While the world’s attention is focused on Jammu and Kashmir following the Indian government’s abrogation of Article 370 , the move there could throw a spanner in the ongoing peace talks with the most dominant insurgent, Naga group.

India has been negotiating with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), a group that was born out of one of India’s oldest insurgencies. Better known as the NSCN (IM), the Naga insurgent group was at “war” with India until a ceasefire was arranged two decades ago. The peace talks are in their final phase and authorities say that a permanent accord is close at hand.

India’s move on Article 370 has now created more complexities for the proposed Naga peace accord.

Naga separatist groups were already concerned about the delay in reaching an agreement to end the decades-old insurgency. But the Narendra Modi-led government’s move on August 5 this year to bifurcate the state of Jammu and Kashmir into union territories has created major misgivings among the Naga leadership.

Jammu and Kashmir had a separate flag, a constitution and a special status, which is exactly what the Nagas are now seeking from India in return for their signing a peace accord. This puts Indian interlocutors in a quandary since they cannot adopt different standards for dealing with separate insurgencies.

Following the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s “special status,” the NSCN-IM issued a statement last week saying that the Naga community will not merge with the Union of India, but will coexist with India as a separate entity. They also added that the community no longer recognizes the Indian constitution.

“The Nagas will not merge into the Union of India, but they will co-exist with the Union of India as two entities,” a press release from the NSCN (IM) said. “Nagas are a recognized entity. Nagas do not accept Indian Constitution, but Nagas and Indians will share sovereign powers based on competencies.”

NSCN (IM) further called upon the Naga community to “seize the opportunity” for a solution to the Indo-Naga political problem, and said every possible way must be explored for such a solution, The Morung Express reported.

The oldest insurgents

On August 14, 1947, the Naga National Council declared independence. The insurgency thus begun has continued to now. Despite creation of a separate state of Nagaland in 1963, the then federal government was unable to quell the rebellion.

In 1975, the Shillong Agreement was signed, under which the council accepted the Indian constitution. However, prominent leaders – Th. Muivah and Isak Swu – revolted against the agreement, calling it a “sellout.” They then decided to form the National Socialist Council of Nagaland in 1980. But the NSCN then split into two factions due to internal leadership differences in 1988.

After this split, by 1997 the NSCN (IM) led by Th. Muivah became the largest and the most dominant separatist group. It had a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government, which led to the initiation of talks with the prime minister.

But this agreement was criticized, as local politicians were not involved. The agreement also legitimized NSCN (IM), a banned outfit. NSCN later disregarded the terms of the agreement which included no forceful collection of funds, no intimidation of locals and no recruitment into NSCN (IM). That disregard led to weakening of local governance. Lack of accountability added to rampant corruption.

In 2015, under Modi’s regime, the negotiations were re-started under the leadership of RN Ravi, a career intelligence officer who dealt with the Nagas extensively as a member of the Intelligence Bureau. After retiring as a special director, he was appointed chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and made a special interlocutor on the Naga issue. Recently he was appointed governor of Nagaland.

Despite the revival of negotiations, in 2018 the Indian Army destroyed three NSCN (IM) camps during an operation in Motongsa village of Arunachal Pradesh.

In a parliamentary standing committee in July last year, the federal government announced that a framework agreement had been signed with the rebel group, after it agreed on a settlement within the Indian federation with a “special status.” But the details of the agreement were not made public.

RN Ravi said that while details had not been worked out, the framework agreement was “just about the recognition of the uniqueness of the Naga history by the Government of India.” In addition, the NSCN had accepted that the “boundaries of the states will not be touched” and “some special arrangements would be made for the Nagas, wherever they are.”

In search of peace

With an aging leadership, and knowing what challenges face an independent Nagaland, Nagas are aware of the advantages of being a part of a growing economy. Moreover, NSCN (IM)’s forced tax collection and vigilante justice in the past have turned many against the group. This has left the rebel organization virtually devoid of local support.

As for the concerns regarding the “special status” given to most of the northeastern states under Article 371 of the Constitution, union Home Minister Amit Shah assured them that the government will not scrap the article. “Article 371 is not a temporary provision like Article 370 was. It is a special provision. We respect that and will not tamper with it,” Shah said during the 68th Plenary Session of the North Eastern Council in Assam.

“I have clarified in Parliament that this is not going to happen and I am saying it again today in the presence of eight chief ministers of the Northeast that both the Articles are different and the center will not touch Article 371.”

The land and resources of Nagas of Nagaland are protected under Article 371A, the former interlocutor and now governor of Nagaland also assured the them.

“Some people have expressed apprehensions over the implications of development in Jammu & Kashmir on Nagaland. I would like to categorically assure you all that you don’t have to worry at all. Article 371A is a solemn commitment to the People of Nagaland. It is a sacred commitment. We are trying hard to conclude the on-going political process at a very advanced stage.”

Several organizations in Nagaland celebrated the 73rd Naga independence day on August 14 and urged people to hoist the Naga national flag. The assurances by the government don’t seem to be enough, as they have reverted to their original stance of “with India, not within India.”

Reports suggest that Modi had given Ravi a deadline  to conclude the peace talks. Time would be up in October. However it is unclear if a resolution is close at hand or this is simply a bluff by the government.