By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
The third round of talks between the Government of India (GoI) and the Working Committee of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), a grouping of six armed Naga militant formations, reportedly took place in New Delhi between November 1 and November 3, 2017. GoI was represented by the Union Government’s interlocutor for Naga Talks, R. N. Ravi. NNPG was led by the convener of its Working Committee N. Kitovi Zhimomi, who is also the General Secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Neokpao-Kitovi (NSCN-NK). Other members of the NNPG include NSCN-Reformation faction (NSCN-R) and four factions of Naga National Council (NNC) – Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN), NNC-Parent Body, Non-Accordist faction of NNC/National People’s Government of Nagaland (NPGN/NNC-NA), and Government Democratic Republic of Nagaland /NNC-NA (GDRN). On December 14, 2016, these groups, at the behest of the Nagaland Tribes Council (NTC), a civil society organisation, had come together in Dimapur to constitute a Working Committee to steer a ‘permanent solution’ to the ‘Naga issue’. The NNPG is led by Zhimomi and includes the ‘co- conveners’ of the Working Group, Zhopra Vero Kedallo (FGN), Hozheto Chophy (NPGN/NNC, NA), V. Nagi (NNC-Parent Body), Kiumukam Yimchunger (GDRN/NNC, NA), Wangtin Naga (NSCN-R), and Alezo Venuh (NSCN-NK).
Though no further details are available about the talks, media reports stated that Nagaland Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang, who was present in New Delhi ‘with his team’, met the NNPG leaders on November 4, 2017. After the meeting with the Chief Minister, NNPG leaders stated that they impressed upon the ‘visiting team’ to continue working towards ensuring a ‘final settlement’ of the Naga Political issue that is “inclusive, honourable and acceptable to all for long standing peace in the State.”
Earlier, the second round of talks between GoI and NNPG had taken place at Dimapur (Nagaland) on October 23, 2017. The meeting was held behind closed doors with the GoI team led by R.N. Ravi and NNPG by Kitovi Zhimomi. According to reports, the discussions focused mainly on issues of principle, without delving into the specifics. In an interview with Nagaland Post, Ravi disclosed that the October 23 meeting was on ‘substantive issue’ and ‘business-like’. Separately, Zhimomi had stated that NNPG had set in motion the process of political negotiations with GoI on the basis of “historical and political rights of the Naga people for self determination and identity.”
Significantly, the first round of talks between the two sides had taken place on September 27, 2017. GoI representative Ravi met an 18-member delegation led by NNPG Working Group convener Zhimomi. According to a Press Release issued on the same day by the media cell of the NNPG, the Working Group and GoI “officially began a political dialogue today [September 27], to resolve the protracted Indo-Naga political issue.” The release added that during the talks Ravi pointed out that the “moment was a historic one for both the Center and the Nagas as the effort was aimed towards resolving a seventy year old political problem through dialogue.” The interlocutor had also stressed on the principle of equality, mutual respect and trust for resolving the issue and urged the Naga delegation “to be realistic and not dwell on rhetoric.”
With this initiative almost all the known armed Naga outfits based in Nagaland have come under ambit of negotiation for a ‘final settlement’. This is, indeed, a major success, as the Union Government had earlier called for wider participation, and had signed the Framework Agreement with the Isak-Muivah faction of NSCN (NSCN-IM) on August 3, 2015. In an exclusive interview to Nagaland Post on May 15, 2015, Ravi had categorically stated that his approach was to take the entire Naga society on board. Elaborating further he had clarified that “there is nothing called settlement with NSCN-IM as it is a settlement of the Naga issue.”
Nevertheless, worries persist. Talks with NSCN-IM continue to drag on. Reports indicate that the talks have hit hurdles due to NSCN-IM’s insistence on a separate constitution for the proposed ‘Nagalim’. An unnamed ‘senior functionary’ of NSCN-IM reportedly asserted, “Having a separate constitution for the Nagas has become the bone of contention in the talks.” Earlier, on August 13, 2016, a joint communiqué was issued by both NSCN-IM ‘general secretary’ Thuingaleng Muivah and R. N. Ravi in which it was stated, “We assure the people that the talks have been progressing in the right direction with determination. We are closer than ever before to the final settlement and hope to conclude it sooner (rather) than later.”
At this juncture widening the arc of talks may, in fact, have the potential to irk NSCN-IM, which has always claimed to be the ‘sole representative of the Naga people’. In a statement issued on April 3, 2015, NSCN-IM ‘general secretary’ T. Muivah had claimed that “the GoI [Government of India] and the Nagas represented by the NSCN are in the process of working out an honourable political solution acceptable to both.”
It may, however, be a case that the Government has reached out to the new grouping with the tacit support of the NSCN-IM. The implications of the new initiative, however, remain to be seen. Indeed, according to an August 24, 2017, report on the issue of the Government’s desire to take all Naga factions on board for the ‘final agreement’, an unnamed NSCN-IM source had said that it is understood that the Centre wanted other groups to accept the agreed points with the NSCN-IM and accept the final accord. Significantly, on September 13, 2015, NNC had stated that any agreement arrived between the NSCN-IM and New Delhi would be “invalid” because the Naga people have, at no point of time, given the mandate to NSCN-IM or any other group other than NNC to negotiate on the Naga issue.
Moreover, the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K), presently the most violently active group in the region, continues to remain out of the ambit of talks. On March 31, 2015, NSCN-K had unilaterally abridged the CFA signed between the outfit and the Union Government on April 28, 2001. Subsequently, the Union Government also called off the agreement with NSCN-K in a statement released on April 28, 2015.
Worryingly, according to an October 21, 2017, news report, an Intelligence Bureau (IB) report suggests that there are frequent meetings between the Chinese and NSCN-K leaders at Ruli and Kunming in China’s Yunnan province. The Chinese are reported to have held at least two meetings in a month with NSCN-K to ensure that the peace talks are stalled.
Further, there have been substantial changes in the leadership structure of both the NSCN-IM and NSCN-K. Two of the prominent figures of the Naga insurgency recently passed away. Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, ‘chairman’ of NSCN-K, died on June 9, 2017, after a prolonged illness in a hospital at Taga in the Sagaing Division of Myanmar. Earlier, Isak Chisi Swu, ‘chairman’ of NSCN-IM, had died of multiple organ failure at a hospital in Delhi, on June 28, 2016. Khango Konyak replaced S.S. Khaplang in NSCN-K, while the post of ‘chairman’ remains vacant in NSCN-IM. Also, on May 19, 2016, the Kholi Kitovi faction of NSCN (NSCN-KK) leader ‘general (retired)’ Kholi Konyak, moved to NSCN-IM and joined as its ‘vice-chairman’. M B Neokpao Konyak replaced Kholi Konyak and the erstwhile NSCN-KK is now known as the Kitovi-Neokpao faction of NSCN (NSCN-KN)]
The Naga Peace talks have taken an interesting turn with the inclusion of several other formations. An ‘inclusive’ settlement would certainly be an optimal outcome to resolve the longest surviving insurgency in the Northeast; but this is still a long way off.
* Giriraj Bhattacharjee
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management