The lament that is making the rounds in observed circles of the North East is that “if New Delhi cannot even find a reasonable resolution to the Naga problem which completed 25 years of cessation of hostilities on 1 August 2022, lesser groups would certainly be caught in a bigger traffic jam”. Indeed, the dialogue process with the NSCN (IM) has become murkier. Even as the sad dust that pertained to RN Ravi’s untimely ouster from the positions of both the governorship of Nagaland and interlocutorship has not yet settled, there are murmurs that all is not well with even the new beginning that has been sought to be anvilled by New Delhi.
The present situation seems to be one that is characterised by mistrust. The latest pertains to a press statement emanating from the NSCN (IM)’s Camp Hebron which alleges that Indian security forces are attempting to scuttle the Naga peace process. The communiqué dated 25 September 2022 states that 39 Assam Rifles posted in Nungba and 87 Battalion of the CRPF stationed in Kambiron were planning to plant an IED at the site of a renovation programme of a memorial in Jadonang in Manipur’s Tamenglong district. It states that a person by the name of Thiyam Ashok Singh of Kongba Leikai, Imphal, was detained by the womenfolk of Puiluan village on 24 September and that on questioning Thiyam admitted to the fact that it was he who planted the IED on the village junction of Puiluan and National Highway 37.
Although the episode and the manner in which it has unfolded smells of NSCN (IM) subterfuge, perhaps with the motivation that certain Assam Rifles units should be removed from the areas as they have begun to actively resist aspects such as extortion in the area, the fact of the matter is that there is unrest in a region when there should have been an atmosphere which is conducive to the ongoing peace process. The atmosphere is volatile to say the least and could — if care is not taken — careen out of control.
But why has there been no confidence building by New Delhi after a fresh start was made? While it is understood that aspects such as separate flag, constitution and the problem pertaining to a greater Nagalim are vexed issues, it must be comprehended that such issues should not be allowed to derail the most important peace process in the enchanted frontiers.
As a matter of fact, the most contentious issue should be discussed when the beginning of the end is in sight and not right at the beginning when a stalemate can overcome other aspects pertaining to the dialogue process. Indeed, there has to be charity from both sides and the aspects that the new interlocutor, AK Mishra, should have concentrated on were to regain the trust. Furthermore, New Delhi should institute a robust follow-up mechanism by appointing a high-powered peace committee headed by people of high integrity and proven record — and, of course, someone who is trusted and well received in the North East.
The manner in which the present peace process is progressing seems to be one which is limping along without attempting to comprehend the realities. Is it known, for instance, that the NSCN (IM) has a formidable strength in the Somra Tracts of Myanmar? And, that owing not only to the geographical contiguity it has with the Ukhrul district of Manipur but the 34 Tangkhul villages that peoples the region, the NSCN (IM) cadres billeted in camps such as Ngacham, Heirenkot, Yowpi Mayinlon, Koki and Somra might decide to continue with the rebellion even if the Nagas inside India come into an understanding with New Delhi. These are certainly aspects that the Indian intelligence from Manipur must have relayed to New Delhi, but for some reason or the other has seen little action on the ground. Instead suspicion — as was witnessed in Tamenglong district recently — has only grown.
The Nagas, despite the single banner of Hebron that they are presently purportedly under, have their own distinct identities. This is particularly so in the case of the Nagas of Manipur and, of course, their brethren in Somra Tracts. Some of the dissonances between the Nagas of Nagaland and the rest are apparent. Former Home Secretary GK Pillai had stated during the course of a discussion organised by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi (‘Who Sets the Table: Negotiated Sovereignty and the Indo-Naga Relationship’; 2 May 2016): “One crucial unifying factor for the Nagas was the strong self-consciousness of being a distinct and separate set of people. But, within that, some Naga groups see themselves as superior to other groups. In such a scenario, equal power-sharing becomes a challenge”. There has to be, therefore, comprehension of such sage articulation and embark upon correct recalibration exercise.
Prolongation of the ceasefire without concrete measure such as the one recommended is engendering a sense of not only disquiet among the Nagas, but is also acted as “stalling-strategy” for militant outfits that have been waiting in the wings to enter into dialogue.
The author is a conflict analyst and author of several bestselling book on security and strategy. Views expressed are personal.