Negotiating Peace

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If there is a negotiation, something will have to be negotiated ultimately. But sometimes, the negotiating process itself becomes a strategy and thereby often a war by another means. We have the Naga peace talks in mind when we speculate this. Nearly a decade and a half after the process began in 1997 there is still no tangible result. Although the participants claim the talks are making good headway, so far the claims have proven to have little substance. A few days ago however, a newly launched Guwahati based English daily claimed that a solution was close at hand and under the proposal Nagaland would be given what was described as a “supra-state” status. Although the term is rather ambiguous and the picture sketched is still not too distinct, this seems like a state within a state and the tag “supra-state” is its euphemism. The blueprint concedes little extra to what the state of Nagaland already has. It seems more like a change of nomenclatures for already existing institutions. The Nagaland Armed Police,
NAP, thereby could become the Naga Army, the Nagaland Assembly likewise could be renamed as Tatar Hoho (Naga Parliament) etc. For the fine prints of what is purported to be the blueprint very much makes it certain that although grander names are accorded, in terms of powers they would be allowed to exercise, these institutions very much would be as they are under the present dispensation. As for instance, the functions and powers of the Naga Army, if the report is to be believed, would be restricted to internal defence and security only. The Indian police system very much handles this problem already. The only exceptions in this regard would perhaps be in terms of conceding to certain token symbolisms for Nagaland, such as a separate flag.

Under the circumstance, the only problem area in executing such a proposal, if at all it comes to be agreed upon, would be the territory question. This too is nothing new. The core of the leadership of the Naga underground group NSCN(IM), which is in negotiation with the Government of India, are from Manipur, and it is impossible to imagine a situation in which they would agree to settle the issue on concessions made to the state of Nagaland alone. They would most certainly be pushing to have the agreement predicated on the formation of a Greater Nagaland, or Nagalim as they have called this unified territory of what supposed constitutes the ancestral Naga homeland. The nature of the stumbling blocks before this project needs not be further elaborated, at least not in the Northeast, and in particular Manipur. Even the creation of a new district by demarcating and upgrading the Kuki dominated region of Sadar Hills, as we are witnessing today, has been the cause of so much distress in Manipur, threatening to return the state to the nightmares of the 1990s when a bloody ethnic feuds broke out between the Nagas and Kukis precisely on the issue of territory. Similarly, in 2001, Imphal valley literally went up in flames even at the hint that the Government of India was recognizing this Naga homeland, and thereby threatening the territorial integrity of Manipur. In Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, which too would have to compromise their territories if and when a greater Nagaland is recognised, sentiments are unlikely to remain calm.

Under the circumstance, much as we would also like to see a solution to the Naga peace talks, we cannot help being pessimistic that a solution can be close at hand. This is unless major shifts in stances by the negotiating parties become a reality. Such a shift, at least at the moment seems too much to expect. India will never agree to dismember itself to accommodate the Naga demand for sovereignty, perhaps not even as a vassal state like Bhutan. Without this concession, it is also unlikely the Naga leaders would be willing to put their signatures on any agreement. In other words, unless an agreement is reached for a non-territorial solution which lays more emphasis on cultural and ethnic identity preservation, such as the much cited Sami Parliament for the Sami people in Scandinavia, or the Gurudwara as the identity binding sinew for the Sikhs, we cannot foresee any headway in the present Naga peace process just as yet.

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