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The inclusivity imperative - Deccan Herald
The inclusivity imperative
Vikas Kumar
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Twenty years ago, when the government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland/Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) signed the first ceasefire agreement on July 25, 1997, Naga society was going through a phase of consolidation.

After a further eighteen years of negotiations, on August 3, 2015, the two sides signed a framework agreement that identified the parameters of an acceptable solution. In the intervening period, neither side tried to accommodate other interest groups in the peace process despite the growing assertion of diversity and efflorescence of dissent within Nagaland.

In the 1990s, the NSCN-IM emerged as first among equals in the Naga insurgency. Likewise, the newly formed Naga Hoho assumed the leadership of the civil society in Nagaland and, subsequently, across Naga areas in the North East. Political consolidation took place in two phases. In 1998, the Hoho called for a boycott of assembly elections. Only the SC Jamir-led Congress did not join the boycott - and won a third consecutive term.

Ahead of the 2003 elections, key Congress leaders joined the Nagaland Peoples' Front (NPF) and the Vajpayee government condoned the NSCN-IM's interference in favour of the NPF. The Congress also faced stiff opposition because of its pamphlet Bedrock of Naga Society, which questioned the cardinal beliefs of the partisans of independence.

Jamir, in fact, continues to stand by that pamphlet despite a string of electoral losses. The Congress fell short of majority and Jamir's Home Minister Neiphiu Rio formed the first NPF-led coalition government. The NPF eventually absorbed a majority of legislators of other parties.

The NPF allowed the NSCN-IM to entrench itself in Nagaland, while it expanded into NSCN-IM strongholds outside Nagaland. With the Hoho and the NPF under its influence, the NSCN-IM seemed destined to dominate Naga society. Its influence began to crumble ahead of the 2008 elections though.

In April 2007, a minor altercation culminated in a Sumi attack on Tangkhul-dominated Wungram colony in Dimapur. Later that year, a new Sumi-dominated faction emerged out of the NSCN-IM. Tangkhuls of Manipur dominate the NSCN-IM, while Sumis of Nagaland have a strong presence across all factions (in 2013, Sumis expelled the NSCN-IM from Mukalimi after an incident of molestation). Subsequently, at least six more factions or groups were launched in the Naga areas in India.

The vigorous campaign of the civil society organisation Against Corruption and Unabated Taxation (ACAUT) against extortion has seriously dented the legitimacy of the NSCN-IM and other competing factions. Also, the breakdown of a 14-years-long ceasefire between the government and the NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K), the second largest faction, has made it clear that an exclusive agreement with the NSCN-IM cannot guarantee peace. Indeed, the NSCN-K resumed armed struggle in the run-up to the Framework Agreement as there was no room for it in the peace process.

In a parallel development, the Hoho's claim to represent all Nagas was challenged. Six Naga tribes led by the Eastern Nagaland Peoples' Organisation (ENPO) left the Hoho and called for a separate "Frontier Nagaland" state. More recently, a new generation of organisations, such as the Nagaland Tribes Council (NTC), have accused the Hoho of being partial toward Manipuri Nagas and called for restricting the access of the latter to Nagaland's public resources.

Meanwhile, a game of musical chairs that saw four chief ministers in as many years stalled the NPF's plans to dominate the political space across "Greater Nagaland," with the BJP playing a prominent role in the game.

So, the Framework Agreement was signed amidst a growing "Nagaland for Nagas of Nagaland" sentiment and resentment against the NSCN-IM and its affiliates. The deteriorating health of the NSCN-IM Chairman Isak Swu, a Sumi who bolstered the Tangkhul-dominated outfit's legitimacy in Nagaland, also pushed the NSCN-IM to expedite the agreement. Swu, in fact, died before the agreement's first anniversary, and Khaplang passed away before the second.

Initially, the Framework Agreement appeared to be a masterstroke of the NSCN-IM General Secretary T. Muivah, a Tangkhul. However, the NSCN-IM squandered the opportunity by trying to silence those who feared that the agreement favoured Manipuri Nagas at Nagaland's expense. Moreover, the NSCN-IM's supporters in Nagaland discredited themselves by wholeheartedly supporting an agreement, whose contents have not been disclosed.

'Sons-of-the-soil' sentiment
The relative strength of the sons-of-the-soil camp and the partisans of the NSCN-IM became clear during the protests against women's reservation in urban local bodies in January-February this year. The latter remained clueless throughout, even as the masses rallied behind the sons-of-the-soil camp, forcing the cancellation of the election and the change of chief minister. So strong is the sons-of-the-soil sentiment on the streets that it has forced several long-estranged Nagaland-based non/anti-NSCN-IM factions to unite under a Working Group, which has attacked the NSCN-IM's "theatrical politics in their non-existent land called Greater Nagaland" and demanded inclusion in the peace process.

The changing equations in Nagaland are governed by a complex inter-tribal contest. The Congress is generally identified with Aos, the NPF with Angamis, and the NSCN-IM with Tangkhuls. Angamis leverage their centrality to the Tenyimia community to extend their influence, while Tangkhuls use the idea of "Greater Nagaland" to rally support.

Aos are harnessing the sons-of-the-soil sentiment to recover influence lost after Jamir's exit in 2003. Chakhesangs, Sumis and, to a lesser extent, Lothas are swing players. The Eastern Nagas are disengaged but indirectly influential. The ongoing inter-tribal power struggle was, in fact, triggered by the exit of the Eastern Nagas from the Hoho that destablised the earlier equilibrium.

Under the prevailing circumstances, expediting the Naga political problem's settlement through an exclusive dialogue with one of the factions will deepen divisions among Naga tribes as well as between Nagas and their neighbouring communities and further destabilise the region. Instead of rushing to sign another agreement, the government should allow the people on the ground to find a modus vivendi and also facilitate meaningful participation of diverse interest groups in the peace process.

(The writer teaches at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru)