The NSCN Problem: A Long Road Ahead
When the British Government annexed Assam in the year 1826, The Naga Hills too became a part of it. The first signs of Naga revolt was seen in the formation of a group called the Naga Club in 1918, which called upon the Simon Commission in 1929 “to leave us alone to determine for ourselves as in ancient times”. The Naga National Council(NNC) was formed under the chairmanship of Angami Zapu Phizo, who declared Nagaland as an independent state on August 14, 1947. The NNC resolved to establish a “sovereign Naga state” and conducted a “referendum” in 1951, where 99 per cent of the population supported an “independent” Nagaland.
Movement to an Armed Rebellion
On March 22, 1952, Phizo formed the underground Naga Federal Government (NFG) and the Naga Federal Army (NFA). The Government of India (GOI) responded by sending the Army to crush the insurgency and enacted the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in 1958 which brought grave ramifications for the North-Eastern region.
When Did Peace Talks Start?
On June 29, 1947, Governor of Assam Akbar Hyderi signed a 9-point agreement with moderates T Sakhrie and Aliba Imti who wanted for a peaceful settlement of the issue. The agreement was immediately rejected by Phizo. The Naga Hills, which was a district of Assam, was given the status of a state in 1963, by also adding the region of Tuensang Tract that was then part of the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA). The following year, Assam Chief Minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha, Rev. Michael Scott and Jai Prakash Narain formed a Peace Mission, and got the GOI and NNC to sign an agreement to suspend operations. But the NNC, NFG, NFA and other groups continued to indulge in violence, and after six failed rounds of talks, the Peace Mission was abandoned in 1967 leading to counter insurgency operations by the Indian Army. The Dimapur based III Corps under the Eastern Army Command was tasked for this.
NSCN: A New Dimension in the Complex Naga Issue
On November 11, 1975, the government along with some NNC leaders signed the Shillong Accord, whereby the group decided to surrender their arms. At this juncture, a group of about 140 members led by Thuingaleng Muivah, refused to accept the terms of the Shillong Accord, and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. Muivah also had the companionship of Isak Chisi Swu and S S Khaplang with him. In 1988, the NSCN split into NSCN (I-M) and NSCN (K) after an internal revolt and power struggle. While the NNC began to fade away, the NSCN (I-M) and the NSCN (K) became the guiding force in the Naga insurgency operations. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) also declared the NSCN as an insurgent group.
NSCN (I-M) Demands
The NSCN (I-M) advocated for a “Greater Nagalim” comprising “all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas”, comprising the entire Nagaland, several districts of Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and also a large tract of Myanmar. The map of “Greater Nagalim” is about 1,20,000 sq km, while the actual area of the state of Nagaland is about 16,257 sq. km. Any move to change the dynamics of the border will intensify ethnic conflicts and insurgencies beyond Nagaland. The Nagaland Legislative Assembly in as many as five instances has openly endorsed the ‘Greater Nagalim’ demand — “Integration of all Naga-inhabited contiguous areas under one administrative umbrella” one of which was recently done in 2015. Apart from the demand for a Greater Nagalim, there are also demands for a separate flag and a constitution.
A map depicting region of 'Greater Nagalim'
Image Credits: The Economist
NSCN (I-M) Join for Peace Talks
Talks were first initiated by Prime Minister Rao in 1995. In fact, a meeting took place between PM Rao, Muivah and Swu in Paris the same year. Subsequently, Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee met them at successive venues to chalk out further strategies. On 25 July 1997, The Government of India signed a ceasefire agreement with NSCN (I-M) which came into effect on August 1, 1997. Over 80 rounds of talks were subsequently held between the two sides.
PM Modi’s Intervention
A framework agreement was signed on 3 August, 2015 by the Government of India and the NSCN (I-M) to end the seven decade old violent movement. It was signed by Government interlocutor R.N.Ravi on behalf of GOI and Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah on behalf of the NSCN (I-M) in the presence of the Hon’ble Prime Minister. It recognised the uniqueness of Naga history and culture. This was an important milestone considering that Nagaland was among the few states still facing insurgency and militancy, barring Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Other North Eastern states like Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram are now completely free from militancy.
Image Credits: The Wire
A new ray of hope in the Naga domain came with the appointment of R.N.Ravi as Governor of Nagaland in July 2019. There was optimisim among the Nagas that with the appointment of Mr.Ravi, the solution to the Naga issue would be resolved soon. But in October 2019, the Governor issued a statement blaming the “procrastinating attitude” of the NSCN (I-M) for the delay in a mutually conclusive comprehensive settlement. He also said the NSCN (I-M) demanded “imaginary contents” to the framework agreement referring to the ‘Naga national flag’ and ‘Naga Yezhabo (constitution)’. In June 2020, the NSCN (I-M) took offence to Governor’s letter to Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio in which he referred to them as “armed gangs” engaging in blatant extortion. This didn’t go down well with the NSCN (I-M). They reacted by demanding removal of Mr. Ravi as Governor but the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), a conglomerate of seven rival groups wanted him to stay.
One of the enduring legacies which still remains alive is the Mizo Peace Accord. It was a wonderful peace accord and one of the high points of India’s constitutional power and flexibility. Mizoram after experiencing 2 decades of miseries and hardships from insurgencies is today one of the most peaceful states in India, with one of the highest literacy rates. It was plagued with violence and anarchy during the 1960s and 1970s which was in response to lack of support by the government during the great famine (Mautam) in the late 1950s. A breakthrough was finally achieved when NSA Ajit Doval, who was then heading the IB unit of Mizoram branch won over six of seven of Mizo National Front (MNF) leader Laldenga’s commanders. Finally, a peace deal was reached during 1985 under the premiership of Rajiv Gandhi and Laldenga; and subsequently Mizoram attained full statehood in 1987.
Signing of Mizoram Peace Accord between Union Home Secretary R.D.Pradhan and MNF leader Laldenga Image Credits: thebetterindia.com
The Naga political issue has remained a bone of contention ever since India attained Independence. It also underlines the deep divide within the Naga political groups over the peace settlement. The question over” Greater Nagalim “still hangs in the balance. Will the Government of India accept the demands for a separate flag and constitution after revoking Article 370? The Naga issue presents us with unique and complex challenges which have to be ironed out with a mutually conclusive peace agreement. Otherwise, it will be too little, too late. Perhaps, the tiny state of Mizoram can teach us how the Indian State can turn insurgents into brothers.
By Avinash Burman (Guest Writer)
Avinash is a second year undergraduate majoring in Chemistry from Hindu College. His interests include keeping a check on current happenings, apart from being an avid reader of global politics and Indian jurisprudence. Avinash enjoys a good Netflix binge but can also be found discussing complicated political issues.
To Know More: