Another round of talks ended recently on the same “positive note” between the government’s interlocutor, K. Padmanabhaiah, and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) in a bid to further the Naga peace process. These would be preparatory to more formal talks in New Delhi in the next few months.
Despite the frequency of peace parleys between the Centre and the NSCN(I-M) in far-off places, these have yielded little apart from the promise to carry the peace talks forward and periodic extensions of cease-fire. The NSCN(I-M) cadre has never abjured the path of violence. Naturally, the fears of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, who hold within their territorial borders considerable Naga-inhabited areas, are still not assuaged. The Naga agenda has not changed and the same promises are trotted out at every meet.
Delhi 2003 seemed a historic turning point as it marked the first time in over three decades that Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah were in the country following a withdrawal of their arrest warrant by the government. The “Journey of Peace” statement the group issued at the end of the talks was a landmark in the peace process. The NSCN(I-M) recognized the legitimate claims of the Meiteis and Assamese and even held out the possibility of a dialogue with them.
The talks gave the government definite political mileage, for unlike previous occasions, the Nagaland state elections were not boycotted by the opposition, even though pre-poll violence made evident that little had changed. Though the Centre says the climate is favourable towards a settlement, the NSCN(I-M), on its part, has threatened to pull out of the cease-fire if the Centre insisted on its disarming or if other Naga groups, especially the NSCN(Khaplang), were involved in negotiations. It has also refused to give up its claim to Naga inhabited areas of the Northeast, contradicting its own “Journey of Peace” statement last February.
It puzzles why the government insists on talking with NSCN(I-M) when its leaders now reside abroad and its cadre remains married to violence. The NSCN(I-M)’s link with other insurgent groups remains unalloyed, as seen in the recent spurt of violence between the Hmar Peoples Convention and a Dimasa group. In fact, the kid-glove treatment meted out to the NSCN(I-M) has led to the growth of other groups who see terrorism as profitable.
The NSCN(I-M) may have a large support base, but it still cannot be considered the most representative organization of the Nagas. The different factions of the Naga National Council continue to wield considerable influence among some Naga groups, as does the NSCN(K). The latter wields considerable control over other insurgent groups such as Manipur’s United National Liberation Front, Assam’s ULFA and National Democratic Front of Boroland and some smaller armed outfits under control of Dimasa, Hmar and Karbi extremists. The only problem is the NSCN(K)’s insistence on the inclusion of Naga-dominated areas of Myanmar in Nagaland.
It remains a moot point whether there can be any advancement in the peace process without the involvement of wider Naga groups including the National Naga Council, the church and the Naga Hoho who have a direct stake in peace and are understandably more aware of ground realities. But only the Mizo chief minister, Zorathamunga, seems to be aware of the need.
In 2001, the Naga Hoho coordination committee had been formed to strengthen the reconciliation process in Nagaland. The new Naga Peoples’ Front government also wishes to be involved in the process. For the present, the Centre has ruled this out. Moreover, S.C. Jamir, who has been accused of stymieing the peace process still wields considerable influence.