Nagaland Peace Accord & Narendra Modi


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In a remarkable move the officials of government of India signed a peace agreement with a  major Naga tribal group, waging a guerrilla war with the central government for over past six decades. The agreement besides restoring peace in the region also attempts to build institutions bestowing greater autonomy to Naga tribes. The peace pact reached between the government of India and the largest militant faction of the North East, National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), NSCN (IM) can significantly bring down the insurgent insurrection. While the finer details of the accord and the mechanisms of its execution are still under wraps the move is welcomed by all political parties. Modi recalling it as a major triumph under the flag of Act East Policy reiterated that restoring peace, economic and social progression of North East has been his utmost priority.

To appreciate the crux of the issue, it is worth recapitulating the genesis and epic-proportions of the Naga insurgency tale. The undivided Goalpara district or the Assam province which was under the control of the Ahom rulers of Burma became part of the Bengal Subah of the Mughal Empire after conflicts. Subsequently in 1765 it fell into the hands of East India Company along with Bengal and became part of the special administrative region of North-Eastern parts of Rangpur. After a series of Anglo- Burmese wars and enforcement of Doctrine of Lapse the entire region of Assam was annexed to British India by 1833 (1). British later on captured several Naga territories and consolidated them under the Naga Hills district in Assam. Actually each Naga village was sovereign and ruled by tribal heads and Naga tribes had no common identity. British guilefully permitted the penetration of Christian Missionaries into the region and inadvertently religion fostered unity between Naga tribes.

Nagas were recruited by British during World War I as labour corps and sent to France. But they were alienated from rest of the British Indian troops and this alienation promoted unity between them. Upon returning to their homeland Nagas with few British officials formed the Naga Club in 1918.  Under the government act of 1919 British declared Naga Hill district as backward tract and treated it as separate entity. In 1928 Naga club submitted a memorandum to Simon Commission requesting that Nagas be allowed to have right to self-determination after their departure from India. In 1930’s the Naga tribes under the leader of Haipou Jadonang and Rani Gaidinliu rebelled against British. As per Government Act of India 1935, the Naga Hill district was declared as an Excluded area administered by Governor of Assam.

In 1945 C. R. Pawsney formed a Naga Hills District Tribal Race which evolved into Nagaland National Council (NNC) under the leadership of Angami Zapi Phizo. Phizo considered as Father of Nagas led an armed secessionist revolution and campaigned for a sovereign Naga nation. On August 14th 1947, a day before India’s independence Phizo declared the independence of Nagaland. Anticipating a stiff opposition from the insurgent group of Nagas prior to declaration of independence in June, 1947 the governor of Assam Sir Akbar Hyderi initiated peace talks. He signed a 9-point agreement with moderate members of NNC. The Hyderi accord agreed to grant judicial, executive and legislative powers and autonomy in land related matters. But the constituent assembly failed to ratify the accord that envisioned Naga demand for a sovereign state with India as a Guardian power for 10 years.  Instead they were granted district autonomy within Indian constitution.

In 1948 an agreement was reached between NCN and Government of India recognising Naga people right to self-determination (3). But NNC under the leadership of Phizo intensified their demand to establish a sovereign Naga state. He conducted a referendum in 1951 wherein nearly 99% voted for an independent Nagaland. Phizo has called for boycott of general elections in 1952 and launched violent secessionist movement. He also met Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1951 and 1952 with a petition for sovereign status and separate electorate for Nagas but was refused. He was later in Burma arrested for illegal entry. Phizo then created an underground government, Naga Federal Government (NFG) and Naga Federal Army (NFA) on March 22nd 1956 (4). To quell the raising insurgency, government inducted Armed Forces and enforced Armed Forced (Special Powers) Act in 1958. Phizo escaped to East Pakistan in 1956 and lived in exile till death in London.

In the meanwhile government of India placed Naga Hills District under the tribal districts “Part A” category as per the sixth schedule of constitution, as an autonomous district governed by Governor of Assam with a limited representation in Assam state legislative assembly and Indian Parliament. This arrangement was refused by the Naga leaders. Hence along Tuensang division it was placed in “Part B” category as an area in the North East Frontier Agency under the administrative authority of Ministry of External Affairs in 1957. Following negotiations with secessionists the region was later converted into a full-fledged state of Nagaland in 1963, December 1st.

