June is the month Mizoram celebrates the anniversary of its peace accord, signed in 1986 and considered the most successful of such pacts in the country.
With a new dispensation at the Centre headed by Narendra Modi, speculation is rife that this Mizoram peace model will be applied to Nagaland; after all, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) has been in peace talks with the Centre since 1997.
The reason for the glimmer of hope to end the Naga imbroglio emanated from the fact that Neiphiu Rio, who contested and won the Lok Sabha elections in the second year of his third term as chief minister of the state, will now be in Delhi. He is, therefore, suitably placed to catalyse truce overtures.
In 1986, a tripartite agreement was signed among the Centre, represented by the Union home secretary, R.D. Pradhan, the Mizo National Front’s firebrand leader, Laldenga, and the Mizoram chief secretary, Lalkhama. Statehood was a prerequisite for this accord, so Mizoram became a state on February 20, 1987.
As a fall-out of this accord, the state’s chief minister, Lal Thanhawla, stepped down to offer his seat to the militant leader, Laldenga, with the proviso that elections would be held in six months’ time. Should the Mizoram model be applied to Nagaland, the leader of the militant NSCN(I-M), Isak Chishi Swu, will be expected to become chief minister under similar terms, with the current chief minister, T.R. Zeliang, magnanimously sacrificing his seat.
The comparisons cease to be rosy when one considers the ground reality. For one, while Mizoram was happy to earn statehood, dropping its earlier sovereignty demand, Nagaland is already a state. It also enjoys a special status under Article 371A of the Constitution. The NSCN’s insistence on ‘Nagalim’ or greater Nagaland, comprising contiguous Naga-inhabited areas of neighbouring Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur will possibly not be acceded to. So what do Swu and the NSCN(I-M) general secretary, Thuingaleng Muivah, get for their decades’ long struggle?
Besides, unlike the MNF, which was a cohesive unit under a single leader, there are dissident NSCN factions, one headed by S.S. Khaplang and the other by the Khole-Kitovi duo. They are unlikely to shower rose petals during Swu’s coronation.
The Mizoram settlement had included the handing over of all arms to the Union government and the rehabilitation of underground personnel, the conferment of statehood on the union territory of Mizoram, and the establishment of a separate university and a high court, among others.
Rehabilitation of surrendered militants is usually the biggest hurdle. In the case of Mizoram, Laldenga’s 580 cadre were disarmed and restricted to peace camps (called Remna Run). They were given Rs 2,000 for their immediate needs. This was followed by another grant of Rs 20,000 for buying household goods. Each member was also given half a bigha of land to build a house with a grant of Rs 40,000. But while some were given jobs in the state police or started a business, many of their erstwhile comrades-in-arms squandered the money on liquor and remained disgruntled. Thus, even after two decades, all is not well with the implementation of the Mizoram Accord.
This has been the story of subsequent surrenders elsewhere too: the top few hog the limelight and acquire big bucks; the rest are left to grovel, shedding dreams and hopes for utter disillusionment.
For Nagaland, with its myriad tribes and factional fratricide, scripting a different denouement calls for political acumen, sacrifice and the shedding of stereotypes. It would be foolhardy to expect it to adapt to any existing model of peace.