Naga Negotiation Strategy Must Adapt to India’s New Political Realities

Pamreihor Khashimwo and Phungshok Khongreiwo
New Delhi

The long-drawn-out Indo-Naga peace process has been ongoing for several decades and has reached a critical juncture, influenced by the shifting power dynamics. Considering the current political scenario, where Modi’s power is perceived to have diminished during his third term leading a coalition government, the Naga negotiators must recalibrate their strategies to align with the new power dynamics within the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. The Indo-Naga peace talk, one of the longest-running political negotiations in modern history, has seen numerous twists and turns since its inception in the mid-20th century. The talk has encountered challenges ranging from internal divisions within the Naga community to shifting political landscapes in India. The current reality of Prime Minister Modi's wanned power has complicated the Naga negotiators’ negotiation strategy because Modi and his party will no longer have absolute unilateral power to decide on certain sensitive issues, particularly those involving national security.

The Naga issue dates back to the colonial era when the Naga Club was formed in 1918. In 1929, they submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission demanding that the “Nagas be left alone and free as they were before to determine their future from the day the British leave India.” On August 14, 1947, the Naga National Council (NNC) declared independence from India. Since then, this issue has evolved, 1975 saw the signing of the failed Shillong Accord. The beginning of the cease-fire in 1997 and the signing of the Framework Agreement in 2015 between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) marked a significant step forward, yet the path to a comprehensive and lasting peace remains fraught with challenges.


Current India’s Political Landscape

Despite much hype about Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister three times in a row, the current NDA government's third term for Modi is marked by a decline of centralised power, primarily due to coalition dynamics and internal political pressure. Modi, once a dominant figure, now contends with the necessity to placate various coalition partners, each with their agendas and priorities. This scenario creates a fragmented policy environment, complicating decisive and cohesive approaches to the Naga peace process. As the Prime Minister’s authority wanes in his third term, intra-coalition negotiations and decision-making processes have become more complex and less predictable. This shift necessitates a re-evaluation of the negotiation strategy employed by Naga leaders. 

The Prime Minister’s power in a coalition government is limited by the demands and interests of coalition partners. This can have a substantial impact on the government’s capacity to make critical choices, notably those involving delicate matters such as the Naga peace process. This decentralized decision-making process can lead to delays, conflicting interests, and a lack of coherent policy direction. Naga negotiators must identify key coalition partners who hold significant sway and can be potential allies in advocating for the Naga cause. With a weakened central leadership, bureaucratic inertia and inter-departmental conflicts can stall negotiations. Establishing direct channels of communication with supportive bureaucrats and leveraging their support becomes crucial.


Strategic Approaches for Naga 

Naga should broaden their engagement beyond the Prime Minister’s office to include other key stakeholders within the NDA coalition and the opposition. Regional parties within the coalition might have a significant influence on the government’s stance. Also, building relationships with opposition parties can create broader political support for the peace process, ensuring continuity regardless of political changes. While re-strategising their strategy, Naga must establish a consistent approach and exert pressure on Delhi by engaging with international entities. Such moves will help to increase the Nagas’ bargaining leverage.

Given the fragmented nature of Indian politics, the Naga leadership must engage with not only the central government but also regional parties and influential stakeholders. Building alliances and garnering support from various political quarters can strengthen the Naga position at the negotiating table. Internal cohesion within the Naga community is critical for a unified negotiation strategy. The leadership must prioritize inclusivity and transparency in decision-making processes that can foster trust and solidarity among various factions. Regular intra-group dialogues to reconcile differences and develop a cohesive negotiation stance are crucial. Conducting thorough research to identify influential coalition partners who have historically supported minority and autonomy movements is vital and forming alliances with these partners to advocate for the Naga cause within the NDA government. Previously, the Nagas' negotiating strategy lacked such a particular initiative.


Leveraging International Support

While India claims that the Naga issue is internal, Naga garnering international backing can put additional pressure on the Indian government to adhere to its commitments. Strengthening Engagements with international organizations, forums, and foreign governments to garner support can be an effective strategy. Identifying and engaging with bureaucrats and personalities who have shown understanding and support for the Naga issue will be a crucial strategy. Enhancing the negotiation team’s understanding of bureaucratic processes and leveraging administrative channels for advocacy can help highlight the urgency of resolving the Naga political issue. Significantly, leveraging public diplomacy can exert pressure on the Indian government to expedite the peace process.


Media and Public Perception

The role of media and public perception in shaping political outcomes has become increasingly significant. The Naga negotiation strategy must leverage media effectively to build a positive narrative around their demands. Highlighting the potential benefits of a peaceful resolution can garner broader public support. The NDA government, sensitive to media portrayals and public opinion, might be more amenable to concessions if the negotiations are framed positively in the national and international media. 

Given the fluid nature of Indian politics, the Naga leadership should remain adaptable and flexible in their negotiation approach. The leadership must focus on achieving incremental gains rather than all-encompassing solutions. Also, being open to compromises on less critical issues to secure more significant concessions on core demands. The leader should be prepared to adjust their strategies based on evolving political dynamics and seize opportunities for progress, even amidst a coalition government. Ensuring that agreements reached are sustainable and beneficial in the long run, even if they require phased implementation.

Conclusion

The Naga peace process stands at a pivotal point, requiring a nuanced and adaptive strategy to navigate the complex political terrain of a new NDA regime with an ebbed Prime Ministerial power. To navigate this challenging terrain, the Naga leadership must adopt a multifaceted approach that encompasses engagement with multiple stakeholders, strategic diplomacy, internal cohesion, adaptability, and grassroots peacebuilding efforts. The Naga negotiators must therefore, take a balanced approach that combines pragmatism with a long-term vision to achieve a sustainable solution.

Pamreihor Khashimwo is a Research Scholar. 

Phungshok Khongreiwo is Doctoral Candidate at School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.