“Let’s hope for the best,” is what people in Nagaland are saying as negotiations continue between Nationalist Social Council of Nagaland, Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and Centre over the ‘sensitive’ Naga political issue. Both sides will spend the next few days under immense pressure as the October 31 deadline looms, though a further extension is still desired by some organisations and individuals. The last round of talks ended inconclusively in New Delhi on October 24 with NSCN-IM remaining steadfast in its demand for a separate Naga national flag and constitution.
“It is a very sensitive issue, and the ball is in the court of Government of India. We too want a solution at the earliest, but if the government wants the best for Nagas, they should give more time - not to create confusion or complications, but only if there are signs of a positive outcome,” said a senior leader of one of the NSCN factions on condition of anonymity.
However, he approved the way the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) have dealt with the issue. It has been 22 years since talks between NSCN-IM and the government officially began in 1997. In August 2015, the Union government signed a framework agreement to seek a final solution with IM. The seven NNPGs joined the talks later by signing a ‘Deed of Commitment’ with the government in 2017.
“This is people’s movement. People should unite and stand together, no one should be left out. The only obstacle now is IM’s demand for separate flag and constitution. But they might also not stick to their demand. I expect a positive outcome on October 31…The NNPGs are very sincere and serious about it. Things should be okay. Let’s hope for the best,” he added.
In Kohima, people are going about their business despite fear and apprehension over the talks. Many are busy stocking up on ration imagining a worst-case scenario.
“Everyone is waiting to see what will happen - hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. Most of the people are not aware of the talks and what’s going on, and are making extreme assumptions. They have never seen the movement of army convoys to this extent before,” said Loreni Tsanglao, a local resident of Kohima.
People are, however, also wary of the landslides affecting road connectivity along Dimapur-Kohima route, which is considered to be the lifeline of the people in Nagaland. “This could be another reason for panic,” remarked Tsanglao.
A day after the latest round of negotiations on Thursday, 17 NSCN-IM members including one its top leaders, former kilo kilonser Hukavi Yeputhomi quit the group to join the Working Committee of the NNPGs, stating that they did it “on their own volition and with a clear conscience”.
“When people are tired, they want a solution. These are times that even a leader should listen to the voice of the people. There are hard bargainers in politics, but at the age of 85, Th Muivah (NSCN-IM chief) should understand that the Government of India have shown seriousness in the issue. This is the right time, the right situation to see a conclusion. They were against the 16-point Agreement, the Shillong Accord in 1975 – they cannot repeat history. In the 21
st century, the political scenario is totally different. An armed confrontation will not bring any solution,” said the senior NSCN leader, also being critical of the disunity among the Nagas.
“Today, if leaders say Nagas are one, we have to prove to the world the oneness of the Nagas – but in reality, do we see that? This brings about a lot of setbacks. The Naga reconciliation process went on for 45 years, but politically it could not be materialized. Had the reconciliation been positive, if Nagas would have come together, the situation would have been very different today - of course, the Nagas of Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur can’t be part of this solution,” he added, stating that NGOs and civil societies should not be biased and speak in the interest of the Naga people.
A consultative meeting of 14 apex tribal Hohos of Nagaland and other civil societies with the Talks Interlocutor and Nagaland Governor RN Ravi was held on October 18. Reportedly, some of the senior citizens present in the meeting had pleaded for restraint and a reasonable time extension so that – each of the Tribal Hoho chiefs could go back to their respective tribes and garner a voice of the majority on the issue. They wanted time to be given to the various factions to speak to the Naga people and time to confront the NSCN-IM to come up with an explanation on the issues of Naga constitution and flag and the ‘competency clauses’.
“Why is the government trying to impose its will upon the Naga people? In the past 22 years of political negotiation, both parties were not in a position to disclose the contents of the Framework Agreement or the Competency Clauses – and even if they did, people are not expected to memorize everything. Why is the government running out of patience when people are left in such a confused state? If not a flag or constitution, what is the best option?”
“Enough time should be given to think over and study everything thoroughly, discuss every point in a proper platform to come up with a conclusion – that is what we deserve, and no party should backtrack from the agreed principle,” said Chuba Ozukum, former president of Naga Hoho.
The Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) is not happy with the way they have been “sidelined” by the government on peace talks.“We made our contribution to peacebuilding for so many years, and in the last moment, the government, the Talks Interlocutor sidelined us – how can we be happy? When we talk of inclusiveness, everyone should be on board, and more time is desired. If there can be a peaceful solution, nothing like it,” said Abeiu Meru, NMA President.