New Delhi: Nagaland is one of the Northeastern states that will hold meetings of the G20 during India’s presidency this year. Between April 4 and 6, a series of B20 meetings were held in the state capital Kohima with a galaxy of representatives from the G20 countries exploring business possibilities in the landlocked region.
Among those present in Kohima to take part in the Conference on Opportunities for Multilateral Business Partnerships in Agriculture and Food Processing on behalf of Germany was its consul general Manfred Auster. Speaking at the event on April 5, Auster complimented the Indian government for hosting the event in a conflict-ridden state like Nagaland, and added that being in the state, they could learn from the Nagas themselves about the situation in their state, the negotiations and the “will on all sides to find solutions”.
“For Germany, it is clear that the rule of law has to prevail and that is a very good basis for solving conflict, probably the only basis for coming to lasting solutions and that is the case everywhere domestically and in international relations,” an EastMojo report quoted the consul general as saying. “The fact that the Government of India (GoI) was inviting us to Nagaland despite some ongoing demands from civil societies that we could have read about in the papers is a sign of maturity of Indian democracy,” he added.
Events that transpired a day later suggest that the German diplomat may have spoken too soon. A six-member delegation of the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA), which has been one of the frontal organisations in Nagaland seeking an amicable peace accord between all stakeholders in the state and New Delhi, was barred from meeting Auster.
As per a press statement issued by NMA, the association’s six-member delegation arrived at Hotel De Oriental Grand at Kohima on April 6 to meet the German diplomat for tea on the basis of an invitation extended by his office on March 21. The statement said they had met the German diplomat at the Hornbill Festival in December 2022 and were keen to take forward a discussion with him to fund a project on women.
However, as soon as they arrived at the hotel, they were surrounded by dozens of police personnel in plainclothes and told that they couldn’t proceed beyond the lobby, the NMA statement said. The police told the delegation that they had been instructed not to allow them to meet the consul general.
“Then the Additional Superintendent of Police rushed into the hotel and conveyed that if the NMA wanted to meet the German Consul General they would have to go and meet the (state) Home Department or the top police officials. We refused as we had been invited for the meeting and had not sought any appointment (with the diplomat),” the NMA statement said.
“Following much chaos, the German Consul General Manfred Auster himself came to the lobby, apologising for the government obstruction to the meeting,” added the statement. “We were able to share our various concerns on the situation in the state, standing in the hotel lobby, surrounded by police and G20 staff,” the NMA said, regretting that no discussion, though, could take place on the project.
Condemning the government’s action, and disrespect shown to the women’s delegation, which also included former members of the state women’s commission, the NMA added, “If this is the way the State government treats foreign country top leaders and stops discussions for investments and grants, what is the real purpose of hosting the G20 and B20 Summits in the state?”
Confirming the NMA’s appointment with the consul general, a German embassy spokesperson told The Wire, “In line with the functions of any diplomatic mission, our Consulates regularly reach out to the public, the media and to a wide range of civil society within their consular districts. A meeting with the NGO in question was scheduled in this context.”
As of now, the spokesperson said, “There is no cooperation project by the German government with the NGO in question.”
Speculating why the government might have barred the NMA delegation from meeting the diplomat, a Kohima-based senior journalist, on condition of anonymity, told The Wire, “NMA was part of a joint statement issued by some top frontal organisations of the state on April 4 seeking international intervention to find a solution to the vexed Naga issue. It looks like the government’s action was in tandem with that move.”
Civil society organisations sought intervention
On the day the G20 representatives arrived in Nagaland, NMA, along with three other top civil society organisations – the Naga Students Federation (NSF), the Naga Hoho (NH) and Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) – urged the international community through a statement to “humanly intervene in the violations of human rights in the Naga country”.
The statement read:
“A political dialogue following the ceasefire agreement in 1997 is in place and a framework agreement in 2015 has been signed by the representatives of the government of India and the Naga people as the basis to work out the political agreement to resolve the armed confrontation. Although a decade shy of two years is nearly passed, yet the political resoluteness and honourable approach and guarantee on the part of the government of India remains a dangerous doubt.”
It then said, “We implore upon the international community to humanly intervene in the violations of human rights in our Naga country, recognize our legitimate political, social, economic and religious rights as enshrined in the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.” The joint statement also recalled former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros Ghali “while still holding the office, officially acknowledging” that “there is human rights situation in Nagaland.”
With rarely an event of global stature taking place in the Northeastern state, where the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is in place, these signatories to the statement had also put up large banners at strategic positions in the state accusing “India/Burma” of “occupying” their land. According to local news reports, on April 4, NSF and Diphupar Naga Students Union held banners on the route that the delegates took which read, “Nagas had no conflict with any other nations till Indian military invaded and occupied our country.” The reports said such banners were put at the airport junction in Dimapur and at Patkai Bridge along the national highway that connects Dimapur to Kohima “to express the ‘aspiration’ of the Naga people.”
Confirming the news, Kegwayhun Tep, president of NSF, told The Wire, “Not every time you get to see such a large international delegation visiting Nagaland. We, therefore, thought of asserting our citizens’ rights in a democracy to voice our thoughts, which we did by putting up banners. I should say, it was successful considering there was heavy security across the state and yet we could assert our democratic right.”
Note: This article has been updated since publication with the German embassy spokesperson’s response.