After the calamitous incident at Oting in Mon District, where six people were killed by armed forces on suspicion of their being militants, those following the Nagaland narrative across the country wonder if the “peace talks” would be derailed after that incident. The NSCN (IM) has finally said that it would boycott the peace talks unless the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is revoked. But coming at this juncture makes one wonder why the NSCN(IM) has been silent for almost a quarter of a century since 1997, when the outfit decided to talk peace for the first time. Why were the peace talks not conditional to the removal of a draconian law that hangs like the sword of Damocles over the heads of the people of the Northeast region? Why is the country only now clamouring for the revocation of the colonial Act?
Centre & NSCN (IM): An Unusual Arrangement
Those who know the NSCN(IM) from close quarters also know that the outfit is happy doing what they do now. Funded by the government of India to manage and run Camp Hebron near Dimapur, the extortion racket is running full steam across Nagaland, where government employees are taxed and funds from all government development programmes and construction works, especially road construction, are subject to taxation by the proscribed insurgent outfit. Actually, it’s a rather peculiar situation we have here. The NSCN(IM) still carries the ‘outlawed’ tag but the government of India has been looking after the welfare of its cadres since 1997. The outfit continues to recruit cadres and they are allowed to roam around with arms. I doubt that such an arrangement with any rebel group by any government exists in any part of the world.
Now, what happens if by some stroke of ingenious diplomacy, the NSCN(IM) agrees to pull back its demands for a separate flag and a separate constitution and a final settlement is finally arrived at? What happens to the cadres? Where will they be deployed? In the Nagaland police force?
Can a force that has lived by a different set of laws for decades easily slide into a law and order enforcement agency? What about the leaders? In what capacity will they be accommodated in the new arrangement? Will there be ceding of political space as happened in Mizoram, when Chief Minister Lalthanhawla had to step aside to make way for Laldenga, the MNF leader, to take over as Chief Minister?
Mr TH Muivah is a Tangkhul Naga from Manipur. Will he be accepted as Chief Minister of Nagaland? If not, what ‘honourable’ settlement will the government of India and Nagaland confer on him and the other cadres who belong to the state of Manipur? Perhaps these points are listed in the Framework Agreement signed in 2015 August, to which the Naga public is not privy.
The 'Naga Pride' Flag
Strategists who know the NSCN(IM)’s modus operandi also know that they prefer the status quo to a changed situation where they will no longer be able to call the shots in Nagaland. Their influence in Manipur is minimal at this juncture. Besides, Manipur is already a hotbed of at least three dozen militant outfits from different and contrasting ethnic groups. Right now, the space in Manipur is too contested. Nagaland provides a much better space for a continued flagging of the Naga pride. Whichever way one looks at it, the Naga peace talks have the hallmarks of a strategic catastrophe because the government of India has inked a deal that has led to a cul-de-sac, from which there are no avenues of easy departure.
The problem with insurgent outfits is that they have no respect for democracy and democratic ideals. The leader knows it all and takes all arbitrary decisions. This strict discipline is necessary when the outfit is fighting an enemy and is based in foreign terrain, launching hit-and-run attacks on the country of their claim.
But over the years, the outfit itself has become a prison, whose bars are orthodoxy and disrespect for civic polity.
When the cadres move out at some point from the carefully constructed and vigorously defended walls, they will be misfits in civil society.
People Of Nagaland are Held Hostage
Also, what many fail to analyse is that there is a serious trust deficit between the people of Nagaland and the NSCN(IM). It is this trust deficit that prompted the Gaon Bura Association of Nagaland, an apex representative body of all the 16 Naga tribes, to write several petitions to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, with a plea to conclude what is agreed upon with the NSCN(IM) so far and to resolve via peaceful means whatever is not yet agreed.
The government of India has not paid heed to this lament of the Naga people, who have lived under the shadow of the gun, of both militants and state forces. In fact, the Naga people are so traumatised that they never dared raise their voices when militants shoot to kill. As of today, the people of Nagaland are held hostage to underground outfits and to governments, both state and central.
Meanwhile, the dystopia created by the lack of development, poor access to healthcare, an education system that lacks accountability, the absence of communication facilities, thereby holding back progress in the eastern districts of Nagaland, has made people question how long they should put up with this fallacy of governance.
It’s as if everything is kept on hold for want of a peace deal.
Why Hasn't the State Repealed Disturbed Areas Act?
And now, the peace deal faces another disruption due to the killing of innocents last week. Is this an alibi to bring the talks to a rude halt? The AFSPA has been in force uninterruptedly in Nagaland since 1958. Today, even Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio is singing the same tune about revoking AFSPA. But before AFSPA is revoked, the Disturbed Areas Act must be rescinded. According to the Disturbed Areas Act, 1976, when a State government is satisfied that there is, in any area within a state, extensive disturbance of public peace and tranquillity, by reason of differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, it may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare such area to be a disturbed area.
To impose the AFSPA, an area needs to be declared “disturbed” either by the Central or the state government under the Act. The state government of Tripura, under Manik Sarkar, revoked the Disturbed Areas Act in May 2015. When the ‘Disturbed Area’ status is lifted, AFSPA is automatically repealed. The law becomes operative in a state only when an area has been declared as ‘disturbed.’
The revocation of the ‘Disturbed Areas Act’ comes under the jurisdiction of the state. So, the question to the Nagaland Chief Minister is, why not revoke the Disturbed Areas Act so that AFSPA goes and the talks are back on track?
(The writer is the Editor of The Shillong Times and former member of NSAB. She can be reached @meipat. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)