Dr Vikuosa Nienu, USA
The Indo-Naga Political Settlement issue has become extremely febrile and unpredictable.
Various Naga organizations, social and political, are feverishly pushing for a solution without having a clear-cut roadmap. Each group wants to claim credit, with the hope of giving them greater opportunity and control. But a clear-cut roadmap as to what, how, and when to achieve those goals, step-by-step, is either lacking or convoluted, at best.
The long-awaited Ceasefire Agreement was greeted as a welcome step, setting the stage for the Indo-Naga Political Settlement negotiations. Beset by factional bickering, however,these negotiations failed to produce significant results and recent Indo-Naga Political Settlement talks are creating confusion rather than resolutions.
It is unusual having multiple Framework Agreements (FA) for a single issue, but that seems to be the case in the Indo-Naga Political Settlement saga. The much hyped NSCN-IM initiated FA lost its credibility. For one, not a single group/organization was involved; two, for far too long their FA was hidden from co-labourers and other stake-holders—all dedicated to achieving the same goal—regain Naga sovereignty; three, perhaps the most obnoxious use of the name Nagalim; and, lastly, an outrageous claim that all Nagas supports IM. Though IM calls their approach “collective leadership”, there is no collective leadership with the IM.
And, yet there is another FA (Agreed Positions) with the NNPG! There appears to be hardly any differences between the two FAs. In addition, there’s not a single outstanding element seen in the highly touted NNPG’s FA as they have already declared that the critical core elements, particularly integration and sovereignty, were not included in their FA. Increasing the number of Parliamentary seats or bicameral legislative body doesn’t deliver the core elements the Nagas have been fighting for all these years. To top it off, other groups have already raised their objections that no settlement would be valid without sovereignty.
According to the interview conducted by the Nagaland Post in late February 2020, Governor RN Ravi is said to have made India’s position clear, stating that a flag, a Constitution or the issues of Naga sovereignty and integration (the Pan Naga entity) were not part of the FA signed between India and IM, and recently with NNPG. In this interview Governor Ravi also stressed that integration was nothing more than a cultural body without any political role or executive authority.
So then, what kinds of negotiations are the various Naga groups after in their talks with India, if not full-fledged sovereignty, what else?
In other words, the Grand Aspiration is becoming nothing more than a Cheap Bargain, or some might call it a Grand Bargain! Nagas need substance over mere politics. When asked about where the Indo-Naga political issue is heading, in almost everyone I spoke to—government officials or politicians, professionals or lay denizens alike—all agree that Nagas are on the wrong tract, and that Naga leaders are failing to lead in the right direction for the solution.
Mass public perceptions matter. Current perceptions clearly suggest impatience and disarray. Rushing to sign the FA poses danger. In my previous article, “The fallacies of the Indo-Naga political settlement process” (NP & ME 7 Dec 2017), spelled out how a well-conceived FA can ensure the next step in the process, accomplishing the Comprehensive Agreements. Nagas’ internal dynamics are giving India an undue advantage, allowing them to dominate and manipulate anyway they want, unchecked. The current Ceasefire is just a symbolic calm façade concealing deep structural vulnerabilities.
We all recognized that the Naga political settlement is long overdue. However, current crisis—crises of Nagas’ own manufacturing—created major stumbling blocks. Problems continue to multiply as individuals and organizations alike, demand a piece of the pie for the wrong reason. What a tragedy!
This is not the time to be bragging about accomplishments or making meaningless speeches. Nagas have a long way to go. Now is the time for all the Nagas—regardless of party or organizational affiliation—to come together and unite to achieve the cherished goal—regain a God-given sovereignty. But it must be done in the right manner and process.
I came to know about the October 15, 2020 Consultative Meeting (initiated by the State Ruling party) days after it was held. Apparently, several groups were represented, including some from abroad, but many others were reportedly left out. I do hope that every single voice of the various organizations participated was truly represented. However, as if those missteps were not enough, State political opposition parties were repeating their stubborn show-down actions: conducting meetings with various groups, including seeking separate audience with the Central Government Ministers.
These episodes bring me to an interesting joke about a drunkard searching for his keys under a streetlight. A passerby stops to help. After failing to find them, he asks the drunkard if he is sure that this is where he lost them. “No,” the drunkard replies, “but it’s dark everywhere else.”
