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The govt may clinch a Naga deal. But are all Nagas with it?

Tapan Bose | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 9:10 IST
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The agreement

  • The Indian govt has signed a Framework Agreement with NSCN-IM
  • The contents of the agreement are shrouded in secrecy

The issues

  • The Naga movement has been calling for sovereignty of Naga people
  • The Naga society has also been vocal about cultural identity

More in the story

  • What are the creases to a solution to the Naga problem
  • What does the future hold

The 'Framework Agreement' signed by the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) established "broad principles" to guide future negotiations.

But the content of the agreement signed some three months ago is still secret. It will be made public only after the Centre discusses it with chief ministers of Northeastern states and members of Parliament. Even the Cabinet is not in the know.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present when the agreement was signed after some 80 rounds of talk. Maintaining that level of secrecy is not easy.

READ- Naga deal decoded: this could end India's longest insurgency

In fact, secrecy is the most distinguishing feature of the 18-year negotiation.

The NSCN-IM also hasn't told the Naga people what the agreement contains. The decision must have been taken at its highest level.

Many of the Naga civil society are unhappy with the secrecy. Some have even turned away from the NSCN-IM-sponsored "civil society consultations". Several are sceptical that New Delhi or the NSCN-IM will hold any consultation before sealing the deal.

What does the future hold?

Two aspects of the agreement are public:

  • The government seems to have accepted the "uniqueness of Naga history and culture".
  • The NSCN-IM accepted the primacy of the Constitution.

Since the signing of the agreement, RN Ravi - the Centre's interlocutor for the peace talks - has been visiting Nagaland and has held several meetings. The NSCN-IM met several Naga organisations, including the Naga Baptist Church.

Ravi seems particularly interested in assessing the views of Nagas on integration and the idea of a "Pan-Naga government" with "non-territorial" jurisdiction over Nagas even outside the current Nagaland state.

A lot of confusion persists on two critical issues: a) sovereignty and b) integration of the Naga ancestral domain.

A lot of confusion persists on two critical issues: sovereignty and integration of the Naga ancestral domain

Thuingaleng Muivah claimed the agreement stated "both sides respect the people's wishes for sharing sovereignty." He, however, added that "to what extent to share our rights to sovereignty" was yet be worked out.

From his comments, it appears shared sovereignty means divisions of "competencies" between the Centre and the new entity of Nagalim - both will exercise sovereign powers in their own domain.

NSCN-IM seems to have moved away from its earlier position: "We cannot accept the Indian Constitution" - Muivah said "we are not totally opposed to having some important sections of the Indian Constitution incorporated in the Naga Constitution."

A quick recap

The NSCN-IM proposed a framework at a December 2006 meeting with Indian representatives in Amsterdam. The proposals included recognising the uniqueness of Naga history and culture.

It suggested the relationship between India and Nagalim would be based on the principle of "asymmetric federalism", on the concept of shared sovereignty.

It also sought a separate Naga Constitution "within the framework of the Constitution of India" and recommended this be included "in a separate chapter".

ALSO READ- Jungle diary: Naga rebels celebrate their 'last Independence Day'

The NSCN-IM also wanted the agreement to divide competencies between the Union of India and Nagaland. The details were to be incorporated in both constitutions.

The idea of "shared sovereignty" is relatively new in political theory. It envisages a federal set-up where sovereignty is shared between the Centre and federating units. The federal government has limited powers over the units' internal affairs. It also considers dual citizenship.

Under the Indian Constitution, the states do not enjoy internal sovereignty and it does not grant dual citizenship. Not even under Article 370 (for Jammu and Kashmir).

Individual civil rights and political rights are well-articulated in the Indian Constitution. But it is difficult to define its approach towards collective rights, particularly ethno-cultural diversity.

Like most modern rationalist states, India has not been "neutral" on ethno-cultural issues. Its response to the demands of highly mobilized identities premised on cultural factors, often demanding autonomy, has been rather ad hoc. Responses have ranged from conceding minority cultural rights to denial of all such claims.

