Naga Peace Pact: what does it mean?

Vested interest of officials, politicians, businessmen and local collaborators has been making optimum use of insurgency just to fill in their pockets

What does the latest Naga peace pact mean?

I have no illusion to suggest Modi single handedly mastered the peace-pact with a tough negotiator like Thuingaleng Muivah, the powerful leader of most potent Naga group National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM).

It all started in 1997 when I K Gujral was the prime minister with a ceasefire and even prior to that when H D Deve Gowda first met Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu at Zurich in 1997 and even prior to that when P V Narasimha Rao acknowledged as Prime Minister of India that the Naga issue was “political in nature” and required political solution.

Now, a formal peace accord has been signed. But what are the contents remain to be seen. The details are being worked out, say sources both in the government and outside.

Most peace parleys vis-à-vis insurgency can be complex. But the Naga insurgency has been really the mother of all complexities in recent times as Naga inhabit spread over the states of Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and also Myanmar.

In this context, comments from two important leadersThuingaleng Muivah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are more than crucial.

Muivah said in his brief remarks at the signing ceremony: ‘The Nagas can be trust worthy.”

Responding with equal enthusiasm, Prime Minister Modi said, “Unfortunately the Naga problem has taken so long …..because it is a legacy of British rule” and that the colonial masters spread “negative ideas” about the Nagas as part of their time-tested Divide and Rule policy. Both the statements – from Muivah and Modi – are based on historical reasons and thus frank and candid approach shown by the two leaders can go a long way in resolving country’s oldest insurgency problem.

Skeptics would be working overtime to compare the August 3, 2013 peace-pact with the Shillong Accord of 1975 when the original Naga rebellion group NNC split and NSCN was formed.

The ‘negotiations’ with the ultras commonly called the ‘Peace processes’ are generally highly complex with divergent interests coming into play. In the case of north east India, it’s fairly complex as no strait-jacket formula can be chosen as an ideal roadmap to resolve the insurgency problems.

In my book ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’, I had referred to ‘greater Nagaland debate’ as a ‘hanging fire.’ Perhaps it still remains.

Peace as a state of mind is not only tough but it also carries a price.

The Manmohan Singh government has its share of blame as during the last 10 years, it could not make any significant progress. And whenever it tried something, the move had boomeranged largely due to inherent contradictions within the Congress party.

People of northeastern India were stunned that the Congress chief minister of Manipur Ibobi Singh was not on the same page with a Congress-led regime in the centre. Ibobi Singh played partisan and parochial Meitei card when he opposed NSCN (IM) leader Thuingaleng Muivah’s visit to his native village something agreed in principle by the then Home Minister P Chidambaram.

Ibobi cleverly interpreted Muivah’s proposed visit to ‘greater Nagaland’ issue, undoubtedly a hanging fire, and thus Manipur state was in turmoil for weeks resulting in untold miseries for the people of Manipur.

Present Prime Minister Modi reportedly spoke to a galaxy of opposition leaders before the pact was signed. While that included his political rivals like Congress president Sonia Gandhi and M Karunanidhi, who will hardly make any difference to Naga peace process, the list made available to media do not include Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh. So, that area will remain in ‘grey’ for sometime as would be perhaps the case about other northeastern Chief Ministers.

So, what does the latest Naga peace pact mean?

Prime Minister Modi himself did try to provide a simplistic answer to that, “Today, we mark not merely the end of a problem, but the beginning of a new future.”

But this is easier said than done. English media and some other quarters would be working overtime to find fault with the pact even as the government is walking so cautiously.

From Manipur, a slight skepticism would be coming. But it is time to play calm and leave ‘crusader’ role in journalism for a while. Some Naga groups are yet to react even as a cautious optimism prevails even from Naga civil society.

Naga Hoho president P Chuba OZukum himself summed up the dilemma when he said, “We are happy and welcome the accord but we need to see its contents before making further comments.”

Former Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu rio has put it well in his sagacious appeal within minutes after the peace pact was inked. “The peace accord needs to be welcomed by all sections of the people and peace loving citizens. I am confident that it will bring genuine and lasting peace while strengthening the democratic foundations of the country. This is a great opportunity for all sections to come together and unite for the cause of peace and in the greater interest of the Naga people,” Rio said.

And, my final take may appear cryptic or harsh. But I mean it. There is no denying that vested interest of officials, politicians, businessmen and local collaborators has been making optimum use of insurgency just to fill in their pockets and use it as a spring bolt for greater political mileage. This chain ought to be broken.

(Nirendra Dev is a senior journalist with The Statesman, New Delhi and author of the book ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ among others)

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