The agreement was signed on Monday in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval by NSCN (IM) leader Thuingaleng Muivah and the government’s interlocutor R N Ravi at the PM’s official residence here.
The signing of the pact marks the culmination of over 80 rounds of negotiations spanning 16 years, with the first breakthrough made in 1997 when a ceasefire agreement was sealed. But the quest for a political settlement to the Naga issue goes back all the way to 1947 when Naga National Council leader A.Z. Phizo declared the independence of the Naga region one day before India itself became independent on August 15 that year.
After several rounds of discussions with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, Phizo took up arms. In the long and bloody civil war which followed, thousands of Naga civilians lost their lives, with the armed forces accused of human rights violations.
Although the ceasefire with the NSCN (IM) – the biggest Naga rebel group – has held firm for 18 years, another NSCN faction led by S.S. Khaplang continues to fight the army and is believed to be behind the deadly attack in Manipur in June that left 18 soldiers dead and 18 injured.
Details of agreement not known
As of Monday night, neither the Government of India nor the NSCN (IM) had made public the text of the agreement signed. While the insurgent group has long conceded its demand for an independent Nagaland, how the new understanding deals with the NSCN (IM)’s long-standing call for integration of all Naga-inhabited areas in the North East across Manipur – including parts of the hill districts of Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenlong and Chandel – Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, is not yet clear. The NSCN’s demand for what it calls greater ‘Nagalim’ is opposed by these states.
While the Union government said details of the agreement would be released soon, NSCN (IM) leader V.S. Atem was quoted by Morung Express as describing the framework agreement as a “preamble” which would form the basis on which “a final solution to the uniqueness of Naga history and political rights is to be reached.”
“Details are still being worked out… the framework agreement will be the main principle within which issues will be worked out,” Atem told the Nagaland newspaper from Delhi. He said the agreement would be made public on Tuesday.
In a televised address on the occasion of the signing ceremony, Modi described the accord as “historic”, adding, “Today, we mark not merely the end of a problem, but the beginning of a new future… We will not only try to heal wounds and resolve problems, but also be your partner as you restore your pride and prestige.”
Muivah said the government and the Nagas were entering a “new relationship” but added that “beginning from now, challenges will be great.”
The choice of Ravi, a former high official in the Intelligence Bureau, as the government’s interlocutor was not without controversy, given his description of the ceasefire with the NSCN(IM) as “reckless” in an article for The Hindu as recently as January 2014.
Earlier GOI interlocutors have included former governor Swaraj Kaushal, former Union minister Oscar Fernandes, former Union home secretary K Padmanabhaiah, and more recently, R.S. Pandey.
Before Monday’s agreement was signed, Modi spoke to leaders of various parties including Congress President Sonia Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress’ Mallikarjun Kharge, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, BSP’s Mayawati, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
He also spoke to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her Tamil Nadu counterpart J Jayalalithaa besides the Nagaland Governor Padmanabha Acharya and Chief Minister T R Zeliang. He also called up DMK leader M Karunanidhi and JD(S) leader H D Deve Gowda.
“Today’s agreement is a shining example of what we can achieve when we deal with each other in a spirit of equality and respect, trust and confidence; when we seek to understand concerns and try to address aspirations; when we leave the path of dispute and take the high road of dialogue. It is a lesson and an inspiration in our troubled world,” the Prime Minister said at the signing ceremony.
‘Legacy of British colonialism’
He said there were not many like Mahatma Gandhi, “who loved the Naga people and sensitive to their sentiments. We have continued to look at each other through the prism of false perceptions and old prejudices.” .
“The Naga political issue had lingered for six decades, taking a huge toll on generations of our people,” the Prime Minister said in a reference to the violence which has claimed over 3000 lives since Independence.
“Unfortunately, the Naga problem has taken so long to resolve because we did not understand each other… Today, as you begin a new glorious chapter with a sense of pride, self-confidence and self-respect, I join the nation in saluting you and conveying our good wishes to the Naga people,” Modi said.
Muivah appreciated Modi’s “vision” and “wisdom” and said Nagas “can be trustworthy”.
He mentioned that the peace moves were first initiated by the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao when the outfit gave a commitment about ceasefire. Then the outfit leaders had held talks with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001.
Modi said the problem was a “legacy of British Rule” and “the colonial rulers had, by design, kept the Nagas isolated and insulated.”
He said they had “propagated terrible myths about Nagas in the rest of the country” and “deliberately suppressed the reality that the Nagas were an extremely evolved society”.The Prime Minister said “negative ideas” were also spread about the rest of India amongst Naga people. “This was part of the well known policy of divide and rule of the colonial rulers,” he said.
He said he had the “deepest admiration for the great Naga people for their extraordinary support to the peace efforts” and complimented the NSCN(IM) for maintaining the ceasefire agreement for nearly two decades, with a sense of honour that defines the great Naga people.
