Yet another round of talks between Nationalist Social Council of Nagaland, Isak-Muivah faction (NSCN-IM) and the Centre ended inconclusively in New Delhi on October 24. Even as the Centre had set a three-month deadline to find a solution to the vexed Naga political issue, the long-drawn-out negotiations are likely to continue beyond October 31, an NSCN-IM leader said.
“It will be extended, and there will be further consultations,” confirmed the NSCN-IM leader who participated in the talks.
Both the Centre and NSCN-IM are maintaining their stand over the latter’s demand for a separate Naga national flag and Constitution. These issues were reportedly raised during the meeting at the Parliament Annexe building, but no progress could be made.
As the two sides met, there was apprehension building up among people in Nagaland, and other parts of Northeast. Talks between the NSCN-IM and the Government of India have entered the 22nd year. Both sides believe there could be a pathway to a possible deal in the interest of the Nagas, but serious challenges are still in place.
“IM is the dominant force in contention. Get them on board, the national highway will be less bumpy,” said retired IAS officer KK Sema while referring to the collection of ‘taxes’ on trade and commerce, or extortion that is rampant in Nagaland.
“There is no doubt that the common man is tired of the sustained taxation for over half a century and do want an early solution. It should, however, be done with the honest endorsement of the stakeholders on board,” he added.
Earlier on October 15, a discussion on the issue of taxation and ceasefire ground rules was held between NSCN-IM leaders and the chairman of the Ceasefire Monitoring Group (CFMG), Nagaland, Lieutenant General Shokin Chauhan in Kohima. Though the meeting on ceasefire monitoring ended on a ‘positive note’, NSCN-IM maintained that 'legitimate taxation' would continue.
“They mentioned about extortion, which is actually legitimate taxation by a legitimate government, and it is of a political nature,” said Karibo Chawang, member of the NSCN-IM Ceasefire Monitoring Cell to News 18.
The NSCN-IM, considered to be the ‘mother of all insurgent groups’ in Northeast has been unofficially in talks with the Government of India since 1994 as the key negotiator. The formal talks began only in 1997, which initially took place at different parts of the world before New Delhi and Nagaland.
In August 2015, the Indian government signed a framework agreement to seek a final solution with NSCN-IM. The Centre had officially extended the scope of talks with six Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) by signing a ‘Deed of Commitment’ two years ago.
“The Framework Agreement is a cleverly crafted document that is open to definition depending on which side of the fence one belongs. Therefore, just as much as NSCN-IM has been playing around with words like the “Unique history of Nagas” and “shared sovereignty”, so is the Government of India,” said KK Sema.
A consultative meeting of 14 apex Tribal Hohos of Nagaland and other civil societies with the talks Interlocutor and Governor of Nagaland, RN Ravi, was held on October 18. Sema said that it was in this meeting that senior citizens had pleaded for restraint and a reasonable time extension so that – each of the Tribal Hoho could go back to their respective tribes and garner the tribal 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’.
Prior to the day-long talks, prayer services were held at various churches across the state seeking “Naga unity” at a crucial juncture.
“We must pray that God will deliver us from the worse situation imaginable…Prayer is our best weapon now. Let us believe that even at this point of uncertain moment, God can do the impossible,” said Rev Dr Zelhou Keyho, General Secretary of Nagaland Baptist Church Council (NBCC) while calling upon all to hold daily and weekly prayer services.
The Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) chose to draw attention to the voice of Naga women in the process of peace building, and appealed to the different Naga political groups to unitedly speak for “a solution that brings sustainable peace to the Nagas and our children”.
However, the NMA also raised objection to their exclusion along with other civil society groups like the Naga Students Federation (NSF), the Naga Hoho (NH), and the Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) from the peace process.
Elsewhere in Manipur, where the Nagas have a sizeable population and the Meiteis (Manipuris) have already made it clear that the final Naga accord should not hurt Manipur’s interests, the worries were about the state’s territorial integrity. Women in Imphal took out a protest march on Thursday to assert that the Naga agreement must not affect the territorial integrity of Manipur.