An official report from New Delhi, announced on the national TV channels as well as on the Press Information Bureau website, the Government of India`™s official information outlet, said a historic peace accord has been concluded between the NSCN(IM) and the Government this afternoon, bringing to a happy conclusion 18 years of negotiations and more than 60 years of violent insurrection by the Nagas against the Indian state. In all fairness, it must be said it is too early to comment or presume foreknowledge just as yet. By the same virtue, it would be preposterous to either celebrate or condemn the agreement. No details of the agreement have been revealed, and the PIB website simply says this will be made known in a few days. Until then, everything will be just speculations, and there will be plenty, some informed ones as well as some wild ones. The IFP must however pat itself for its editorial today (August 3, 2015) was bang on target in anticipating something of the nature soon on the consideration that the current generation of the NSCN(IM)`™s top leadership were getting far too old and this would have brought in some sense of urgency on either side of the negotiating table to bring the contentious issue to a closure as quickly as possible. In fact, the fact that one of the two top leaders of the organisation, Chairman Isak Chishi Swu has become critically ill, would have driven this urgency to a point of desperation.
While we await the details of the accord, let us try and assess what the contents of the agreement might have been by piecing together information that are available and from hindsight knowledge of some of the relevant chapters of the Naga struggle. From the indication given in today`™s function at the Prime Minister`™s residence at 7 Race Course Road, it does appear that the two main planks of the Naga struggle, that of sovereignty and integration of what are claimed to be Naga areas in Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar with Nagaland, have been abandoned. It also appears that the major concessions the Naga negotiators managed were in having the Government of India agree to acknowledge Naga history as unique, and concede to some more administrative autonomy for the Nagas in determining their future within the broad confines of the Indian Constitution. If this picture is true, what then would be the likely problem ahead for those who fashioned the accord, and those who would be covered by the purview of the accord?
What is most likely to have been agreed upon then is a watered down versions of Naga sovereignty and Naga integration. It remains to be seen if these will be acceptable to the neighbouring states, on the one hand, and more importantly to the larger Naga public. Indeed, it must have been a very fine balancing act that the negotiators must have had to go through. For they must have been all along aware that they can end up damned from either sides of the divide for diluting the two questions of Naga sovereignty and Naga integration too much or too little. The sovereignty could have for instance been interpreted as Nagaland government and/or Naga companies being made stakeholders in mineral resources extraction undertakings in Naga territories, which would include oil, of which Nagaland`™s Wokha district is now known to have a major deposit. Sovereignty could also have been watered down to mean more autonomy under the Indian Constitution, as for instance 6th Schedule type grassroots governance models, especially for Nagas in Manipur, for Nagaland as a separate state, already has considerable autonomy in self-governance.
Considering these speculations have a fair measure of accuracy, what would be the problems ahead? Probably the dissenting voices from neighouring states of Nagaland would be manageable if not negligent, for their territories would be untouched. In Manipur the autonomy model can come up for some serious censures, but this should not be beyond negotiation if autonomy concessions, including on the ILP question, are made for the non-reserved, non-tribal districts as well. The bigger problem in such a scenario as we can foresee it would be from Nagaland, particularly if today`™s accord offered to the Nagas nothing substantially more than what the Shillong Accord of 1975 promised. It may be recalled the NSCN had rejected the Shillong Accord calling it a betrayal and opted to continue the Naga struggle for sovereignty. Under the circumstance, the obvious difficult question NSCN would be left to answer is, what was the need for the 40 more years of suffering for the Nagas if all that are now presented as achievements have not much more than in the accord of 1975. The other likely problem is, if the present accord is about concessions for the Nagas in Manipur mostly in terms of autonomous administrative models, Nagas of Nagaland many resent that they were dragged into 40 more years of turmoil for what in the end has turned out to be for the benefit of Nagas in Manipur. But, these are only speculations and things could be very different from the picture imagined aloud here. All therefore can only watch and wait what the exact contents of the agreement turn out to be, for only then can any rational decision be made on what response is appropriate and fit to purpose.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam