Any solution must be time bound

Any solution must be time bound

Any solution must be time bound

The latest Naga accord signed between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) is a milestone in the six-decade long history of the conflict which began on August 14, 1947, when the Nagas declared themselves to be an independent nation.

 The Nagas led by the Naga National Council (NNC) under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo claimed that they were never a part of British India and that they wish to preserve their unique culture and way of life.

 On May 16, 1951, the NNC held a referendum in which 99.9 per cent of the Nagas voted for independence. Many Nagas who could not sign put their thumb impressions in their blood. The NNC reminded the Centre that Gandhiji had promised them that they could choose not to be a part of the Indian Union when they met him in June 1947. NSCN leader Muivah, while signing the latest accord, reminded the audience of that promise.

 By 1952, Phizo had formed the Naga Federal Government and Naga Army. Thus began an intense and bitter Indo-Naga conflict. The Indian government responded by passing the infamous Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in 1958. The period between 1952 and 1964 saw large scale human rights violations by the Indian armed forces right across the Naga inhabited areas.

 The Church took the initiative and appointed a three-member committee to negotiate for a ceasefire. The team consisted of Jayprakash Narayan, then Assam chief minister Chaliha and Rev Michael Scott, a missionary. However, the peace process failed, in large part due to the Centre’s refusal to respect the Nagas. The interlocutor who was appointed by Lal Bahadur Shastri was a journalist, Harish Chandola, who was married to Phizo’s niece. He has written a long account of how the peace process was subverted by intelligence agencies.

 By this time, Isak and Muivah had contacted the Chinese and led several hundred troops through the jungles of Burma (now Myanmar) to China where they were welcomed by the Chinese and given training. They carried back sophisticated arms to continue their struggle against India.

 The Indian intelligence agencies managed to garner the support of the educated Naga government servants and through the process of negotiations reached another accord called the 16-point agreement which finally led to the creation of the state of Nagaland in 1961. This accord was condemned by many in the NNC because it resulted in the division of Nagas into different administrative units: the vast majority of Nagas lived outside Nagaland.

Human rights violations

As human rights violations continued and people suffered, the Naga leaders felt compelled to sign an accord called the Shillong accord. It was signed by members of the NNC and the Centre in 1975, during the Emergency.  Isak and Muivah called the accord a betrayal. This resulted in a long period of bitter fighting between those who supported the accord and those who condemned it. Finally, in 1980 Isak, Muivah and Khaplang announced the formation of a new organisation called the NSCN.

The NSCN trained many other insurgent groups in the North East. But the NSCN did not attack civilian targets and were respected for their discipline. However, over time, the lack of political ideology, splits within the organisation - often engineered by the intelligence agencies - and the changing international scenario, both Indians and Nagas knew the time was ripe for negotiations.

Then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao made an effort to contact the Naga leaders and they met in Paris on June 15, 1995. The United Front government announced that the NSCN and Indian government had reached an agreement by which there would be a ceasefire and also the beginning of a peace process. From 1997 to 2015, the Naga leaders patiently negotiated with their Indian counterparts. There were times when the Nagas felt that India had betrayed them. Indians, too, were frustrated by the Nagas’ continued links with the Chinese.

The contents of the latest accord are not known. The cautious Naga leaders have invited a team of international law experts who will be meeting soon to discuss the provisions of the accord. Though a milestone, it does not say how long will it take to reach the destination.

(The writer is a lawyer and has represented Nagas in courts in India and abroad. She has written extensively on the conflict and has been involved in the Indo-Naga peace process)

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