Government constituted a peace mission consisting of Jaya Prakash Narain, Assam chief minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha and Rev Michael Scott that signed an Agreement for Suspension of Operation (AGSOP) with insurgent groups in April, 1964. But relentless violations by NNC and NFG continued to rock the state in spite of the six rounds of peace negotiations. The peace mission was abandoned in 1967. In 1972 government launched a massive counter-insurgency operation and banned the NNC and NFG under the unlawful associations act. Situation was brought under control by 1975 and a section of the NNC and NFG on November 11th 1975 signed the famous Shillong Accord. Consequently the Naga rebels accepted the supremacy of Indian constitution, renounced arms and demand for secession of Nagaland from India (5).

But peace still eluded this region as nearly 150 rebels who were away in China and Burma for training during the signing of agreement refused to accept the final settlement with Indian government. Among them the trio of Isak Chisi Swu, Thuingaleng Muviah and S, Khaplang blatantly rejected the agreement and in the next five years parted from ways with NNC and created National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. This group quickly emerged as a strong rebel contingent and NNC-NFG became less active. But by 1988 the rebellion within the group resulted in splintering of the unit into NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) and the names of factions denote the rebel leaders heading them. In 1990 after death of Phizo, NNC split into NNC (A) led by Phizo’s daughter Adino and NNC (K) headed by Vice-president Khodao Yanthan. NNC (K) later merged with NSCN (IM) (6). Each of the splinter groups represents different tribes. Konyaks group is led by S. Khaplang of NSCN (K), a Hemie Naga from Myanmar. Tangkhuls led by Isak, a Sema from Nagaland and Muivah a Tangkhul from Ukhrul district of Manipur.

Irrespective of the tribes they represent, the ultimate aspiration of the Naga leaders has been to merge the contiguous areas of the Naga territories and create a greater Nagaland or Nagalim, four times the size of Nagaland. The putative Naga territory encompasses districts in Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar. Hence each of these states is wily of such a demand. This desire for Nagalim is so entrenched that even the elected representatives of the Nagaland assembly still continue to pass the resolution on the need for carving out Nagalim. India signed cease-fire agreements with NSCN (IM) in 1997 and with NSCN (K) in 2001. While NSCN (IM) has climbed down on their demand for a sovereign state for Nagas, they are particular about the creation of Nagalim. During the ceasefire period violent conflicts erupted between these two rival factions of NSCN.  Government of India held as many as 80 negotiations through interlocutors and monitored by the ceasefire commission with these factions. It emerged that NSCN (IM) has been sincere in its commitment.

NSCN (K) violated ceasefire agreement in March 2015, drawing support from ULFA, Bodos and Manipur militants it surfaced as United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia. It executed an attack on Indian Army which resulted in the death of 18 jawans in Manipur on June 4th 2015. The present accord is termed historic as government clinched an agreement with the largest Naga groups which in turn can pave way for bringing other minor Naga factions on board. Prime Minister Modi is believed to have effectively utilised the good will created by Atal Bihari Vajpayee who wooed Nagas with his immaculate gestures and open confessions. He was the only Prime Minister fondly remembered by people of Nagaland for appreciating and recognising their unique history and frankly admitting the failures of Indian government that left trails of blood in the state (7).

According the interlocutor RN Ravi, the ground work for the accord has been done under the UPA government but the indecisive leadership frittered away the opportunity for a major breakthrough in 2012. Perhaps, the recent ceasefire violations by NSCN (K) propelled central leadership into swift action and spurred them to clinch an agreement with its rival faction NSCN (IM). But for the collaborative action of Ajit Doval, interlocutor RN Ravi, Nagaland governor PB Acharya and the Naga People’s front leader TR Zeliang this mission couldn’t have been achieved.

While the details of the initial framework agreement are sketchy, it is believed that since government of India will not compromise on the sovereignty and integrity of the country, redrawing of state boundaries may be ruled out. But the accord might have entailed upon greater autonomy to the Naga dominated regions in the various states. While article 371 (A)   already accords special status to Nagaland, government might consider strengthening it further (8).

The accord signed by Modi is truly iconic as it comes after a long duration of unrelenting parley of peace negotiations with promise of restoring the peace in the region marred with violence. The pact epitomizes the exemplary statesmanship of Modi and his steadfast commitment to make North East region more inclusive. The true test for the government lies in carefully dealing with different state governments of the region, in decommissioning arms of rebels and their absorption into mainstream and chalking out a robust long-term development projects for the North East.

