Hope and uncertainty as Naga peace talks end on positive note

Governor R.N. Ravi wins to bring NSCN(IM) on board

A poster with a Naga flag is seen on the entrance of a shop in Kohima | AP A poster with a Naga flag is seen on the entrance of a shop in Kohima | AP

Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi may have failed to declare a final peace accord to end the decades-old Naga insurgency problem on the birth anniversary of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on October 31, but he will win some praise from the Prime Minister's Office for having brought the biggest Naga insurgent outfit, NSCN(IM), on board. The government is now hopeful of a final settlement within the framework of the Indian Constitution. 

On Thursday, both sides agreed that the peace accord will be based on the framework agreement. A senior leader of the NSCN(IM) told THE WEEK that there has been a positive outcome and both sides have agreed in principle the framework agreement. The outcome of the talks bails out Ravi who has been under pressure to ink a peace deal within the framework of the Indian Constitution by October 31.

Sources said the idea to set a deadline was to send a message of “national unity and national integration” on Sardar Patel’s birth anniversary with the resolution of the Naga problem and formal creation of the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh that come into being on October 31.

The insurgent outfit knew that a walkout from the talks may result in a government crackdown that could hamper the 22 years of political negotiations. 

“As far as the ceasefire is concerned, there was never a doubt on its holding. It was ensured that there were continuous meetings and building of mutual trust ,” said Lt Gen Shokin Chauhan, chairman of the Ceasefire Monitoring Group, when contacted by THE WEEK.

The NSCN (IM) sources also said holding of ceasefire during these extremely difficult times was due to the continuous efforts of the CFMG chairman, who is based in Kohima. It is learnt Lt Gen Chauhan was available round the clock, willing to discuss and resolve contentious issues to ensure that peace prevailed in Nagaland during the entire process.

On Thursday, hope and uncertainty marked the conclusion of the fifth day of the talks with Naga people happy that a “positive outcome” has come about. Both sides heaved a sigh of relief that they have “agreed to agree”. 

There is also a growing worry among the stakeholders. They said that if the final statement of government does not spell out fine contours of the Naga deal, it can cause further unrest as many have been wanting clarity for last four years. 

Uncertainty prevailed on Thursday on whether both sides have been able to resolve the twin contentious issues of separate Naga Constitution and flag or left the matter to be discussed at a later stage. 

If both matters have been deferred to be decided at a later stage, it may simply display a win-win situation, but in reality woun't spell out the fine contours that will define the final Naga peace accord. 

For now, the ceasefire remains intact and the NSCN(IM) has come on board, said a government official.

Hours after the talks, the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), which have simultaneously been holding talks with Ravi, said they appreciate the understanding arrived at between the Government and the NSCN(IM).

“The working committee of the NNPG believes that the NSCN(IM) leadership has opted for peace and adopted a practical and realistic approach in arriving at a conclusion of negotiations by accepting the reality of the time.”

However, it said that in the course of negotiations, “the NNPGs also endorsed the usage of Naga emblem/flag specfically for cultural identity within Naga homeland. The Naga flag is a political symbol and cannot be confined to socio-cultural activities.”

The NNPG said Nagas would pursue their unity politically and democratically. “The flag, since the dawn of Naga political consciousness, has ever been an expression of our political identity and aspirations,” it said . 

The ceasefire between the Centre and the NSCN(IM) was hanging by a thread for the last one week after four rounds of talks between Ravi and NSCN(IM) general secretary T.H. Muivah did not yield any positive outcome with the latter refusing to buckle down under pressure. 

With security forces out in Nagaland and Manipur to control any untoward incident, both sides knew that if the ceasefire was breached there could be mayhem in the northeast in coming days and months .

In 2015, the framework agreement was signed between the two sides and since then, peace negotiations have been going on.

All eyes had been on the outcome of Thursday’s talks and soon after negotiations ended on a positive note there was a flurry in political circles and civil society groups in Nagaland and states of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and ASsam, which has Naga population in different pockets . 

As top leaders in Nagaland came out to congratulate the prime minister for showing resoluteness in solving the Naga problem, the Union home ministry issued an official statement saying “it has come to notice of the Government that lots of rumours and misinformation is being spread in media including social media that final Naga settlement has been arrived at and will be announced soon. This is creating  anxiety and concern in some parts of the country.”

“It is clarified that before any settlement is arrived at with Naga groups, all stakeholders including States of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh will be duly consulted and their concerns will be taken into consideration,” said the MHA. 

The idea of a greater Nagalim is distant and the nitty-gritty of territorial integration has not been thrashed out yet, said a government official. For now, an announcement by the government spelling out its position on the outcome of Ravi’s talks will define the future of the Naga settlement.