The worst ever stand-off between the biggest Naga insurgent outfit, NSCN(IM), and the Union government is threatening to jeopardise the Naga peace talks and revive insurgency in northeast.
The NSCN(IM) is demanding the removal of interlocutor R.N. Ravi because “for Nagas the Naga pride is supreme and this time the pride has taken a hit”, said sources in the outfit.
It has accused Ravi of breach of trust, saying he has tampered with the framework agreement that had been signed by T.H. Muivah and Ravi in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 3, 2015.
What’s more, senior leaders of the outfit felt humiliated after Ravi is learnt to have made comments during the peace talks that prompted one of them to tell him that for the first time they felt it was not a relationship of equals. The NSCN(IM) leader said they were representing a few thousand in numbers but Ravi represented the entire population of the country, yet they had been holding talks for decades as equals. But not any longer, he said.
The framework agreement signed between the Modi government and the NSCN(IM)—kept under wraps so far—tumbled out of secrecy after the outfit cried foul accusing Ravi of tampering with its content. Ravi is also the governor of Nagaland.
Will the government salvage the situation by removing R.N. Ravi from the interlocutor charge or adopt strong arm tactics to prevent the NSCN(IM) from snapping the ceasefire and proposed peace deal remains to be seen in the coming days.
Government sources said Ravi may continue holding charge as the interlocutor. However, at the same time the home ministry is desperately trying to salvage the peace talks before the proposed Naga deal is off and the security situation worsens in Nagaland.
It is unlikely that Ravi will be replaced, said an official. The government has already made it clear that “talks and gun” cannot go side by side, an indication that if the outfit resorts to violence or breaches the ceasefire it will be met with a strong response by security forces.
The situation is expected to be handled delicately with senior leaders like V.S. Atem in the outfit being reached out by various arms of the government and Ravi being asked to lie low.
Atem, like Muivah, is aware that the peace talks have more forward after decades of hard work and both the government and the outfit have come a long way. “The NSCN(IM) also realised that it cannot snap the ceasefire. It wants peace and it also wants a solution because the Nagas are waiting for it,” said an official.
The framework agreement had not been made public in 2015. Sources said the secrecy around it was another reason why the government is in a tight spot today. It will have to come clean on what the content of the agreement is, said a leader.
The agreement is learnt to have said, “We are confident it will provide for an enduring inclusive (new) relationship of peaceful coexistence of two entities.” The NSCN(IM)'s accusation is that Ravi deleted the word “new” in the agreement to indicate that the outfit has agreed to find a solution within the framework of the Indian Constitution. The removal of the word “new” thus gave a different understanding and narrative of what had been agreed upon by both sides.
“Significantly, the word ‘new’ is politically sensitive as it goes to define the meaning of peaceful co-existence of the two entities (two sovereign powers). Further, 'new relationship' strongly indicates outside the purview of the Indian Constitution. When 'new' is removed there is room for misinterpreting it as under Indian Constitution,” said the NSCN(IM) in a statement released late Tuesday night .
This allegation has disturbed the already strained peace talks between the Naga outfit and Ravi who had been losing the trust of the Naga people.
“It has been quite sometime since Ravi was under NSCN’s scanner when he twisted the Framework Agreement and misled the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the steps taken to solve the Naga issue,” the statement said.
“The fact is that the Framework Agreement is outside the purview of Indian Federation/Constitution. But in his report furnished to the Parliamentary Standing Committee he manipulated it in his own narrative that is far from the actual meaning as very unambiguously worded in layman’s language in the original copy of Framework agreement,” it said.
The NSCN (IM) alleged that Ravi's "mis-doings" created a state of "simmering tension" among the parties to the peace talks and the situation was now reaching a tipping point. The home ministry will now have to fit in the missing pieces before it resumes a dialogue with the outfit.