The Indo-Naga peace process has gone on for over 20 years now. The Naga people in particular have had to wait very patiently, extending popular support to the peace process. Huge public expectation remains that the Modi Government will finally deliver where others failed. But time is fast running out.
Naga Republic View
It is a historical fact of the Naga political issue that the father of the Indian nation Mahatma Gandhi was sympathetic to the Naga people’s aspiration. When a delegation of Naga leaders met him on 19th July 1947 at Bhangi Colony, Delhi, Gandhiji assured that Nagas have every right to be independent if they did not want to join the Indian Union.
Such was the respect and love that when the Naga delegates pointed out about Assam Governor, Sir Akbar Hydari threatening to use force against the Nagas in case they refused to join the Indian Union, Gandhi exclaimed: “Sir Akbar is wrong. He cannot do that…I will come to the Naga Hills; I will ask them to shoot me first before one Naga is shot at”. Gandhi went so far as to say, “Why wait until 14th August? Why not even declare your independence tomorrow?”
The Naga delegation came back assured by Gandhi’s pledge and support. The Nagas declared their independence on 14th August 1947, one day prior to India’s own declaration of her independence. Successive Prime Ministers of India cutting across party lines have come to know and understand this historical fact of the Naga political issue.
A recent report submitted to the Indian Parliament by a Standing Committee of elected representatives perhaps for the first time took note of the referendum held in 1951 under the leadership of the then NNC President Angami Zapu Phizo. It points out in the official report that ‘the Nagas voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence’.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee goes on to state that the ‘signing of the final Naga Peace Accord can bring long lasting peace…and therefore strongly recommends that the Government (of India) should continue its efforts to engage the Naga groups and finalise the Naga Peace Accord’.
Another very significant point that should not be ignored is the recommendation by this same committee, asking that the Government of India should “tread carefully on the issues sensitive to the Nagas and not let vested interests highjack the peace narrative”. The committee also rightly “apprehends” that “the Naga groups and tribal bodies are becoming restless due to the delay in concluding the talks”.
With the Naga public in support of early solution, Parliament giving its nod and support and the Government of India also demonstrating its will, it is now therefore quite clear that the stage is set for the signing of a ‘Naga Peace Accord’. The only thing left to do is concluding the negotiations, setting a timeframe and presenting the agreement.
Up until now, the common sense thinking was not to go with deadlines and instead take time to resolve all issues on the table. Now more than twenty years have been invested on peace negotiation and by logic whatever has to be discussed would have been done to the very full extent.
As The Naga Republic sees it, it is not anymore a question of time but a question of taking a decision—either to sign a peace deal on what is agreed upon and possible at this juncture or withdraw from the political process altogether. There is already a popular opinion gaining ground that the Naga Political Groups in dialogue with Delhi should return back home if no headway is being made.
With General Elections due soon in 2019, the present government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot risk leaving a decision on the Indo-Naga peace process to a later date. With priority for the 2019 election it will not be politically feasible to address the Naga issue at the near end of its tenure. It that case, the issue will again be put in the backburner.
Delhi will do well to realise that having waited very patiently to find a peaceful solution, any more delay on its part is going to be disrespectful to the Nagas. A give and take approach should be followed for successful negotiations to take place.
The ‘Naga problem will be solved’, was what Modi said during a rare mention of the issue when he addressed an election rally in Tuensang, Nagaland earlier in February 2018. “I hope that in the next few months we will be able to find a solution that honors Naga people and respect their political rights. We are taking everyone together for this”, was what the Indian Prime Minister stated.
And despite the demand of the Naga public for ‘solution before election’, Assembly elections earlier this year were held in Nagaland with the assurance by the ruling BJP led government that elections would pave way towards concluding the Naga Accord.
To put it in context, a political commitment remains of the BJP party and the Modi government to sign the peace deal within this present term of office.
A Naga Peace Accord on Gandhi Jayanti?
A Naga Peace Accord on October 2, 2018 will be fitting and a great honour to Mahatma Gandhi, a man who stood for non-violence and peace. Also significant is that on October 2 this year we will begin the commemoration of the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.
As mentioned in the beginning Mahatma Gandhi was supportive of Naga aspiration. Even Prime Minister Modi alluded to this when he said during the signing of the Framework Agreement that “there were not many like Mahatma Gandhi, who loved the Naga people and was sensitive to their sentiments”.
The date is something for the Government of India and the Naga Political Groups to seriously ponder upon. October 2 gives the negotiating parties some more time to complete all formalities, including making the agreement as broad-based as possible.
Fixing a date for a peace agreement and coming out with the broad contours of the proposed peace deal will also make the process transparent and prepare the ground for dialogue and resolutions among different stakeholders.
In any major event such as a peace agreement, there is going to be no perfect time or situation. Either way, repercussions are surely going to be there. In fact, a prior announcement may be more helpful in absorbing the shock and discontent, allowing a period of mediation and calming to take place.
If at all the negotiating parties are finding it difficult to move forward, one suggestion is to first announce the peace agreement through a written statement mentioning the salient features of the deal. It may not be necessary or even possible to immediately implement such an agreement. A cooling off period may be provided before the actual signing and execution takes place.
On the other hand if at all a peace deal is not forthcoming (by the year end), the Naga Political Groups should seriously contemplate whether to continue holding talks and if required, they should suspend any further negotiation. In fact both sides i.e. Delhi and the Nagas should withdraw from the dialogue process and rethink what is the way forward.
Apparently, the delay is reportedly over symbolic issues sensitive to the Nagas which the Modi government is unwilling to accept. If these reports are true, this is contrary to the acknowledgement of the “unique history and situation of the Nagas” by none other than the BJP’s former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Also isn’t this something that the Parliamentary Committee has raised in its report, asking the Government of India to “tread carefully on the issues sensitive to the Nagas and not let vested interests hijack the peace narrative”.
Hopefully Prime Minister Modi will go by the formulation given by the much respected Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who on several occasions mentioned about “peace with dignity and honour” while referring to the Naga issue.
At the end, a peace deal without honour and failure to acknowledge even the basic position of the historical and political rights of the Naga people is unacceptable.
As he himself said during the signing of the Framework Agreement on August 3, 2015, “the Naga political issue had lingered for six decades, taking a huge toll on generations of our people”. Prime Minister Modi has an opportunity to leave behind a legacy of peace. Both the Mahatma and Vajpayee should inspire Modi to recognize Naga aspiration and walk that high road to peace.
So can Prime Minister Modi deliver?