Can Modi 2.0 Restore Faith In the Naga Peace Accord of 2015?
If a Naga settlement is achieved, it will facilitate the end of the insurgency in Manipur.
After administering the ‘Hamlet’ poison, ‘to be se not to be ho jayega’, is the famous ‘Ajit joke’ about how to eliminate rivals. Is the much-touted Naga Framework Accord of 3 August 2015, signed by government interlocutor RN Ravi, and the Supremo, National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak Muivah) in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and NSA Ajit Doval, heading toward a similar fate?
While Ravi, who was recently promoted as Deputy NSA, insists that a political settlement is in an advanced and concluding stage with all points covered, Muivah, in an interview to North East Live in February 2019 said, “Old issues are not resolved – only one government, integration of all Naga contiguous areas (Nagalim), our flag, our Constitution… this is our stated stand”. Ravi shot back, “This is not what was offered.” Evidently, the Accord is unraveling after great expectations were built up.
Why The Nagas Are Restive
In the rush and din of the long election schedule, the Framework Accord is vapourising, going by the events and statements made over the last six months. The Forum for Naga Reconciliation, a civil society group inspired by the Church, has said it is not hopeful any longer, as talks have reached a dead-end.
For the first time on 23 February 2019, the Nagas took their campaign to New Delhi where 4,000 Nagas took out a unique protest march from Mandi House to Jantar Mantar, demanding that the peace process be expedited. It was a novel musical rally with Nagas dressed in traditional attire, displaying their unique identity and singing; ‘God Bless my Motherland, We shall Overcome’ and ‘I must tell Jesus’. These songs were interrupted with chants of ‘Solution, Solution’ and the waving of blue flags with rainbow colours and a star on them. It was a big political statement by the Nagas.
Soon after the rally, on 26 February, Ravi visited Kohima and Dimapur but almost all Naga groups boycotted his visit saying they ‘had waited long enough for a political settlement’.
Ravi’s woes were exacerbated by the only group which agreed to meet him – the United Naga Tribes Association on Border Areas, which asked New Delhi to fulfil the promises made in the 9-point and 16-point agreements of 1947 and 1960 to return all reserved forests and contiguous Naga areas to Naga people. If Ravi had hit a cul-de-sac, hopes were kept alive through political channels. On 10 March, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said, “We were hoping for a solution before the assembly elections.” BJP in-charge, Northeast, Ram Madhav had responded with, “ A solution is in sight, and it will happen after the Lok Sabha elections.”
That the Naga armed groups are getting restive and have taken to showing muscle in violation of the 1997 ceasefire agreement, is illustrated by the following events of April/May:
Violence In Manipur & Nagaland
Around 15 April, a stand-off between the Assam Rifles and NSCN (IM) took place in Ukhrul, Manipur, where 70 Naga rebels established an unauthorised camp at Khamson, breaking ceasefire rules. The camp was surrounded by Assam Rifles who had been monitoring rebel activity. The temporary camp had to be vacated after a ‘war-like situation’ (according to local sources) had developed. According to the July 1997 CFA, NSCN (IM) are confined to designated camps like the one at Hebron in Dimapur.
- On 21 May, 14 suspected NSCN IM ambushed the four-vehicle convoy of Arunachal Pradesh MLA Tirong Aboh and gunned down Aboh, his son and nine others. Aboh had defeated BJP candidate Phawang Lowang in the recent assembly elections.
- On 21 May, Naga rebels waylaid a convoy of 29 Assam Rifles in Chandel district of Manipur, killing six soldiers and capturing six weapons.
- On 25 May, troops of 40 Assam Rifles were ambushed by Nagas in Mon district of Nagaland, losing two soldiers. This is the same area where in 2015, 18 Dogra soldiers had been killed in an ambush which led to a punitive surgical strike in Myanmar.
The Sanctity of the Framework Accord of 2015
What Is the sanctity of the Framework Accord of 2015? According to government sources, NSCN (IM) had given up claims to sovereignty and accepted a solution within the Indian Constitution, after due recognition of the uniqueness of Naga identity, history and tradition. On demand for a separate flag and Nagalim, in February 2018 Ravi had said: “There will be no compromise on the territorial integrity of any state,” and informed a Parliamentary Standing Committee that “some special arrangement will be made for Nagas”.
Provisions Under the Naga Framework Accord 2015
It is understood that some of the provisions in the Accord package are:
- The creation of a cultural council for all Nagas
- The removal of AFSPA
- Enhancing Naga representation in Parliament
- A bicameral state legislature
- An interlinked autonomous council for all Naga areas in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh
- A handsome economic package
- Integration of Naga Armies with the BSF and other central para police forces
What the Naga Settlement Can Achieve
If a Naga settlement is achieved it will facilitate the end of the insurgency in Manipur, where scores of small militant groups also operate. The Naga insurgency is therefore called the mother of insurgencies in the Northeast.
If, as the Forum for National Reconciliation claims, New Delhi doesn’t show requisite political will and the ceasefire collapses, violence could spread like wildfire.
In 2018, there were altogether seven insurgency-related fatalities in Nagaland.
At the peak of violence in 1996/97, insurgency-related casualties were at 360. The events of the last two months in Nagaland and Manipur are ominous. The NSCN (IM) runs a parallel government of Nagaland from Dimapur, and the elected government at Kohima cannot act without its green signal. The zest for correcting this anomaly through the Framework Accord will fade away completely unless Modi 2.0 can invent the ‘antidote to Hamlet’s poison’.
(Major General (retd) Ashok K Mehta is a founding 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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