The ambitious Naga peace talks between the Narendra Modi government and the NSCN(IM) have suffered a blow, raising concerns over the growing trust deficit between the largest insurgent group and the central government leading to a new phase of violence and insurgency.
On August 3, it will be five years since a framework agreement was signed between government-appointed interlocutor R.N. Ravi and NSCN(IM) chairman Isak Chishi Swu and general secretary T.H. Muivah in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The agreement was aimed at a final peace settlement to the longest running insurgency.
However, even after five years, the peace deal has not inched to a closure and neither side is confident of reaching a solution to the vexed issue anytime soon.
While sources in New Delhi are attributing the unhappy state of affairs to the continuing extortion activities of the NSCN outfit in Nagaland and neighbouring states like Arunachal Pradesh and also blaming the COVID-19 crisis for stalling the talks in the last few months, it is being speculated in security circles whether a failure has taken place to understand the sentiment of the Naga people and the various facets of the insurgency movement.
The killing of six NSCN(IM) cadres in Arunachal Pradesh in a joint security operation led by Assam Rifles is the latest nail in the coffin with the insurgent group accusing the Centre of pushing them to the wall and stamping out the “goodwill spirit of ceasefire”.
A recent statement by the NSCN(IM) accusing the security forces of venting their frustration over the Galwan incident in June, in which twenty Indian Army personnel were killed by the Chinese PLA, has generated a debate over the handling of the sensitive Naga issue.
A senior government functionary said the repeated incidents since October 2019, the deadline set by the government to reach a final peace accord, has muddied the waters. The NSCN(IM) has been cornered with crackdown on its camps, the NIA swooping down on its leaders in a terror funding case and the killing of its cadres. The attempt by the government to rope in the Naga National Political Groups and bring them on board for a final settlement, leaving out the NSCN(IM), was another factor that added to the distrust.
Security officials said the signing of any accord without the NSCN(IM) could prove to be an insufficient measure and fuel the insurgency.
The NSCN(IM)'s latest statement is also a cause of concern as it has mentioned that Longding district in Arunachal Pradesh inhabited by the Nagas is not far from the Indo-China border where India is having border dispute.
There is reportedly heavy concentration of Chinese PLA soldiers in the disputed area, it had said.
A security official in Arunachal Pradesh said close watch is being kept on the movement of Naga insurgents in the area to thwart any attempts by them to misuse the tensions on the border and target Indian security forces.
While the NSCN(IM) has claimed that the existing ceasefire agreement is evidence of the “peaceful coexistence” between Naga groups and the Indian state, Ravi’s recent letters to the chief minister speak otherwise.
Ravi, who is now governor of Nagaland, recently shot off a letter to Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio raising concern over the “precarious law and order situation” and “armed gangs” running their parallel governments challenging the writ of the constitutionally mandated government. He also alleged that the law and order machinery was not offering any resistance to this worrying trend.
What followed was a letter by the state chief secretary asking government officials across departments and ministries in Nagaland to declare whether their family members had any links with underground groups. Sources in New Delhi said a wait and watch approach is being adopted to see whether an experienced hand like Ravi can prevent the crisis from deepening further and put the peace talks on track once again.