In August 2015, Prime Minister Modi led NDA government announced in the culmination of historic negotiations with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) or NSCN-IM. The agreement was labelled significant as it dealt with the question of India's longest running insurgency that had only grown bloodier over the years. The signing of the so called "Naga Accord" or the Framework Agreement has since been shrouded in controversy and now over a year later, there is absolutely no clarity on the provisions or the future of the agreement.
It was only in April 2016, that Bharat Bhushan citing Naga sources close to the negotiation brought out the key facets of the accord. 1 The provisions mainly dealt with the question of sharing resources, integration of Naga areas, a supreme Naga council among others. The provisions have since drawn criticism from other Naga groups. Further, the Hindustan Times reported that, "The peace accord is expected to figure in the forthcoming budget session of Parliament as the document will have a few clauses requiring parliamentary sanction. They include the concept of shared sovereignty, special constitutional privileges to safeguard the traditional rights of Nagas with recognition of the uniqueness of their history." Nevertheless, the accord failed to find its place on the table during the budget session and there has been no information from the government on its status.2
This paper aims to evaluate the Framework Accord in context of the Naga insurgency by looking at its fractured history. It will also critically evaluate the provisions that are presently being discussed in the public domain. Lastly, the paper looks at the question of whether the question of peace and normalcy in the context of this insurgency can actually be resolved and addressed merely by a formal politico- legal accord or not.Summary of the Naga Insurgency
The Naga insurgency has been India's longest running insurgency and can be traced back to the formation of the Naga National Council in 1946 under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo. After their call for an independent Naga state was denied, the movement began to turn violent. The Union government imposed the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in 1958 to crush the insurgency. The major breakthrough in terms of peace negotiations was the Shillong Accord of 1975. Under the accord, the leaders of the underground movement agreed to give up arms as well as accept the supremacy of the Constitution of India.
The accord led to fissures within the Naga movement and led to the establishment of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. It was formed when, "(a) group of about 140 members led by Thuingaleng Muivah, who were at that time in China, refused to accept the Shillong Accord, and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland in 1980. Muivah also had Isak Chisi Swu and S S Khaplang with him."3They termed the agreement a "betrayal" by the NNC and called out the Council for being a "sell-out."4 The NSCN then split up in 1988 into NSCN-K which was led by Khaplang and NSCN-IM that had Muivah who was earlier the NNC General Secretary and Isak Chisi Swu who was the NNC Vice President as its founders.
The NSCN-IM's main demand centres on a call for a "Greater Nagalim" which according to them must comprise all Naga-inhabited areas. These Naga-inhabited areas comprise territories of Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and even Myanmar where a sizeable chunk of the Naga population resides. The demand has also been asserted by the Nagaland State Assembly over five times since December 1964, with the latest being on July 27th, 2015.5 Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao was the first to lead substantial talks in the 1990s, a process that culminated in the accord announced by Prime Minister Modi.
Naga Accord 2015: An Outline
Ever since the agreement was announced by the NDA government it has been shrouded in controversy due to the severe information asymmetry that has been created around the issue. The secrecy attached to the contours of the accord has led to calls from various sections of the society, especially the Naga corner for a public discussion on the accord alongside the endorsement of the provisions by all Naga tribes and people.6 The need for such a demand emanates due to the accord being exclusively between the Central government and NSCN-IM which despite being the main actor in the insurgency cannot be assumed to be representing the voices of all Nagas.
In fact since the Accord was announced, there have been reports of violence by the NSCN-IM itself. In two separate instances, the group has been accused of attacking posts of the Indian Reserve Battalion and snatching weapons from the security personnel in Noney district of Imphal 7 as well as abducting and assaulting villagers in the Tamenglong district leading to the death of one as a result of its conflict with NSCN-K8, all in the past month only.
Now, over 16 months later the major details that have emerged are those in the above mentioned article by Bharat Bhushan. They are, One, a Pan Naga Hoho (essentially, a supreme Naga Council cutting across Naga-inhabited states) will be created as a statutory apex body with legislative, budgetary and negotiating powers. This will be an elected body and govern the Nagas eventually. Two, pending the integration of the Naga areas outside Nagaland into a single administrative unit, Regional Autonomous District Councils (RADCs) will be created for the Naga-inhabited districts of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. These will come under the Pan Naga Hoho.
