New Delhi: The consultative meeting of various influential civil society groups organised by Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio in Kohima on October 15 on the Naga issue has resolved to work in a “collective and unified manner with one voice” to “facilitate the peace process and strengthen the negotiations for early realisation of a desired one solution” which would be “acceptable and honourable”. The meeting was hosted by the chief minister at the state banquet hall inside the chief minister’s residential complex.
Significantly, while all the bodies representing various Naga tribes, civil society organisations, political parties, church leaders, prominent personalities of the Naga society in the state, etc. signed on a seven-point resolution at the end of the meeting, calling for facilitating the ongoing peace process with the Centre “with one voice”, the Naga Hoho walked out of the meeting post lunch. Naga Hoho is seen to be close to the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-Isak-Muivah).
Aside from various tribe-specific Hohos, the Naga Hoho represents all Nagas living across the north-eastern states of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. One of the major demands of the NSCN (I-M) during the negotiations with the Narendra Modi government since the signing of the Framework Agreement in August 2015 has be to find a solution encompassing all Nagas residing in the states of Nagaland, Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh under the ‘Nagalim’ or Naga homeland idea.
On being asked about the walkout, Chuba Ozukum, former Naga Hoho president, told The Wire, “I wasn’t there in the meeting. However, I was told that no organisation or individual was invited from the other Naga areas to the meeting and Naga Hoho was the only organisation which was supposed to speak on behalf of the people from Naga homeland but priority was not given to Naga Hoho delegation to present its views on the Naga political issue.”
Ozukam said, “It was a deliberate attempt by the co-chair of the meeting to exhibit disrespect to the Naga Hoho delegation.”
Co-chair and Bharatiya Janata Party national spokesperson M. Kikon, however, later told reporters that the time allotted to the Naga Hoho was post lunch. “They could have conveyed their displeasure about it to us instead of walking out. We didn’t see them walking out, it was not like the usual walking out that you notice.”
Yet another powerful organisation seen close to the NSCN (I-M), the Naga Mothers’ Association, Kikon added, signed the joint resolution.
A senior journalist from the state, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Wire, “It was very clear that the meeting was conducted primarily at the behest of the Government of India to try and make all the influential Nagaland-based non-governmental organisations, religious and tribal bodies and individuals to resolve publicly that they want an early and one solution to the Naga issue. This is also because the government wanted to check the pulse of these organisations before pushing ahead strongly for a Naga accord.”
“It is to break the stalemate with the NSCN because of its demand for a separate flag and a constitution which the Centre has refused,” the journalist continued. “The state governor and interlocutor R.N. Ravi have already said that the government, if required, will go ahead with the peace accord with the seven Naga National Political Groups (NNPGS) which are not very keen on these demands. It means the process may be speeded up from now on without the NSCN but with the support of these organisations and individuals based in Nagaland.”
The journalist said, “That the Naga Hoho was not given priority in the meeting only highlights that the Nagas in Nagaland would be given priority and other Nagas’ issues would be solved through special councils, etc. in the respective states. This is a position made known by the Centre some time ago.”
On August 10, The Wire had reported that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), following the NSCN (I-M)’s open disagreement with Ravi and demand for a change of the interlocutor, had decided to bring in “facilitators” from the Northeast in order to break the impasse with the NSCN (I-M). As per the MHA’s instructions, Nagaland chief minister Rio and Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, along with some others met NSCN (I-M) general secretary Th.Muivah at a Delhi hospital where he was admitted at the time.
The October 15 meeting has come after the MHA’s move.
In February, an unrelenting Muivah, who has been living in government accommodation in the national capital after signing the Framework Agreement in 2015, had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking to move the talks to “a third country”. The letter, so far kept a secret, was released to the media by NSCN on October 6.
Meanwhile, addressing those present at the October 15 meeting, Rio in his speech reiterated “one solution” for all Nagas and the need to “deliberate and support the peace process, strengthen the negotiations and facilitate the journey towards achievement of this ‘one solution’ in the earliest possible time”.
“Today’s gathering is not only historic, but it also sends out a clear message to the Government of India and the world that Nagas want genuine peace and that we continue to strive towards oneness and unity as One Naga Family. I am sure our voice and our desire will be heard across boundaries,” Rio said.
One of the resolutions signed by the delegations expressly stated that they “appreciate the government of India for acknowledging the unique history of the Nagas and for recognising the Naga issue as a political issue” (not as an issue of insurgency).
They also urged “the Naga political groups to honour and respect the Covenant of Reconciliation and maintain the sanctity of non-violence in letter and spirit for a shared Nag future as members of one Naga family.”