New Delhi: Representatives of the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) – the signatories of the framework agreement signed in 2015 to help facilitate a Naga peace deal – will sit for a crucial meeting in New Delhi on October 24.
The meeting holds immense importance considering that it could end the recent stand-off between the two negotiating parties over the issue of a separate flag and constitution for the Naga people, as part of a peace accord.
According to reliable sources in the Nagaland government, the peace deal with the NSCN (I-M) “is in a make or break situation” over the hardening of positions around the issue.
“R.N. Ravi, the government’s interlocutor and the state governor, has already announced that a deal with or without the NSCN (I-M) will be sealed by October 31. So we can call tomorrow’s meeting the conclusive one with the I-M group. It can go either way,” the sources claimed.
On October 10, Ravi held a meeting with Thuingaleng Muivah in New Delhi on the issue. The interlocutor-cum-governor has also met Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently to apprise him of developments.
Aside from stating that Modi had asked him to close the peace negotiations by October, Ravi had also recently accused the I-M group of “mischievously” dragging the talks, adding that they could not go on “endlessly” “under the shadow of guns”.
In a statement issued on October 18 after a meeting in Kohima between various stakeholders, including the seven Naga Nationalist Political Groups (NNPGs), church leaders, United Naga Council, the apex body of the Nagas from Manipur, and non-Naga tribes among others, Ravi reportedly said that a mutually agreed draft comprehensive settlement had already been readied for signatures with them.
“Unfortunately, at this auspicious juncture, the NSCN (I-M) has adopted a procrastinating attitude to delay the settlement raising the contentious symbolic issues of a separate Naga national flag and constitution on which they are fully aware of the government of India’s position,” the statement said.
In the statement, the governor-cum-interlocutor ruled out the possibility of the Centre acceding to a separate flag and constitution for the Nagas, as demanded by NSCN (I-M).
On categorically being asked about the status of talks over the flag and the constitution, NSCN (I-M)’s chief of army, Anthony Shimray told The Wire, “The flag and the constitution are the legitimate rights of the Nagas because the government of India, through the framework agreement signed with us in August 2015, recognised the unique history of the Nagas and its shared sovereignty with India. It is in the interpretation of these words that we should look at the call for the flag and the constitution; it is for peaceful co-existence. Without it, we don’t think Nagas will get an honourable solution.”
Shimray, who is part of the ongoing negotiations with the Centre, said, “The framework agreement had raised a lot of hope among the Nagas. Now, you can’t call it just a piece of paper, set aside the signatories and bring in some others to roll out a peace accord. The solution must be based on the framework agreement.”
The framework agreement remains an undisclosed and secret document. The Ministry of Home Affairs, in 2017, had refused to share the details of the agreement in reply to an RTI filed by Venkatesh Nayak of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in New Delhi citing “confidentiality in public interest”. The government’s decision was later upheld by the Central Information Commission.
Significantly, the NSCN (I-M) top leader said that he was “a part of a meeting with the government of India where we had raised the issue of a separate flag and constitution. The government’s side said they will see how best to address it. However, after the reading down of Article 370 in Kashmir, suddenly it is off the table. But Kashmir and Naga issues are two separate issues.”
He added, “There has been an effort to bring peace for the last 22 years. This opportunity for peace may not come again and therefore it will be unfortunate if it breaks at this point.”
Meanwhile, reports say various church leaders have given “a clarion call to the Nagas to begin a fasting prayer for the Naga nation”.
The Naga HoHo, the mother body of all the 14 Naga tribes and considered by some to be close to the NSCN (I-M), in a statement issued on October 13, said that an “imposed settlement” would be unacceptable to the Nagas particularly when “core issues” which had led the peace process to reach a deadlock many a times have not been solved “amicably”.
Among others, the Nagaland chief minister Neiphu Rio is in New Delhi for the meeting on Thursday.