The scenario in the Naga political fiasco is no less dramatic as the Naga leaders have been approaching these daunting tasks, vainly pursuing the min a similar attitude as depicted in the drunkard’s story. They prefer to work with things that seemed easier but getting nowhere, while the real issues lie well beyond easy reach. It needs hard work, dedication, commitment, unity, honesty and integrity, coupled with well-thought out plans to represent and attain the goal/s of all the Nagas. But as it is, the Indo-Naga political issue is getting nowhere close to getting the real job done, beyond going from one detour after another without any sign of finding the final destination.
Allow me to give you another real life practical illustration. When a vehicle breaks down, it needs getting repaired first before you can drive it off again. But instead of getting it repaired, prayers are offered to start the vehicle and everyone is trying to offer suggestions, and in some cases, forcibly dragging the disabled vehicle. But the vehicle is going nowhere. There are serious mechanical problems that need fixing; proper parts need replaced, and the damaged vehicle repaired before it becomes road worthy again. Until then, it will never reach its final destination. This is where the Indo-Naga Political Settlement issue lies.
Unifocal extremism creates division rather than serving as a unifying force, thus, becoming more of a liability rather than as an asset to achieving collective goals. A couple of examples will suffice to remind us how we got where we are now: Nagas insist on their own ideologies as the only approach—from an extreme idealist (Late Phizo) to a more dictatorial (Mr. Muivah) style of leadership. Extreme ideologies such as these have created a rift between competing groups. While one sectarian’s approach may appear laudable, unifocal extremism can take on selfish, opportunistic, avaricious and obdurate characteristics.
I told the late Phizo that we need to be pragmatic and not merely insist on own idealistic views which is no more than being narrow-minded. I reminded Phizo on several occasions that we all must sacrifice our self-interest for the good of our Nation. I told Muivah and the late Isak Swu during the meeting we had in their Hebron headquarters in 2008 that anything less than uniting with other groups, their efforts will go down the drain. They nodded in agreement. I also conveyed the same message to a Senior Member of the NNPG cautioning them. The same message was repeated to Adinno Phizo during my recent visit to Nagaland.
Communal trust served as a bastion for the Naga society. Trust promoted the wellbeing of its constituents, whether at the village or tribal level. This same spirit of trust applies in every situation, whether dealing with fellow-Nagas or non-Nagas. But, since trust is a learned behavior, even the Nagas are also becoming less trusting with each passing day.
If Nagas cannot trust each other, how can we trust non-Nagas, especially Indians?
When Nagas expected honest dealings from their Indian counterparts on important deliberations and agreements, they were often treated as being brutish and knuckle headed! Thus, the Nagas get deceived. The 16-Point Agreement and The Shillong Accord stand out as classic examples. Though it is trust that Nagas value more than anything else, it gets thrashed all the time.
How do you know that this will not repeated in the current Indo-Naga Settlement agreements? Nothing is guaranteed. I sincerely believe that Governor Ravi is a good man. However, he does what’s best for his benefactor/employer, India. Besides, he is not the ultimate decision-maker whether or not the Final Settlement will stick. Remember, India’s past actions dictates the future.
From early on with my first article, “Spears Cry Out”, published in February 2007 in the local Newspapers, and subsequently “Spears Cry Out – Revisited”, “The Indo-Naga Political Issue: Now or Never. Really?”, and “The fallacies of the Indo-Naga Political Talks,” I have spelled out my position.
Why repeat the same mistakes done in the past: whether it’s the 16-Point Agreement, The Shillong Accord, or any other accord that failed to worked out for the greater good of the Naga settlement issue.
This is not the time to be bickering about the self-destructive devices within the various groups. Nagas must unite together. The mission is clear. But as the internal crises drags on, little can be hoped for in achieving anything desirable for the Nagas. Regardless of tribe or group affiliation or position, uniting together is the only way Nagas can channel their anticipated hopes and aspirations. However, misguided by an ill-devised plan and rushing prematurely to make major commitments can be more dangerous.
One thing we cannot ignore: the future of our younger generations will be decisively influenced by the outcome of the Settlement. I believe the time has come to adjust the focus. Indeed, only by building a strong and united base can we hope to achieve our long-standing political crisis.
I want to make it absolutely clear that I don’t belong to any organization, either in Nagaland or elsewhere— political or otherwise—for obvious reasons. When I write or speak out, I represent myself. I don’t claim to represent any organization.