Guwahati: The working committee of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) Tuesday said it is ready for an agreement with the Government of India. The announcement comes amid last week’s speculation that the Naga Peace Talks might collapse, and Thuingaleng Muivah, Ato Kilonser (general secretary) of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), stating in a recent interview that the Nagas will never be part of the Indian Union or accept India’s Constitution.
Sources said Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and Leader of the Opposition T.R. Zeliang, along with North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) convener and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi Tuesday over the talks.
The face-to-face talks between the NSCN (I-M) and the Centre held in the national capital during the Covid-19 pandemic has been inconclusive, with the Naga group remaining steadfast on its demand for a separate Naga national flag and constitution, and the government also digging in its heels against this.
The NNPGs are a group of seven Naga rebel outfits that are also holding talks with the central government, but separately.
“The practical and progressive thinkers have made up their minds that three-year negotiations with transparency and a defined political roadmap for Nagas everywhere, agreed by GOI and WC, is more acceptable than a disturbing 23-year undeclared talks,” working committee of NNPGs convener N. Kitovi Zhimomi said in a statement.
Zhimomi’s statement refers to a 23-year-long attempt to shift from the battleground of insurgency to the negotiating table, with the NSCN (I-M) holding more than 100 rounds of peace talks with the Centre within and outside the country. The Centre officially extended the scope of talks with NNPGs by signing a ‘deed of commitment’ two years after it signed a Framework Agreement with the NSCN (I-M) in August 2015.
Asked precisely if the NNPGs are ready to sign an agreement leaving out the NSCN (I-M), WC coordinator Alezo Venuh told ThePrint: “It is up to the I-M; they have also agreed for a solution on 31 October 2019. We cannot speak on their behalf.”
However, reiterating the stand of the NSCN (I-M), deputy kilonser Kehoi Swu told ThePrint: “If the issues of flag and constitution cannot be resolved now according to the wishes and the rights of the Nagas, anything that is signed now will not last long.”
After the ‘conclusion’ of the peace talks on 31 October last year, the government had issued a statement, saying any settlement with the Naga groups would be reached only after consultations with all stakeholders, including neighbouring states Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The government had earlier imposed this deadline to strike a deal with the NSCN (I-M), with Nagaland Governor and interlocutor R.N. Ravi announcing in July 2019 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi desired to conclude the talks within three months.
The North-eastern states have been wary of the Framework Agreement the NSCN (I-M) leaders signed with the Indian government in August 2015. The contents of the agreement have not yet been revealed, despite apex tribal bodies and civil society urging for transparency.
Future will decide who is a ‘traitor’
In his 16 October interview, Muivah made his disdain towards the NNPGs clear by calling them ‘traitors’. Zhimomi, in his statement, responded that this will not change the narrative.
“Naga history reserves the right to determine who masterminded divisions, gave genocidal ideas, put them into action and interpreted covert tribal supremacy as ‘national principle’ or ‘Naga nationalism’,” he said, adding that future generations should be allowed to determine who lived and died as a ‘traitor’ or ‘anti-Naga’.
The working committee of NNPGs demanded an explanation from the NSCN (I-M) on why the organisation said Nagas do not accept the Indian Union. “It could only mean that the political dialogue was a circus exercise for personal gains. The much touted Framework Agreement of 2015, by the very utterance, becomes invalid,” Zhimomi’s statement read.
“Whether an emotional outburst or otherwise, the organisation owes an explanation to the Naga people. It reeks (sic) despotic, incoherent, unreliable and anti-people character and mind,” it added.
In February this year, Muivah had written to PM Modi, requesting the government to facilitate talks “outside India in a third country”.
(This report has been updated with a reaction from NSCN (I-M)’s Kehoi Swu.)