Peace talks are often prolonged affairs, but that is no reason for losing hope. It would be premature to assume that the latest round of talks between New Delhi and the leading faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim will finally end India’s longest ethnic insurgency. The two sides have been engaged in such negotiations for over 15 years and still struggle to agree on some crucial issues. The two most intractable issues relate to the rebels’ demands for ‘sovereignty’ and for the ‘integration of all Naga-inhabited areas’ in the Northeast. It is not difficult to see why these two issues have proved to be so tough to resolve. New Delhi cannot afford to accept one part of India as having a ‘sovereign’ status simply because the Indian Constitution provides for no such thing. It is also inconceivable that the Constitution will be amended in order to create such a provision. More important, allowing a part of the country to have a ‘sovereign’ status of any kind will open a Pandora’s box. The demand for the inclusion of all Naga-inhabited areas in the so-called Greater Nagaland requires the boundaries of several other states in the region to be redrawn. This could be a sure recipe for worse strife in the region, as other states vehemently oppose the idea.
However, the Naga peace talks are too important to be mixed up with lesser issues such as next year’s assembly elections in Nagaland. It would be a huge achievement for both sides of the peace talks if a peace agreement is reached before the polls. Durable peace in Nagaland will be a great leap forward for democracy not only in Nagaland but also in the entire region. But the peace process has far greater stakes than yet another election in the state can have. It would thus be wrong for the Centre to push the peace process to meet any deadline. The NSCN group, led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, has generally honoured the terms of the ceasefire agreement. It should take a realistic view of the issues involved in the peace talks. While a deadline for an agreement may be unrealistic, it will certainly not help the peace process if it drags on indefinitely. There are indications that the talks have reached a crucial stage. It is absolutely essential that the momentum is not lost. It is one thing to ask for certain ‘special rights’ for the Nagas living in different states. It is quite another to confuse such rights with territorial or other kinds of ‘sovereignty’.