By Tinakali Sümi
Deputy National Security Advisor (NSA) and Centre’s representative and Interlocutor to Naga Peace Talks, R.N. Ravi, has admitted that “differing positions” on the demand for separate Naga flag and Constitution has delayed signing of the final agreement.
In an exclusive interview to Nagaland Post, Ravi said Government of India was ready to consider Naga flag for Pan Naga cultural body and to term the final agreement as Naga “Yehzabo”. He, however, added that the Naga negotiators were not agreeable to it.
The interlocutor also maintained that the final agreement could be signed “tomorrow” if the “Naga negotiators reciprocate with pragmatic flexibilities”.
While Government of India was respectful of Naga unique history, their rights and identity, Ravi said, “Final agreement must unambiguously convey the unity of Nagas with the Indian Union.” In the interview, Ravi also talked about the “thriving political economy of insurgency in Nagaland run by a network of undergrounds and over-ground collaborators” and his efforts to end it.
Below are excerpts of the interview with Ravi:
Nagaland Post: What is the current status of the Naga peace process?
RN Ravi: Naga Peace Talks is at the concluding stage. Political principles of settlement, substantive issue of competencies and structural issues of governance have all been mutually agreed. The peace process has become truly inclusive with the seven Naga groups coming onboard. We have mutual understanding with NSCN (I-M) that they would not oppose the NNPGs constructive cooperation in the peace process and their participation in the final agreement. The peace process can conclude any day.
Nagaland Post: You are saying that government of India has “mutual understanding” with NSCN (I-M) on inclusion of NNPGs in the ongoing peace process. However, in a recent interview to a news channel, NSCN (I-M) general secretary, Th. Muivah, had accused government of India of using NNPGs as a “parallel force”. What do you have to say on this?
RN Ravi: Mr. Muivah is a very senior leader for whom I have very high regards. He is aware of the background, circumstances and reality of the inclusion of NNPGs in the peace process. He knows that exclusion of other groups will be a recipe for violence after the final settlement. I am sure he does not meant what he said.
Nagaland Post: You said that the peace process can conclude any day, however, Mr. Muivah has ruled out solution before the ensuing Lok Sabha election. What is your comment on this?
RN Ravi: Naga political peace process does not have much to do with the elections. In the last 22 years, several elections for the parliament as well as state assembly have been held. I think it would be incorrect to draw any such reference to the forthcoming election.
Nagaland Post: There is a general perception here in Nagaland that political parties, especially BJP, have promised solution to Naga issue for electoral benefits. Is the present government at the Centre led by BJP using Naga issue to establish a firm foundation in Nagaland?
RN Ravi: I am the government of India’s Representative and Interlocutor and my mandate is to deliver a solution to the Naga issue to the best possible satisfaction of the Naga people. I would not like to comment on the political statement of any political party.
Nagaland Post: Why has the BJP-led NDA government not been able to sign the final agreement despite promises of “Election for Solution”?
RN Ravi: Everyone knows that in any negotiation a settlement depends on agreement among the negotiating parties on all the issues on the table. One negotiating party alone cannot do it.
Nagaland Post: You have been saying that the Talk is in the final stage. What is holding the negotiating parties to sign the final agreement?
RN Ravi: Naga political issue is a very old and complex one. In the last four years the negotiating parties have made significant continuous progress by resolving several facets of it. Like political parameters of settlement and the specifics of various competencies to be shared between the Naga people and the government of India. All issues have been mutually understood and agreed. However, few issues mainly a flag and a constitution are sticky. On these issues, the two sides have differing positions. We will sign the agreement as soon as these are resolved.
I would like to emphasise to all concern that while government of India is respectful of Naga unique history, their rights and identity and have taken significant steps to accommodate the wishes and positions of the Naga negotiators, the final agreement must unambiguously convey the unity of Nagas with the Indian Union.
Nagaland Post: Naga people are tired of these endless negotiations. There is a perception that government of India is not sincere in working out an early solution. You have mentioned that everything is almost settled, so what is holding the negotiating parties in solving the flag and constitution issue?
