| Mistakes from the past
One of the biggest barriers to the peace talks with the Nagas is not what the National Socialist Council of Nagalim or its leaders, Thuingaleng Muivah and Isaak Swu, think, but the Indian reaction to what they think. Now that the government has invited the NSCN leaders to visit India for sustained peace talks, it is imperative that the political establishment in New Delhi does some soul-searching about the obstacles to a peaceful settlement.
Although we in India take pride in peaceful transitions of power, each time such a transition takes place, for many in power the process of learning statecraft begins anew. This has much to do with the way our polity renews itself with the injection of fresh blood ' bureaucrats find themselves jettisoned into political roles, policemen of yore are encouraged to become political pundits as advisors and governors; and novices are encouraged to cut their teeth on meaty political issues.
Arguing for 'continuity' or status quo in such a context has the danger of becoming a conservative policy prescription. It does not entail any original thinking. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's exhortations to think out-of-the-box in dealing with insurgency situations should therefore be taken seriously by those negotiating peace whether in Kashmir or in the North-east. This is especially important in the case of the Nagas who have shown their commitment to peace by sustaining a cease-fire for the eighth year running.
The first step in this direction should be to jettison set reactions to the Nagas. A typical reaction in Delhi is that there is no need to get so agitated about concluding any peaceful settlement with the Nagas. If India has fought them for fifty years, it can do so for another fifty; that if today one set of people in the security forces and the army are fighting them, a new generation is waiting to take their place. States don't get tired, individuals do. Or so the argument goes.
This is not the primary way in which a democratic state ought to ensure its survival. Democratic states have to find innovative mechanisms of inclusion rather than resort to continuous force to ensure their stability and survival. Another typical reaction is that if the Nagas are allowed to unite, then India might become weak, and this might lead to disintegrative tendencies.
The Naga argument is that since they were never a part of India either by conquest or by consent, the question of disintegration of India because of them does not arise. From the Indian side, however, the argument needs to be turned around ' that is, that if the Nagas are together, there would be no armed insurgency in the Naga areas and therefore India would become stronger.
A third reaction, reflective of the home ministry mindset, is that the Nagas want independence from India and since they cannot have it, all that needs to be done is to give them some handouts, a few concessions here and there and a generous economic package. If this prescription had any potency then we would not have witnessed a series of failed agreements based on this perspective not only in Nagaland but elsewhere in the North-east also.
The Indian establishment and civil society have not tried to understand the emotional and psychological state of the Nagas and the reasons for their alienation. When the Nagas say that there are thousand wounds in their heart and that India does not understand them, they are not far from the truth. These wounds were the direct result of Nehruvian arrogance. No doubt a great liberal in many aspects of his political life, Jawaharlal Nehru followed a strategy of grouping villages in Naga areas and erecting barbed wire fences around them that disrupted their social and economic life. These harsh measures implemented by the army were borrowed from the strategy followed against the Communist guerrillas in Malaya by Gerald Templar to check moral and material support to the insurgents.
Even today, in Kohima village, it is difficult to find people who do not have vivid memories of their houses being burnt down by the Indian security forces or a house, which does not have an ageing 'Aunty' who was not molested by them. Unpalatable as it may sound, this is a truth that we, in the rest of India, need to face up to. Just as the Nagas claim that they are not bringing their wounds to the negotiating table, a moral responsibility devolves on India to appreciate the anger and residual feeling of hostility against New Delhi when negotiating with the Nagas.
Behind the seemingly rigid positions of the Nagas may lie fear and distrust of the Indian state. To allow them to see things from the Indian perspective also, it is important to regain their faith. This certainly cannot be achieved by telling one set of lies to the Naga leaders and another to Indian parliament as was done in the case of cease-fire area coverage under the I.K. Gujral regime.
When Atal Bihari Vajpayee went to Kohima as prime minister, he said only one sentence to alleviate the feelings of the Nagas ' that there had been mistakes in the past. That was not sufficient. The Nagas were not wrong when they claimed that malignant malaria could not be cured by a dose of homeopathic medicine. The errors of the past must be accepted fully if we have to move forward together with the Nagas by regaining their trust. This is the only way they can be prepared for accepting a solution and overcoming their suspicion, fear, hostility and defensiveness.
The Naga position also has to be appreciated from their perspective before trying to reach a settlement. This does not mean accepting their position but trying to understand what they want and why they want it. A solution is unlikely to be 'mutually satisfactory' unless New Delhi understands why and in what perspective the Nagas seek a settlement.
No solution ought to be imposed which might reduce the legitimacy of the people on the other side of the negotiating table. Such a solution cannot be permanent. That is the primary lesson to be drawn from the failure of the Shillong Accord.
The Naga leaders also need to learn about the flexibility and working of the Indian federal system and the possibilities of change that exist. Guerrilla armies have better things to do than to lecture their cadre in the jungles on federalism. They should be shown how the division of competencies works in the Indian system and that the Indian polity allows for negotiating asymmetrical federalism as is evident in the case of Jammu and Kashmir and the provisions of the sixth schedule of the Indian constitution.
The final Naga settlement will only notionally be between the Indian state and the NSCN. Unless the Naga people are readied for it and feel that they have a stake in it, there will always exist the potential for new political groups and tendencies to challenge it. The NSCN leaders, when they are in India, should therefore be encouraged to spend as much time as possible consulting a wide cross-section of Naga people on the possible settlement. The solution must come in consultation with the Naga people rather than from the top.