New Delhi: The Modi government signed a historic accord with the Naga Militant group NSCN (IM) at the PM’s residence yesterday. The Home Minister was present. Muivah, who signed the agreement on behalf of NSCN (IM), said the Nagas were entering into a “new relationship” with the government. “Beginning from now, challenges will be great,” he said.
According to sources in the government, the Nagaland Peace Accord (NPA) signed with the NSCN (IM) does not involve redrawing the state’s borders. It was a key demand of NSCN (IM), the National Socialist Council of Nagaland’s Thuingaleng Muviah and Isak Chisi Swu-led faction, the largest of the Naga insurgent groups.
The deal, sources say involves creating a mechanism which would create institutions allowing autonomy to Naga tribes living across the border in Manipur — a significant climb-down by insurgent leaders. There would also be a mechanism to discuss decommissioning of arms now held by the NSCN (IM). The group had been arguing in talks that it needed to retain its weapons to ward off attacks from rival NSCN factions led by Myanmar-based SS Khaplang and Khole Konyak.
After the signing ceremony, PM Modi said the agreement did not just mark the end of a problem, but the “beginning of a new future.” He said: “We will not only try to heal wounds and resolve problems, but also be your partner as you restore your pride and prestige. Today’s agreement is a shining example of what we can achieve when we deal with each other in a spirit of equality and respect, trust and confidence; when we seek to understand concerns and try to address aspirations; when we leave the path of dispute and take the high road of dialogue”.
R N Ravi, Modi’s negotiator for the Naga peace talks, and an expert on the North East, said “the agreement will restore the pride of the Naga people and their dignity. Their linguistic traditions will also be promoted. It is only because of misunderstandings that we have been fighting”.
Government officials, however, underlined that the agreement was a framework, with many details still to be hammered out. “This deal is without doubt a breakthrough”, said an official involved in the negotiations, “but ensuring it delivers a historic closure to the Naga insurgency will rest on how nimble we are in addressing the many problems that will surface in coming months, especially challenges from rival insurgents”.
With the parliament, in session, the agreement remained confidential, the Prime Minister is understood to have discussed it with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, and even J Jayalalithaa, M Karunanidhi and Sharad Pawar.
A statement issued by Muivah, later, said that “better understanding” had been arrived at and a “framework agreement has been concluded basing on the unique history and position of the Nagas and recognising the universal principle that in a democracy sovereignty lies with the people.”
Though New Delhi has been engaged in a ceasefire with the NSCN (IM) since 1997, there was little forward movement on a political settlement. The NSCN (IM) leadership, made up of Thangkul Nagas from Nagaland’s Ukhrul district, insisted that the area be included in a wider pan-Naga entity they called Nagalim — in political terms, a precondition to giving leaders like Muviah a change of holding power in the entire state.
Ravi, sources said, had held extensive meetings with political leaders and civil society groups in Manipur, where there has been fear that Naga-majority parts of its territory would be ceded to Nagaland in a peace deal. In 2001, tens of thousands of angry protestors burned down the Manipur assembly after the extension of the ceasefire with Naga insurgents, which went into force in 1997.
The agreement, sources said, marked a personal triumph for Ravi, handpicked as the government’s interlocutor on the North-East by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, over objections by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Ravi, a former Intelligence Bureau veteran, served for decades in the north-east states. Interestingly, Ravi’s published work suggests he started off as a skeptic on a peace deal with the NSCN-IM.
However, a source familiar with the negotiations said, Ravi’s position changed in the course of multiple consultations he held with civil society groups in Nagaland, with New Delhi coming to the conclusion that an agreement with NSCN (IM) was key towards enhancing democratisation.
Modi promised the agreement would lay the future for a new Nagaland. “You will not only build a bright future for Nagaland”, he said, “but your talents, traditions and efforts will also contribute to making the nation stronger, more secure, more inclusive and more prosperous. You are also the guardians of our eastern frontiers and our gateway to the world beyond”.