[ For this article I am indebted to Mr. Ramaharitha Pusarla . He published the article on August 06, 2015 under the title of “Historic Naga Accord” in the website MyIndMakers. I am posting verbatim that very article and I express my deep gratitude and indebtedness to Mr. Pusarla. ]

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Irom Sharmila’s 11 Years v/s Anna Hazare’s 12 Days


MUMBAI – MAHARASHTRA – INDIA             SEPTEMBER 06, 2011           08.30 P.M.

I am all for eradication of corruption. And if Anna Hazare is spear-heading a movement and went for a 12 days fast for the cause , it is a welcome sign and it should get wholehearted support of the nation and people. Government of the day and the parliament took cognizance of his endeavour and parliamentarians cutting across party line went into huddle and passed the resolution for the Lokpal bill , as was demanded by Team Anna . Vilas Rao Deshmukh , a central minister , was dispatched to the Ramlila ground with the letter of the Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh , informing him that the resolution is passed by the parliament and that he should now break his fast. Very next day Ana Hazare ended his fast and the nation was relieved.

I fail to understand the mindset of our national and regional parties. If Anna’s fast can galvanize whole nation and everyone was concerned for his life, why this concern is not shown to Irom Sharmila Chanu , 38 , who is fasting since November 02 , 2000. She stopped eating when Assam Rifles troopers , while chasing militants , killed 10 villagers at Malom village . She was subsequently arrested and now being force – fed through a nasal tube in a hospital. It is now 11 year-long hunger strike and no one is concerned. The central government , political parties of all hue and colours , the electronic and print media , the intellectuals and conscience – keepers of our country and various NGOs , working in different sectors , all , either ignored her or didn’t show concern . National Human Rights Commission [ NHRC ] and National Commission for Women [ NCW ] are intriguingly silent too . Why ? Is it because she hails from North East India or more precisely from Manipur ? is her life not precious enough ? Is she a child of a lesser God ? Is she not even a speck in the scheme of the nation called India ?

Irom Sharmila Chanu

Irom Sharmila Chanu

India’s neglected North East Region and our so-called love for our motherland is a conundrum. Assam , Arunachal Pradesh , Meghalaya , Nagaland , Manipur ,Tripura and Mizoram are called 7 sisters and they are part of  North East India. Now Sikkim is also  part of the North East and should be included in the group . This makes total 8 provinces in the region.

Political boundary of Assam in the 1950s.

Political boundary of Assam in the 1950s.

Apart from Assam , two other provinces of North East ; Manipur and Tripura were in existence even at the time of independence . Later on Nagaland was created in 1963 and finally in 1972 during Indira Gandhi‘s tenure Arunachal Pradesh , Meghalaya and Mizoram came into existence and thus 7 sisters were born. Sikkim also became a part of India in 1975 during Indira Gandhi’s tenure.

Map of the Seven Sister States of North East India & Sikkim

Map of the Seven Sister States of North East India & Sikkim

NAGALAND :

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Soon after independence , people in Nagaland and Mizoram started agitation for independence. Armed struggle is being carried on since then. The Nagas were the first one to demand a sovereign nation for Nagas. Their leader Angami Zapu Phizo formed Naga National Council and on August 14, 1947 started armed struggle for independent Nagalim. In 1963 central government gave statehood to Nagaland as the 16th state of Indian Union and started peace talks. In 1980 National Socialist Council of Nagalim was formed by T. Muivah , Isak Swu and S. Khaplang and they are still fighting in Nagaland , though now they are devided into two separate factions.; NSCN [ I – M ] and NSCN [ Khaplang ] . So far more than 25,000 lives have been lost in the bloody struggle of Nagaland.

MIZORAM :

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Laldenga and his Mizo National Front waged war for independence in Mizoram. In 1986 after the Mizo Accord, though,  insurgency ended but Hmar People’s Convention – Democratic and The Bru National Liberation Front have kept the flame alive.

MEGHALAYA :

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Meghalaya , though , relatively peaceful have two organizations fomenting trouble . They are ; The Achik National Volunteer Council formed in 1995 for an Achik Land in Garo Hills and  The Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council formed in 1992 to free state from Garo and non – tribal Indian domination.