The NSCN-IM wants Nagas to be recognised as a separate people on these grounds:

  • A distinct culture
  • A distinct religion
  • A history that has nothing to do with the history of India

The question is to what extent will India's government and political parties accept such a position.

The question of sovereignty

The demand for an independent Naga homeland including all ancestral homeland was first raised by the Naga National Council (NNC) led by Angami Zapu Phizo. It declared an independent Naga State on 14 August, 1947 and set up the "Federal Government Nagaland".

Since then Naga armed groups have been locked in fierce battles. Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives and suffered human rights violation, including torture, rape, destruction of homes, villages and towns.

Now after nearly seven decades, the NSCN-IM asks Nagas to accept the "primacy of Indian Constitution". Reportedly, the organisation's demand for sovereignty has been "addressed".

Have Nagas accepted this?

Sections of Nagas seem to be willing to give up the demand for sovereignty. The 18-year-long ceasefire has changed minds, particularly in Nagaland. At least two generations of Nagas have come of age without experiencing 'freedom struggle' and the brutal Armed Forces Special Power Act.

But Muivah knows that sections of the older generation - with substantial authority over Nagas - might do what he did after the Shilong Accord.

Giving up the sovereignty issue also mean:

  • Abandoning 10 Naga tribes in Myanmar to their fate.
  • Accepting a division of the homeland, of tribes and families.

The Nagas have never accepted this, despite the international border. In the Framework Agreement, there is no mention of what the Nagas call Eastern Naga or Naga-inhabited areas inside Myanmar. Clearly, NSCN-IM has given up the Nagas in Myanmar.

The other NSCN

The Naga civil society hasn't completely accepted the marginalisation of the Myanmar-based Khaplang faction (NSCN-K). Its 4 June ambush of the Dogra Regiment in Manipur shows it will continue to demonstrate its presence.

This is why the civil society stresses on trying to get the outfit back on to the road to peace. The Naga Mother's Association went and met with leaders of the Khaplang faction across the border. The All-Naga Hoho are preparing to send another delegation.

READ MORE- Peace process hits roadblock: govt bans Naga insurgent group NSCN (K)

The Naga National Council, its various factions and the break-away group of the Khaplang faction may not pose any serious security threat, But the NSCN-K will continue to be a problem, particularly as long as the issue of Nagas in Myanmar is not settled.

The question of integration

Muivah did not address the issue of integration directly while speaking at the 69th 'Naga Independence Day' in Dimapur. Integration of all ancestral domain is a demand that has figured in the succession of peace agreements.

More than a a million of Nagas live in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Their exclusion from Nagaland created instability and reinforced violence. At that time, Manipur and Arunachal were under central control - redrawing state boundaries would have been less of a democracy flashpoint.

NSCN-IM wants Nagas to be recognised as a separate people with distinct culture, religion and history

Muivah said the Framework Agreement would pave the way for a final accord. While promising "Nagas will have their rights", he added "we should also respect the rights of the neighbouring states."

That is an interesting twist, interpreted by many as giving up a core demand - integration.

In fact, Modi indicated that the final solution rested on a breakthrough formula without redrawing state borders.

The conclusion

The ceasefire and peace process provided security and freedom to the Naga civil society. They interacted with insurgents, often on equal terms and sometimes even questioned them - unthinkable earlier.

The ceasefire-crafted peace brought in economic development and improved education, Market economy penetrated deeper, breaking down the traditional control of Naga elders. A large number of the youth now work outside the state.

The sense of a "separate Naga identity" has been faltering across Nagaland. There are signs of Naga politics moving from ethno-centricity to a multi-ethnic identity. But ethnic and tribal affinity are still crucial.

While those affinities form the core of the demand for integration, it is driven more by the promise of rights and entitlement in a greater Nagalim.

Giving up the demand for sovereignty and diluting the demand for integration puts NSCN-IM in a challenging position.

It has to now explain how the non-territorial Pan-Naga government will protect and promote the culture, social practices and tradition of Nagas under the jurisdiction of other states.

The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.

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First published: 17 November 2015, 4:46 IST
 
Tapan Bose @catchnews

Tapan Bose is Secretary General, South As‎ia Forum for Human Rights.

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