Nagaland: Elusive Reconciliation and Lingering Peace Process
Despite substantial progress in the peace talks between New Delhi and the armed groups of Nagaland over the last five years, there are still uncertainties over finalising a permanent peace agreement. The second round of negotiations over a peace agreement with the Naga insurgent groups, including the NSCN-IM (Isak-Muivah), was initiated by New Delhi in 2015. But that appears to be in trouble since October 31, 2019. A fresh informal attempt by the Union Government in this regard with the NSCN-IM in August 2020 in New Delhi also has not moved in the right direction. While the central government has managed to address the grievances of other seven illegal Naga armed groups, who are willing to sign a permanent peace agreement, the NSCN-IM, one of the largest, oldest and well-organised armed groups of Nagaland, has remained adamant on its demand to have a separate flag and a constitution.
The Nagaland insurgency is one of the oldest political conflicts in India. It started around 1946 with the formation of the Naga National Council (NNC) under Phizo's leadership. The objective of the NNC was to set up an independent Nagaland based on the predominant presence of Naga tribes in the adjacent areas, including Myanmar. As the movement progressed, the NNC got fragmented into different factions based on ideology, leadership, interests and external influences. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM) was formed on January 31, 1980, by Isak Chishi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and S. S. Khaplang. They wanted to establish a 'Greater Nagaland' ('Nagalim' or the People's Republic of Nagaland) based on Mao Tse Tung's model. This outfit witnessed a split by Khaplang faction in April 1988. In 1997, the NSCN (IM) signed a ceasefire agreement and started a dialogue with the Union Government. The first round of ceasefire agreement ended without any solution after several rounds of dialogue until 2014.
The purpose of the August 2020 meeting was primarily to resolve differences between New Delhi and NSCN-IM over these two contentious issues demand for a separate flag and a constitution. The NSCN-IM leaders also expressed their dissatisfaction over the role of interlocutor, the governor of the state R. N. Ravi. After a series of informal meetings with senior IB officials in August 2020, the outfit issued a public statement against the governor as well. Besides, on September 5, 2020, the NSCN leaders blamed New Delhi for creating confusion, division and creating fear psychosis and threat perception amongst the Nagas.
Reasons for NSCN (IM) dissatisfaction
All this brewed perhaps due to dissatisfaction and marginalisation of the NSCN-IM from the peace talks since 2015. First, the NSCN-IM, as the largest and most organised outfit, which has been fighting for a greater Nagaland since 1947, was perhaps dissatisfied with the central government's approach of having parallel peace talks with other armed groups of Nagaland. Second, the NSCN-IM felt that New Delhi's similar approach had diluted its core demand of having a greater Nagalaim with a separate flag and a constitution. Other armed groups think that development and peace are more important than a flag and a constitution. Third, the NSCN-IM had called the October 2019 deadline for a final peace agreement "unethical", and it questioned Nagaland Governor N Ravi's attempt at "rushing" the talks.
Since the outfit could not express its dissatisfaction over the "parallel approach", it vented its anger on Governor Ravi by issuing a five-page public statement, titled "Mr RN Ravi's misdoings as Interlocutor" on August 11, 2020. In that statement, it said that the governor has "twisted the Framework Agreement and misled the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the steps taken to solve the Naga issue". It added that the group had taken umbrage towards the report furnished by Mr Ravi to the Parliamentary Standing Committee which said that the framework agreement talked of a solution "within India" and not "with India", which was the earlier position in peace talks. It pointed out that Ravi's letter to the Nagaland Government in June referred to them as "armed groups", accused them of extortion and said that their "parallel governments" were in contravention to India's security.
Last but not least, the NSCN-IM could have become nervous about losing support base after the death of Isak Chishi Swu in June 2016. Isak was from a tribal area of main Nagaland and an influential leader. Thus any compromise on its core demands -- greater Nagalim, flag and a constitution - - could further deplete its support base. Therefore, NSCN-IM wanted to withdraw from the Framework Agreement by accusing N Ravi of distorting the facts.
The way forward
The NSCN-IM is at present under pressure to sign a peace agreement since other Naga groups, also known as Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), are willing to do the same. The Naga groups have been more flexible on their positions and intent to sign an agreement without a flag and a constitution. The Nagaland Gaon Burah Federation, an influential committee of village headmen, in a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that it wanted to settle the dispute at the earliest , i.e. by September, 2020.
In response to central government's decision to finalise the peace agreement as per the deadline (September 2020) without the NSCN-IM, the NSCN (IM) on September 3, 2020, said, "The Nagas are ready to fight another war if their political rights and history are not respected and that the Naga issue will remain India's Achilles' Heel if the Centre or its interlocutor try to "misinterpret" the prevailing situation or act clever. The NSCN (IM) is still firm on shared sovereignty, which would include a separate flag and a separate constitution for the Nagas. But a media report said that the NSCN cadres are not very enthused over returning to a full-fledged armed struggle with a section understood to be in touch with the Centre.
Since few days are left to the deadline, the NSCN-IM has asked its prominent leaders to assemble in New Delhi for wider consultations. The NSCN-IM top leaders are aware that there could a peace agreement between the NNPG and the Union Government by the end of September. There is also a pressure from the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) to bring NSCN (IM) and the NNPG together and take forward the unfinished task of reconciliation. Therefore, given the rising pressure form tribal groups, youths and civil society, it would be a difficult decision for the NSCN-IM to continue its movement in isolation.
 "NSCN (IM) alleges coordinated attempt to create confusion among Nagas," North East Now, September 05, 2020, https://nenow.in/north-east-news/nagaland/nscn-im-alleges-coordinated-a…
 "Centre holds meet with NSCN-IM, interlocutor absent", Indian Express, August 14, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/centre-holds-meet-with-nscn-im-interlocutor-absent-6553738/
 NSCN (Kitovi Zhimomi), the Naga Nationalist Council, the Federal Government of Nagaland, the NSCN (Reformation), the National Peoples Government of Nagaland (Non-Accord), the Government Democratic Republic of Nagaland (Non-Accord). Later, the Khango Konyak-led faction of the NSCN (Khaplang)
 "NSCN-IM: Nagas ready for fresh 'war'", Telegraph India, September 03, 2020, https://www.telegraphindia.com/north-east/nscn-im-nagas-ready-for-fresh-war/cid/1790761
 "Naga pact soon as govt believes it can bypass NSCN(IM)", Times of India, August 30, 2020, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/naga-pact-soon-as-govt-believes-it-can-bypass-nscnim/articleshowprint/77828393.cms
[The article is part of South Asia Conflict Monitor, September 2020.]