TRIPURA :

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At the end of 1970 several insurgent groups emerged in Tripura and started fight for the safeguard of tribal rights and end of the dominance of Bengalis from mainland India. Main among them are : National Liberation Front of Tripura formed in 1989 and All Tripura Tigers Force formed in 1990 .

ASSAM :

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The biggest state of North East India is troubled because of porous borders with Bangladesh . Anti – foreign agitation of 1980 spawned many insurgent groups in Assam. Main among them are : United Liberation Front of Asom formed in 1979 to establish a sovereign , independent Assam , National Democratic Front of Bodoland formed in 1989 to establish autonomous region of Bodoland , Karbi Longri N.C. Hills Liberation Front  formed in 2004 to fight for the cause of Karbi tribes and United People’s Democratic Solidarity formed in 1999 to fight for self-rule of Karbi trbes of Karbi Anglong. At present Assam is the most disturbed state of North East.

MANIPUR :

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State of Meiteis , who are Vaishnavites by faith , is also troubled and it started when some Naga organizations gave call to include Naga inhabited areas of Manipur into Greater Nagaland. Most important insurgent group of Manipur is Peoples Liberation Army formed in 1978 with the sole aim of liberating Manipur from India . The second one ; United National Liberation Front was created in 1964 and it also demands independence . Third important group ; Peoples Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak is also an organization of some importance demanding independence from Indian rule.

Above mentioned facts are very basic and known history of the insurgency in the North Eastern Region. To counter these movements and armed struggles , Government of India promulgated AFSPA  , [ Armed Forces Special Powers Act ] of 1958 in the region. This act gives sweeping powers to armed forces. It gives them license to kill . Currently AFSPA is in force in Assam , Nagaland , Manipur [ barring some areas in and around Imphal , the capital of the state ] , 2 districts of Arunachal Pradesh [ Tirap and Changlang ] and some areas of Tripura .

People of North East resent the draconian AFSPA and they want its removal . Removal of AFSPA is demanded in Jammu & Kashmir also. I am intrigued that  removal of AFSPA is being considered sympathetically by the central government in Jammu & Kashmir but when it comes to Manipur or other areas of North East it is refused point blank. Recently Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram visited Manipur and said that since there is no consensus , so AFSPA cant be removed. Was there consensus about Anna Hazare’s demand in the beginning ? Everyone sat and consensus emerged. If consensus could be manufactured in Anna’s case , why can’t it be done in the case of Irom Sharmila Chanu ? Anna’s fast is hailed as the democratic right of citizen of this country and his subsequent victory is heralded as the sign of vibrant democracy but Irom Sharmila’s fast is viewed as sedition. Anna got all the sympathy and Irom Sharmila got indifference.

Is it sign of vibrant democracy that people of Manipur had to agitate for the creation of a new district ; Sadar Hills ? Mayawati , the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh , creates districts at her whims and fancies and central government acquiesces. But in Manipur a tribal organization resorted to economic blockade for creation of Sadar Hills and no one took cognizance. A sense of outrage engulfed me when I saw a photo of a group of women protesting naked for the removal of AFSPA. Still no cognizance was taken. Insensitive central government ignores all the above mentioned demands , though the method was pure Gandhian , but the same government is willing to talk to the militants of Jammu & Kashmir for the removal of AFSPA . Can anyone explain me the cause for this partiality? If central government has no qualms in talking to Syed Ali Shah Geelani , Yasin Malik or other leaders of separatist Hurriyat Conference , then what is the hitch in talking to Irom Sharmila Chanu , who is not a militant or not resorting to armed struggle ? Of late talks are going on with ULFA leaders of Assam and NSCN [ I – M ] of Nagaland , who are waging armed struggle against Indian Union, but the silent , non – violent and peaceful movement of Irom Sharmil and the other women of Manipur is completely ignored.

I am pained , aggrieved and outraged . I can’t do much because I am too insignificant. But I firmly believe that if central government can talk to separatists of Hurriyat Conference of Jammu & Kashmir , then it can talk to Irom Sharmila Chanu also. If government of India can work out modalities for the breaking of the fast of Anna Hazare , then it can work out something for Irom Sharmila also. If consensus was evolved for Anna’s cause , it could be evolved for Irom Sharmila’s cause also. 12 days of Anna’s fast is too much but 11 years of Irom Sharmila’s fast is a lifetime.

Something should be done and it should be done soon.

Irom Sharmila Chanu

Irom Sharmila Chanu

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