RN Ravi: Government of India is aware of Naga people’s sentiment over the flag. It must be respected. Our position is that the Naga flag should be located in the Pan Naga cultural body, which would be a common platform of all the Nagas. Similarly, the final agreement, which would have to be duly incorporated in the Constitution of India, could be the Naga “Yehzabo”. However, the Naga negotiators are not agreeable to it.
Nagaland Post: Do government of India have differences on these issues with both NSCN (I-M) and WC of NNPGs?
RN Ravi: Both of them have insisted on recognition of the Naga flag. On the issue of “Yehzabo”, we are trying to reach a common position with NSCN (I-M).
Nagaland Post: You have consistently maintained that there will be only one Naga peace process and one agreement. It seems quite contradictory that on one hand this position has been maintained while on the other hand, you are yet to sit together with all the eight parties who are negotiating with government of India. How are you going to manage signing the agreement in such a situation?
RN Ravi: The minimum expectation of the Naga people and also of government of India from a solution is enduring peace in the Naga areas. We all know that it would not be possible until all the Naga groups come together. My endeavour is to have the final agreement acceptable to all the groups and in the best possible interest of the Naga people. I would expect the Naga people to urge their negotiators also.
Nagaland Post: In protest against the supposed delayed tactics of government of India in solving the Naga issue and to show their resentment, a rally was recently held in Delhi to demand early solution. It may also be noted that Naga Hoho, NMA and NSF boycotted your February 26 meeting with CSOs. What do you have to say on this?
RN Ravi: We cannot blame the Naga people for losing patience over the seemingly endless negotiations. After all they are not aware of the specifics of the negotiation and the progress made. They have every right to show their resentment and put pressure on the negotiating parties not to delay further.
The process made under the leadership of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has been unprecedented. As I have said, the political parameters and substantive issues have all been resolved. Even on most of the symbolic issues common understanding has been reached between the negotiating parties.
Prime Minister is anxious over the delay and wants a settlement without any further delay. If the Naga negotiators reciprocate with pragmatic flexibilities, which is the essence of any political negotiation, then final solution can be reached tomorrow.
Nagaland Post: Does government of India realise that this endless negotiation is adding to the misery of the common people?
RN Ravi: We all know there is a thriving political economy of insurgency in Nagaland run by a network of undergrounds and overground collaborators. Every household, rich and poor are victim of this perverse economy. This is causing frustration among people. Delay in settlement sustains this political economy. Those running it are deeply entrenched. They are exploiting the status of ‘peace’ without a solution. I am trying my best to end this unfortunate situation.
Nagaland Post: You have ruled out total sovereignty and have maintained that territorial integration can only be pursued through democratic process. This seems to be in contradiction to NSCN (I-M)’s position. Can you shed some light on this?
RN Ravi: Naga Peace Process, like any negotiation, would eventually be based on give and take. On the issue of sovereignty, both sides have agreed to a settlement on the basis of sharing sovereign power. Government of India is aware of the Nagas’ sentiment on the issue of territorial integration. We are also aware of the strong sentiments of the neighbours. Hence, the negotiating parties have appreciated the existing realities and agreed that it can be achieved only through a democratic political process.
Nagaland Post: Since you took over as government of India representative to Naga Peace Talks, you have signed August 3, 2015 “Framework Agreement” and then another agreement with WC of NNPGs on November 17, 2017. While the content of the agreement with NNPGs is more or else in the public domain, the “Framework Agreement” is shrouded in mystery, why such secrecy if the agreement is for the Nagas?
RN Ravi: It is true that the text of the “Framework Agreement” has not been made public but its essence has been explained to the Naga stakeholders time and again. The text of the “Framework Agreement” will be made public as part of the final agreement.
Nagaland Post: What will be the fate of talks you have had so far with the Naga groups if Modi-led BJP does not return to power at the centre?
RN Ravi: Since political parameters and substantive issues are already resolved, I do not see any cloud of uncertainty over the final settlement post election.
Nagaland Post: What is the core message to legislators, tribal hohos and CSOs during your meetings with them?
RN Ravi: Naga legislators, tribal bodies and civil societies are important stakeholders. They have a right to know the status of the negotiation. Since the final solution is held up on a few symbolic issues it is my duty to brief them so that they understand the status and take appropriate call.