Maj-Gen Ashok Mehta (retd)
Last Saturday, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), the dominant Naga armed rebel group engaged in the 22-year-old peace process with the Centre, held yet another round of talks, this time presumably with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on board in New Delhi to break the impasse. The NSCN-IM said the government was trying to backtrack on its commitment to a solution embedded in the Naga Framework Accord of August 3, 2015 by using a group of Nagas who do not represent the Naga people. This critique of the Centre by the NSCN-IM is a significant development unravelling the NFA.
Additionally, the defanging of Article 370 has sown seeds of doubt and uncertainty among some north-eastern states about the government’s commitment to special powers allocated to them. Worse, it has brought the tom-tommed NFA to a cul de sac. After the success of nullifying Article 370, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had ordered special interlocutor RN Ravi to bring to fruition the NFA by October-end. Nagaland was the first state after J&K to be covered by the 13th Amendment of 1962 which granted it special powers in respect of its identity, culture and social practices — almost akin to J&K — under Article 371-A of the Constitution. In 1963, it was granted full statehood.
The report of the Parliamentary Select Committee attached to the Home Ministry of July 2018 laid in the Rajya Sabha stated that the NSCN IM had agreed to a political settlement within the Indian Constitution with special status. Between the signing of the NFA in August 2015 and now, the NSCN-IM has issued several statements contradicting the government’s claim that it had accepted the Indian Constitution. On the contrary, it has been saying that it wants a separate Constitution, flag and integration of all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas under Nagalim (Greater Nagaland). Ravi has articulated that the first two demands — Constitution and flag — were never on offer. But the Nagas have been saying that their merger with the Union of India could never happen. Instead, the Nagas will co-exist as two entities. The Nagas do not accept the Constitution of India, but the Nagas and India will share sovereignty. So, did the government sell a lemon to the country in August 2015?
On August 24, 2019, NSCN-IM Chairman Q Tuccu and General Secretary Muivah wrote a letter to Modi, stating that there cannot be an honourable solution to the Naga peace process without a separate flag and Constitution, two symbols of special status that were first to go in J&K. Muivah said that the Centre had misinterpreted the term ‘inclusive’ in the NFA, adding that it does not mean the Nagas will be included in the Union of India. ‘We have never been in the Union of India and we will never be,’ the Nagas are saying. So close to a solution and yet so far.
A round of talks was held on August 1 at NSCN-IM headquarters at Mount Hebron which apparently did not go well and broke up in discord. This was immediately after Ravi was promoted to Governor of Nagaland. The Naga Army of NSCN-IM which is technically confined to Mount Hebron was involved in at least five cases of armed clashes and confrontation with security forces this year. Ravi has claimed that all substantive issues in the NFA have been resolved — nothing is left — and assured the Nagas that Article 371 A, which is a solemn commitment and not impermanent like Article 370, will not be repealed. He explained that there is no similarity between Articles 370 and 371 A, adding that the Centre is trying to make it more than 371 A and there is no question of diluting it. Ravi said the intended solution recognises the Nagas’ unique history and the settlement is on the basis of power-sharing and peaceful co-existence. He asserted that the Centre has accepted the integration of Naga areas, adding the red herring that it is the legitimate right of the Naga people to pursue and achieve integration through democratic and political process.
The government might allow a pan-Naga Assembly if it is restricted to culture, religion and tribal practices, after the BJP-ruled states like Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, where the Nagas reside, show the green flag. Craftily, Ravi has also been negotiating with seven other former Naga rebel outfits with which he signed an agreement in November 2017 which has upset the NSCN-IM which claims to be the sole representative of all Naga people.
Last month, Home Minister Amit Shah, attending the North Eastern Council meeting said that Articles 371 A to G will not be touched. Sikkim, covered by Article 371 F, was also worried and the new state government has decided to support the BJP at the Centre. The Parliament cannot legislate to alter special status granted to states covered by Article 371 without the concurrence of the Legislative Assembly, a constitutional imperative the Centre fraudulently overcame in the case of the J&K. Still, people in the North-East are restive after the introduction of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Chief Minister of Nagaland Neiphieu Rio said at the NEC that the Centre should act north-east, before acting east.
The biggest gainer of the imbroglio of NFA, in a sense, is its mastermind and interlocutor Ravi who was Special Director IB in 2012, then chairman JIC before he was elevated to Deputy National Security Adviser, followed by the Governor Nagaland. The Americans would describe a person of his Sputnik-like rise as a ‘water-walker’. He is now the constitutional head of a state and his added role as negotiator in talks with the Naga people would be questionable. More questionable is the fate of the NFA: more fiction than fact? Or, so close and yet so far? The NFA has become make-believe.
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