Why Modi's historic peace deal won't end Nagaland's problems

There are several armed factions that will need to be accommodated before the issue can be resolved.

 |  4-minute read |   07-08-2015
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Little is known about the details of the Centre's "accord" with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim - Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), but there can be little doubt that coming after nearly 18 years of negotiations under ceasefire, this is a historic development. That it has happened under the leadership of Narendra Modi, with RN Ravi as the Centre's interlocutor, and national security advisor Ajit Doval as the less-than-hidden hand, is to the credit of the current dispensation. Nevertheless, it is useful to recognise that this is, at best, the last step in a journey in which several successive regimes had already covered many miles. Crucially, moreover, it is far from a conclusive resolution of the "Naga problem". While this deal is certainly historic in its significance, it is not the end of troubles in Nagaland. There are still several armed factions that will need to be accommodated before the Nagaland problem can be said to have been resolved, and at least some of these will be tempted to escalate violence in the immediate future, partially to increase their leverage in future negotiations, and partly to occupy the militant space purportedly vacated by the NSCN-IM, as a result of its accord with the government.

The Congress' rather strident criticism of the accord has been both churlish and mischievous, and does not need to be taken seriously. Indeed, it is useful to reiterate that the present agreement would necessarily reflect a continuity of efforts and underlying principles established under previous regimes. Moreover, the NPA government did not "take the states into confidence" any more than the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has, and that is the nature of such negotiations. That this is "insulting to the states and people of the Northeast", as Sonia Gandhi provocatively suggests, is nonsense. While the details of the deal will inevitably be shared, clearly, it cannot contain elements that would compromise the interests and territorial integrity of the neighbouring states, unless the principal state interlocutors and everyone in the central government have completely lost their minds. The NPA's problem was "sour grapes", because it wasn't able to push the deal to a conclusion during its tenure - though they were many occasions when a settlement was believed to be tantalisingly within reach.

The accord is expected to contain the basic provisions that have crystallised over the years, specifically, that the immediate deal will relate only to the territory of Nagaland, and that other territorial claims like that of "Greater Nagalim" will be resolved consensually through dialogue with neighbouring states. It is likely that the deal will pave the way to an election where the NSCN-IM or a successor political party will be facilitated to secure power through polls.

There will now have to be a renewed focus on what the other Naga factions are likely to do. This deal will overwhelmingly favour NSCN(IM), and, at the same time, vacate a vast dissenting space which other groups - most significantly NSCN-K, but also the lesser formations, such as NSCN (Khole-Kitovi), NSCN-Reformation, NSCN-Reunification, Naga National Council (NNC), Zeliangrong Revolutionary Army, among others - will attempt to occupy. Further, the possibilities of a split within NSCN(IM) cannot be ruled out. It was, itself, born out of a peace deal: the Shillong Accord that the government had with the NNC in 1975, which some elements refused to accept, and came to create the then unified NSCN. When the loaves and cakes have been distributed, there will be many who feel they have lost out; it remains to be seen what they would do. The deal with the NSCN(IM) is also of critical importance for the insurgencies across the Northeast, because the group had become an opportunistic facilitator for a number of other insurgent formations in the region, and all these will suffer as a consequence of the loss of underground support from the NSCN(IM) faction. This may, however, mean that NSCN-Khaplang will gain in influence. Nevertheless, the much larger infrastructure and capacities of the NSCN(IM) group would now, hopefully, be lost to the other surviving insurgencies in the region as well.

Crucially, the present agreement is likely to be no more than a basic "framework" agreement, spelling out the principles of concrete settlement. Vexing issues, among others, of dismantling the NSCN(IM) camps, of demobilising and disarming its armed cadre, of dismantling the parallel security, administration and taxation networks long operated by the NSCN(IM), will remain to be hammered out, and will not be easy to address, particularly since NSCN(IM) cadres are likely to plead that unless all other groups are disarmed they will need to retain their capacities to defend themselves. Such a position, however, would lead to a perpetuation of an unacceptable status quo on the ground.


Ajai Sahni Ajai Sahni @satpicm

Executive Director, Institute for Conflict Management

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