Updated: July 22, 2021 07:12 AM GMT
The Angami Naga cultural troupe performs a folk song during the Sekrenyi Festival in Dimapur, Nagaland, on Feb. 25. Nagaland was declared an Indian state only in 1963. (Photo: AFP)
Fresh hopes for peace have been rekindled in the state of Nagaland, one of three Christian-majority states in northeastern India, with armed militant groups deciding to fast-track the peace process.
The decision was reached at a meeting between Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, legislators from all parties and leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) faction held in state capital Dimapur on July 21.
Veteran rebel leaders Thuingaleng Muivah and Q. Tuccou were part of the 15-member NSCN-IM delegation.
T.R. Zeliang, a former chief minister and co-convenor of the panel for peace process, said: “Now our expectation is Naga militant groups will sit across the table along with the 60 elected members. This will help us to arrive at common ground with the government of India.”
The Naga insurgency issue predates India’s independence in 1947 and essentially rests on the demand for Naga independence.
As in other parts of the northeast, the Indian army was tasked with containing the Naga insurgency movement in the late 1950s.
The peace initiative hit a roadblock when NSCN-IM leader Muivah raised the bogey of a separate flag and constitution for Nagas
Nagaland was declared a state only in 1963 and ever since has been consumed by the violence between security forces and militants.
The Naga peace process between the government and NSCN-IM commenced in August 1997 and since then multiple rounds of negotiations have taken place in Zurich, Bangkok, Singapore and New Delhi.
Substantial progress was made by October 2019 but the peace initiative hit a roadblock when NSCN-IM leader Muivah raised the bogey of a separate flag and constitution for Nagas. Both demands were rejected by the Narendra Modi government.
The Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), an umbrella organization of seven militant groups, now says it will not be insisting on any such demand and wants an early solution.
“As and when the government of India invites us for signing the peace document, we will sit across because there will be only agreement and one solution,” NNPG leader N. Kitovi Zhimomi said.
The road ahead may not be smooth, though.
In January, Nagaland governor R.N. Ravi, a former intelligence officer handpicked by PM Modi, issued a strong statement lambasting the extortion culture in the state.
“The menace of rampant extortion, under the guise of illegal taxation by anti-social elements, has not been fully curbed despite best efforts by the police and security forces,” he said.
My personal opinion is that the separate flag and constitution are the attributes of a sovereign nation
In fact, the NSCN-IM, claiming to be a native group, had been demanding the right to collect "taxes" from citizens. But the Indian government rejected it saying there could be no permission for extortion.
Congress veteran and former chief minister S.C. Jamir recently called on the NSCN-IM to give up its demands, including those for a separate flag and constitution.
“My personal opinion is that the separate flag and constitution are the attributes of a sovereign nation,” he said.
The 89-year-old Jamir is the last surviving signatory of the first Naga peace accord inked in 1960 that resulted in the creation of the separate state of Nagaland.