Three, the Indian Parliament will enact a Special Naga Law which will be incorporated in the Indian Constitution. The Special Naga Law will contain the division of competencies -- subjects in the State, Union and Concurrent Lists of the Indian Constitution -- between the Centre and the Nagas. In this way, what the NSCN (IM) calls the Naga Constitution will become an integral part of the Indian Constitution. Four, all natural resources found in the Naga areas -below the ground and on the surface - will belong to the Nagas. They will have the full right to exploit them except in cases where they feel that they need to partner with the central government and its entities. In such cases, joint venture agreements will be signed for exploration and exploitation of resources.9
Appraisal of the Accord
The accord seems to be dead and buried even before it has been tabled for parliamentary approval. There are two major areas of contention here; the first is regarding the nature of the agreement itself and the major shortcomings that have been pointed out from all corners and secondly, the question is on the idea of an accord itself and its ability to end an insurgency that far exceeds its scope.
Now, looking at the areas of concern in the accord, the major ones are:
The primary issue is the secrecy around the accord that the government has curiously sought to maintain at all costs. The information asymmetry created as a result has meant that the intentions of the government behind the framework agreement are being targeted from all corners for denying the very people that the accord is meant for, the opportunity to meaningfully engage with its provisions. CPI (M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury summed up the problem when he said, "What are the details of the Naga Accord? The Government has given the Opposition no opportunity to even discuss it. Normally, a statement is made by the Minister in the House before making such an announcement when Parliament is in session. They may take the plea that making a statement was not possible since proceedings are being disrupted. In that case, they could have at least tabled it."10
Focussing on the provisions that are in the public domain, there are still major issues at hand. Nagaland Post, the second highest circulated newspaper in the region did a "post-mortem" of the said provisions in May, 2016. It argued that the creation of Regional Autonomous District Councils, as envisaged within the accord is a highly "far-fetched" ideal. The article argues, "A District is conventionally only a part of a State; based on the natural similarities of shared common Way of Life, Practices, Culture, Customs, Traditions, Language and ethnicity. The Naga-inhabited Area, of Arunachal or Assam or Manipur States may be made each a District with Autonomous Council under the State to internally administer itself, but with the consent of the States, not without their consent. An Autonomous District Council; to have "Legislative, Budgetary and Negotiating" (political?) undefined Power independent of the State, is far-fetched." 11
Another major question is on the notion of "Greater Nagalim" that the NSCN-IM has continually maintained as its objective. The accord being presented as a victory because the NSCN-IM has seemingly agreed to mellow down its demand for a contiguity of all Naga inhabited areas. However, the other Naga opposition groups are debating the NSCN-IM's mandate to decide the on the status of all Nagas, irrespective of their support towards the group. General Secretary of NSCN (Unification) Khitovi Zhimomi, whose faction was not part of the accord, said that Nagas of Nagaland were not supporting the peace deal as the NSCN (IM) leader T. Muivah was a "Naga from Manipur" who was merely speaking for his people. "After the accord was signed, Naga inhabitants in Manipur lighted candles in celebration. But in Nagaland not even a matchstick was lighted. The people in Nagaland are still in the dark about it. How can such an accord be accepted by the people of Nagaland?"12
Lastly, a major point of introspection rests on the idea that the accord, assuming it is agreed upon, is the elixir that India needs to end the Naga insurgency. The idea of relative deprivation that the Naga's and a host of other groups from the region imbibe is not limited to a lack of legal-political sovereignty. It goes beyond the issue of governance and is about the larger systemic social and economic discrimination that is meted out to people of the state and the region as a whole. An economic blockade in the state of Manipur is nearing two months without a sign of respite and the impact is extended to the landlocked states of Tripura and Mizoram also13, Prime Minister Modi's audacious demonetisation scheme is wreaking havoc in a region where two-thirds of the population does not have bank accounts.14
On top of this is the dehumanization that people from the region have to experience daily, in the words of Zhokusheyi Rhakho, a doctorate scholar, "68 years under Indian rule has shown what it takes for us to be Indian in India, because of our Mongoloid phenotype and cultural differences we are found absent in the common imaginary of the 'Indian face' thus the discrimination and marginalisation and therefore, regarded a lesser citizen."15 These realities beg for the need of a broader and more expansive perspective on the issue, something the Central government has so far failed to move towards.