The Prime Minister said that since assuming office last year, peace, security and economic transformation of North East has been amongst his “highest priorities. It is also at the heart of my foreign policy, especially the ‘Act East’ Policy.”
He said he had personally kept in touch with the progress of the negotiations with NSCN(IM).
79-year-old Muivah has been at the forefront of the negotiations with the government.
Despite the government-brokered ceasefire with NSCN(IM) in 1997 and NSCN(K) in 2001, the Naga insurgent groups continued to indulge in inter-factional killings and targeting of security forces outside Nagaland where the ceasefire does not exist.
Rampant corruption, collection of taxes, levies and extortion had added to the woes of the common people in Nagaland and Manipur, official sources said.
19 other top Naga leaders from different groups and civil society organisations were also present at the function to sign the accord.
NSCN hails agreement
On its part, the NSCN-IM today said the framework agreement was based on the “unique” history of Nagas and recognised the universal principle that in a democracy sovereignty lies with the people.
Hours after the accord was signed, the Naga rebel group said the attitude of Nagas towards India changed considerably when the BJP government took “realistic” steps in recognising the ‘unique history and situation of the Nagas’ on July 11, 2002 and it demonstrated the desire for a lasting and honourable political solution of the issue.
“Better understanding has been arrived at and a framework agreement has been concluded basing on the unique history and position of the Nagas and recognising the universal principle that in a democracy sovereignty lies with the people,” NSCN-IM general secretary Th Muivah, who signed the pact, said in a statement.
The rebel group, which has been fighting for a sovereign Naga homeland for decades and has finally given up on that, said that after decades of confrontation and untold sufferings, the Nagas responded to have political dialogue with the government of India in view of the acknowledgement that the government will seek a peaceful solution to the Naga issue.
In its statement, the NSCN-IM applauded the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present when the agreement was signed, saying the pact was concluded due to the “statesmanship and steely resolve” shown by him towards finding a final political solution.
“We praise the Naga people and the people of India for exercising unprecedented patience in supporting the Indo-Naga peace process. With all faith and confidence, we believe that an honourable peaceful political solution will be worked out before long.”
Nagaland CM welcomes deal
Meanwhile, Nagaland Chief minister T R Zeliang and the lone member of parliament from the state Neiphiu Rio has welcomed the signing of the peace accord between the government of India and NSCN(IM).
Zeliang said in a statement that he was informed by the Prime Minister about the signing of the peace accord with NSCN (IM).
While details of the accord are still awaited, the CM expressed confidence that “both the parties have taken into account the aspirations of the Nagas as expressed by Naga civil societies during their interactions with the interlocutor, R.N. Ravi.
“Our people have been struggling for more than six decades for a settlement to the Naga issue and the signing of the peace accord is a welcome step towards such a settlement,” he said.
The chief minister also said that this positive development will pave the way for a permanent solution acceptable to the Nagas.
Rio said “a historic peace accord was signed between the government of India and NSCN-IM today in New Delhi in the presence of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi”.
Rio said that after the signing of the accord the Prime Minister spoke to him and appealed for cooperation in the peace process. “I assured him of my fullest assistance and cooperation in our common endeavor to achieve permanent peace,” he said.
“It is indeed a landmark occasion for the country, especially the Naga people who have struggled for more than six decades in our search for permanent peace,” he said.
The efforts and sacrifices of all the national workers especially Isak Chishi Swu and Th Muivah need to be appreciated by one and all, he said adding that every Naga family has made sacrifices “in our journey towards peace and the attainment of permanent peace will be the true achievement of Naga people.”
Naga civil society ‘waiting for details’
IANS adds: The Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights (NPHMR) chairman N. Krome said, “We were all caught by surprise by the sudden announcement.” He said they were aware that something was happening “but we did not realise that something like this would happen so soon”.
A top leader of Nagaland’s apex body of tribes on Monday hailed the ‘peace accord’ signed by the Indian government and the NSCN-IM, saying the Nagas were hungry for peace.
But some Nagas wondered why there was so much silence before the accord was signed. Chuba Ozukum, president of Naga Hoho, an apex body, expressed happiness over the accord and hoped it will bring a lasting solution to the Naga problem. “It has been a long-standing desire of the people of Nagaland. However, it is difficult to say much as I am yet to see the contents of the accord,” he said. “The people of the state have been longing for a peace accord for a long time,” he said.
Former Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir told IANS: “I am yet to see the contents of the accord. Without knowing that, it is difficult to comment.” He added: “I was not aware the accord was going to be signed today. It seems they have done it silently for reasons best known to them.”
A leader of the Naga Students Federation said on the condition of anonymity: “The announcement came as a shocker. The people of Nagaland have been longing for this. “Now we are waiting eagerly to see the contents,” he added.
With inputs from PTI