| Rewrite the script
This weekend in Bangkok, when the Indian negotiators for the Naga peace talks — retired home secretary, K. Padmanabhaiah, and director of the Intelligence Bureau, K.P. Singh — meet the leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), they would have little to say to them. After the fanfare surrounding the visit of the two NSCN(I-M) leaders, Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu, to New Delhi this January, the peace talks have reached a deadlock.
We are back to square one because New Delhi lacks the boldness and the political imagination required to move forward. Peace is being sought in Nagaland without changing the boundaries of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
Those negotiating with the NSCN(I-M) ought to learn from history. Short-changing the Nagas is the surest route to the assassination of their leaders and fuelling resistance to New Delhi. India failed the Nagas by not honouring the 9-Point Akbar Hyderi Agreement of 1947. The Sixteen Point Agreement of 1962 with the Naga Peoples’ Convention led to the merger of the Naga Hills and Tuensang into Nagaland. But a moth-eaten Nagaland only fuelled unrest and led to the assassination of the NPC leader, Dr Imkongliba Ao.
The breakdown of the talks between the Michael Scott Peace Mission and the Federal Government of Nagaland led to the ouster of its leadership and the assassination of Kaito Sema, the defence minister of FGN. The Shillong Accord of 1975 was signed during the Emergency with the Naga National Council. It discredited and delegitimized the NNC and led to the formation of the NSCN under Muivah, Swu and S.S. Khaplang (who now heads another faction of NSCN). It is the stronger of the two factions of the NSCN led by Muivah and Swu which came up for negotiations in 1995. If that too is delegitimized, Naga insurgency will continue under a different organization and leadership.
As leaders of an armed insurgency, Muivah and Swu cannot survive for long if they accept meaningless lollipops from New Delhi instead of a permanent and honourable settlement. That would primarily involve settling the twin issues of the integration of Naga territories and the preservation of Naga identity.
The NSCN(I-M), the most effective insurgent outfit in India’s Northeast, took a big risk by coming forward for peace in 1995. Today it has gradually come to a position that the areas inhabited by the Nagas in Myanmar will not be a part of the negotiations with India.
Why is this significant' One-third of the Naga-inhabited areas of pre-independence India were put by the British under Burmese control between 1935 and 1945. Even today the Khiamungan, Konyak, Lainung, Pangmi, Tangkhul Somara and Yimchunger Mukhori tribes of the Nagas live in Myanmar abutting the Indian border. By agreeing to keep these areas out of the negotiations, the NSCN is giving up its territorial ambitions outside the boundaries of India. The new Naga entity thus would be independent of the adjoining Myanmar areas and would have close relations with India. Naming that closely bound relationship would be premature at this juncture but suffice it to say that it would not be against the interests of the Union of India.
It is possible that if they are denied the integration of even the Naga areas within India, the Nagas could revert to their earlier position. Rejecting the peace process, a whole new generation of Nagas could take up arms and go underground. A bloody cycle of civil war could begin all over again. It took the NSCN two decades to talk peace after rejecting the Shillong Accord of 1975. Who knows when they would be willing to smoke the peace pipe with New Delhi again' Since the NSCN(I-M) has spawned almost all the major insurgencies in the Northeast, their support for such insurgencies would start all over again.
When the substantive dialogue with the NSCN began, the Indian negotiators wanted the less intractable issues to be addressed first and leave the issues of Naga territory and identity to a later stage. The Naga leaders seem to have agreed in good faith. Enough confidence was built between the two sides for the NSCN leaders to visit the Indian capital and meet the political leadership. Despite some minor hiccups, Muivah and Swu went back satisfied that the peace process was moving forward. However, in subsequent interaction, the Indian negotiators did not come up with any substantive proposals and the Naga leaders began doubting their sincerity. They then suggested that the territorial integration and preservation of Naga identity should be discussed first and everything else later.
Of the substantive issues before the negotiators, the contentious ones relate to sovereignty, defence, international relations, flags and emblems, currency and postage stamps. Everything else is easily negotiable. Essentially, the territorial question relates to present-day Manipur. In 1833, the then king of Manipur, Raja Gambhir Singh, was allowed by the British to annex Naga inhabited areas. The Nagas claim that they never accepted or acknowledged this domination. Today, the Nagas continue to live in large numbers in the hill districts of Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenglong and Chandel in Manipur.
Nearly ninety percent of the population of Tangkhul Nagas is in Manipur. They form the bulk of the armed cadre of the NSCN(I-M). Is it possible then to discuss peace with the NSCN(I-M) while claiming that Ukhrul will remain in Manipur' If the population of Ukhrul, Tamenglong and Senapati, let us say, wants to be part of the present day Nagaland, can it be denied that right' The Nagas are not seeking to secede. They want to stay within India and be the masters of their own fate — a right which has lately been exercised by the people of Uttaranchal, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. Manipur, of course, would be needed to be brought into the consultations and compensated. That too should be done with a generosity of heart that alone can keep India united.
The National Democratic Alliance government apprehends electoral trouble in the Northeast if it agrees to any changes in the existing boundaries of the states there. The Congress and the Meiteis in Manipur, the Bharatiya Janata Party fears, would most certainly create trouble. It would be ideal if the Nagas worked on the Congress and also held a dialogue with the Meitei political leaders, civil society organizations and the underground to bring them around. This would limit New Delhi’s problems to a great extent. However, why should creating a political consensus be the job assigned only to the Nagas and why should it not be the duty of the government of the day which is better equipped to do so'
New Delhi can begin by setting up a boundary commission to deal with the issue of territorial integration. It can poll the people in the areas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal which the Nagas claim and find out what they want. Not even the Nagas expect a resolution of this issue before the next general elections. But at least some mechanism for resolving this issue should be put into place before that if the peace process is not to be derailed.