The Federal units of the Union of India have been undergoing restructuring for 72 years now and there is no stopping of demands for the creation of newer states based on different identities. Though most of them have been solved and are under consolidation, the latest being Jammu and Kashmir, the Naga issue remains the oldest to be solved yet. The problem which saw the creation of the mother of all insurgencies is being hoped to be very near to its happy ending but the dragging of the Framework agreement of 2015 is proving otherwise.
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What is the Framework agreement of 2015?
- N. Ravi, the interlocutor for the Naga talks, told the parliamentary committee that it was a departure from earlier Naga’s position of “with India, not within India”.
- The “contours” had not been spelled out for the final accord in the framework agreement as it was “just about the recognition of the uniqueness of the Naga history by the Government of India”.
- The NSCN, the leading insurgent group, appreciated the Indian political system and governance.
- The NSCN-(IM) has been derecognized as a militant organization. The issues of Naga territory, AFSPA, Meitei are reportedly being considered.
- Despite more than 80 rounds of talks, there seems to be a deadlock in the way of a final accord. Many Naga demands as of now are unacceptable.
Recently there were reports of the near agreement over the final peace accord
What is the Naga issue about?
Nagas inhabit the area for ages. The demands trace back its roots to the British conquest of Assam. To understand the issue we must look into the following questions.
Who are the Nagas?
- In ethnically rich north-east India, the Nagas are a community that comprise several hundred tribes, like Aos, Angamis, Changs, Konyaks, Kukis, Lothas, etc
- The Naga community lives across the Naga hills covering the present-day states of Nagaland, some areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, along with the Naga hill areas of Myanmar
- They belong to the Indo-Mongoloid family.
- They claim sovereignty on the basis of the prior existence of it and differences.
What is the timeline of the demand and insurgency?
- The British had annexed Assam in 1826, from which they subsequently created the Naga Hills district
- The provision of an inner line permit was made as to the British thought it was futile to take direct control of the Naga hills.
- The signs of dissent appeared first with the formation of the Naga Club in 1918.
- The Naga club famously told the Simon commission in 1929 to “leave us alone to take care of ourselves like the ancient times”
- In 1946, the Naga leader A Z Phizo formed the Naga National Council (NNC) that declared Naga independence in 1947.
- In 1947, Assam Governor signed a 9-point agreement with moderates which was almost immediately rejected by Phizo.
- The NNC claimed to have successfully conducted a referendum on Naga independence in 1951.
- In the 1950s itself the Naga movement became violent over Naga sovereignty under Naga federal government-led Naga National Army by Phizo.
- It led to the enactment of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in 1958.
- The Naga hills were upgraded to a state also adding Tuensang in 1963.
- The Shillong Accord of 1975 led to giving up of arms by a section of the NNC.
- Formation and split of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN)
- A section under the three key members-Thuingaleng Muivah, Isak Chishi Swu, and SS Khaplang did not agree to the Shillong Accord.
- They formed NSCN in 1980 and started violent activities.
- The NSCN split into two groups – NSCN (Isak-Muivah) and the NSCN (Khaplang) in 1980 and 1988 respectively.
- The former faction was led by Isak Chishi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and their demand was to establish a Greater Nagalim based on Mao Zedong’s Chinese model.
- The Khaplang section wanted to establish Greater Nagalim based on ethnicity and the merging of Naga-dominated areas.
- Peace process
- After previous failed attempts peace talks started again with NSCN(IM) in 1995. The then Prime minister P V Narasimha Rao met Muivah, Swu, and others in Paris.
- Ceasefire Agreement (1997): The NSCN-IM signed a ceasefire agreement with the government.
- Five years later, Khaplang followed by declaring the cessation of hostilities with the government which led to an agreement
- Naga Framework Agreement or the Naga Peace Accord in 2015 was signed between the Government of India and the Naga armed groups headed by NSCN-IM.
What are the demands of Naga leaders?
The Naga leaders, though agreeing to work under the Indian Constitution, have put forth some difficult demands like-
- The greater Nagaland comprising all contagious Naga Inhabited areas. This includes districts of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and also large parts of Myanmar.
- A separate constitution
- A separate flag
- Absolute control over the land and resources.
What are the ill effects of the pending issue?
The insurgent groups run their own parallel governments They indulge in extortion of the Nagas, non-Nagas, the government and its employees.
- Life of the people
- The parallel governments extort around 20% of the income in the name of taxes.
- They indulge in kidnappings, killings of general people and government alike.
- The insurgent groups fight among themselves turning the area into a bloody battlefield
- The AFSPA
- The AFSPA has been a rallying point against the Union government.
- The misuse of the law in considerable cases has led to the muzzling of freedoms of the people.
- The Development Gap
- The insurgency and government response have led to the slow pace of development in the region.
- There is a dearth of investments, infrastructure, and connectivity.
What are the challenges to the Peace Process?
- The diversity within the tribes
- There are hundreds of Naga tribes with diversity in every aspect.
- The solution revolves around the Naga customary law. The traditional law is not codified. The tribes contest each other’s authority to deal under the customary law
- Any agreement of peace is contested by one or other tribe making it a never-ending process.
- The Greater Nagalim
- The definition of greater Nagalim contains areas of the adjacent states.
- They are not willing to cede their parts.
- The strength of militant groups
- The ceasefire has not affected the cadres and the strength of the militant groups.
- They still have been financed through the illicit drugs trade and smuggling.
- The current demands
- The demands of a separate constitution and flag are not acceptable.
- If accepted it could lead to similar demands by other ethnic groups
- The Framework Agreement
- It is devoid of any fixed agenda. It has not even been disclosed to the public.
- It has not been able to garner the support of all the groups. The Khaplang group has been violating the ceasefire.
What could be the possible solutions?
- A greater understanding of the issue, ethnicity, and the Naga civil society can lead to an all-encompassing solution.
- The maximum decentralization of powers with minimum central interference without a separate constitution must be the root.
- The Naga areas of other states can be given autonomous status like territorial councils.
- Financial autonomy and further constitutional safeguard of autonomy should be considered
- The social, political harmony of the region with forwarding links for the ultimate integration with the Indian national identity must be sought.
- The Northeastern council can play an important role in this process.
- The plan of gradual removal of the AFSPA act must be put forward given the insurgency is stopped.
- The Framework agreement must be rigorously debated and the talks process must not be let to fizzle out.
India is a nation with many strong subnational identities. They only make India a more rich and vibrant culture. The solution of outstanding issues can lead to a greater integration paving a way for development and prosperity of the culturally rich northeast.
Practice Question for Mains
The lasting solution to the Naga insurgency still seems a distant dream. Discuss with reference to the Framework agreement of 2015. (200 words)