangam, a Naga and a Congressman from Khoupum.

Sometimes, orders are received to provide a safe passage to rebels. Khoupum is a Congress stronghold but BJP has made inroads with Lok Janshakti Party in tow. The NSCN (K) and NSCN (IM) cooperate, as do some others. Most development funds under central schemes get siphoned off to rebel groups, mainly IM and ZUF.

NSCN (IM) has deployed two battalions, roughly 1500 rebels, their headquarters located at Senapati and Nungba on the Cachar highway.

The Way Forward – Protect ‘Naga-ness’

This military presence facilitates extortion and domination of key hill areas of Manipur. The NSCN (IM) also operates in the Naga-inhabited areas of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh but are outside the 2015 Framework accord and 1997 ceasefire, which covers only Nagaland.

The government continues to deny claims such as this – that Ravi and Muivah, issuing a joint statement in August 2016, were closer than ever before to an agreement which could happen sooner than later.

These leaks are probably intended to camouflage the barely reconcilable positions of the two sides. The only feasible way forward is coupling Naga-inhabited areas in three neighbouring states to Nagaland, through autonomous councils protecting their sovereign identity, culture and ‘Naga-ness’ without any fresh map-making. But will Muivah accept this ?

Unlikely, even if we are to go by his own maximalist statements.


It would appear that the government may have been more generous in the framework accord than was previously offered, to be able to achieve a political splash – a breakthrough – when none existed. Still, the accord is the only thing going for the present, even though some regard it to be a bridge too far.

(Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta is a founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, the forerunner of the current Integrated Defence Staff. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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