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Turmoil in the North East: Where are the Naga Peace Talks headed?

NSCN (IM) demands clarity on BJP’s stand on Naga independence and plebiscite, even as a Core Committee is formed by Nagaland CM for the talks

Deborah Grey 17 Jun 2021

Just a day after a Core Committee was set up to take the Naga Peace Talks forward, the Isak Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) has demanded that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led central government first make its stand clear on two key events in Naga history: the declaration of Naga independence in 1947 and the Naga plebiscite of 1951.

On June 10, the government of Nagaland constituted a Core Committee that comprises Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament KG Kenye and Lok Sabha MP Tokhedo Yepthomi, and all 60 members of Nagaland’s Legislative Assembly. It is noteworthy that the ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDDP) is a BJP ally. Chief Minister Rio has convened a meeting of the Core Committee on June 19.

On June 11, the Times of India quoted a NSCN (IM) statement as saying, “BJP should make its stand very clear, either to admit these factual accounts of history or deny it.”

The subjects of independence and plebiscite were also mentioned in the latest issue of Nagalim Voice, a publication by the NSCN (IM). In an article titled Political Significance of Indo-Naga Ceasefires in Naga History, the publication says lays down the Naga version of events as they transpired post-independence.

“Not wanting to accept any form of foreign domination, alien subjugation and exploitation, the Nagas in the “Naga Hills District” formally declared their independence on August 14, 1947 from the British Rule,” says the publication adding, “The Nagas were invited to join the Union of India when it was formed for the first time in history in 1950, but they rejected the offer outright. On January 24, 1950, the Naga National Council (NNC) informed the Indian Government, the United Nations (UN) and those countries that had their embassies in Delhi that the Nagas do not accept the Indian Constitution.”

It further says, “To reaffirm the declaration of Naga Independence, the Naga people under NNC took the historical step to strengthen the Naga political movement as they organized a Naga Voluntary Plebiscite, and informed the Government of India (GoI) on January 1, 1951 of their intentions. The Plebiscite was held on the 16th May, 1951. The result tabulated eventually in March 1952 was 99.9% voted in favour of sovereign independent Naga state.”

Nagaland in Colonial times

As we have reported earlier, the history of how Nagaland came to be a part of India, is complicated.

A region with a large population belonging to Naga tribes came under the control of the British in 1881. In 1886, it was named the Naga Hills district. From 1875 to 1910 several other regions inhabited by various Naga tribes such as the Lotha Nagas, Ao, Sema Nagas and Konyak Nagas were annexed by the British and added to this district. In 1912, the Naga Hills district was made a part of the Assam Province for ease of administration. When Nagaland formally joined the Union of India in 1963, many lands with large Naga populations continued to be part of Assam.

In fact, at present there is also a dispute regarding the border between Nagaland and Assam, as Nagaland claims large swathes of land in four Assam districts of Shivsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong should be made a part of Nagaland given the large population of Naga people in the region and how historically the region was a part of Naga territory. These border dispute talks have been temporarily shelved till Covid-19 is brought under control in the region.

1947: Akbar Hyderi Agreement and Independence

In June 1947, the NNC and Assam Governor Akbar Hyderi initiated negotiations to settle the Naga issue by way of an interim political and administrative arrangement.

As per the agreement, the Nagas were granted varying degrees of judicial and administrative autonomy. The Naga Council was also granted taxation rights. The Governor of Assam and the Government of India were to ensure the observance of the agreement for a period of 10 years, following which a decision was to be taken to either extend the agreement or enter into a fresh one. 

However, the clause about the 10-year period has been interpreted by the two sides differently. While the Nagas saw it as independence from India after 10 years, India took it to mean that a new agreement would be entered into should the present one fail to address all concerns sufficiently.

However, this was not acceptable to the NNC and on August 14, 1947, Angami Zapu Phizo declared Nagaland’s independence, a move India did not find acceptable. 

Talks, violence, statehood and ceasefire

What followed was a period of talks with the Indian administration led by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. This period was often marred by bouts of violence before Nagaland formally became a state of India subject to certain conditions in 1963. But this did not stop armed insurgency and bloodshed in the region. Armed Naga groups, many of whom were designated terrorist groups clashed with Indian security forces leading to multiple casualties on both sides.

Meanwhile, several excesses including gendered crimes were alleged to have been committed by security forces who allegedly misused the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that was originally enacted in 1958.

Finally, a ceasefire was declared in 1997 following with concerted efforts were made from both sides to begin a peace process.

We have covered these historical developments in detail our previous reportage that may be read here.

Framework Agreement and Peace Talks

The Naga Peace Talks follow from a Framework Agreement signed between Naga groups led by NSCN (IM) and the government of India in 2015. It deals with several unresolved matters related to Nagaland’s autonomy. In 2017, six other Naga nationalist groups joined the talks. These are NSCN (Kitovi Zhimomi), the Naga Nationalist Council, the Federal Government of Nagaland, the NSCN (Reformation), the National Peoples Government of Nagaland (Non-Accord), the Government Democratic Republic of Nagaland (Non-Accord). Later even the NSCN-K came onboard and declared a ceasefire in December 2020.

In fact, in a speech delivered on March 22, 2021, a day commemorated as Nagaland’s 42nd Republic Day, NSC (IM) Yaruiwo (Chairman) Q Tuccu recognized the importance of the Framework Agreement and said, “The Framework Agreement is the meeting point of the two sovereign peoples. Sensible Nagas understand that this is one of the options where the Indians and Nagas can come closer to each other because it serves the purposes of both the parties. And therefore, it would be a great loss for them if they would betray the Framework Agreement or miss the chance.”

Naga demands: Separate flag and Constitution, repeal of AFSPA

When it comes to talks between Naga groups and the government of India, a long list of subjects needs to be discussed in detail, including some demands by Nagaland such as a separate Constitution and flag, that the Indian government finds contentious.

This demand was in fact reiterated in Nagalim Voice’s May 2021 edition, where is says, “Naga people held two things dear: their political identity as symbolise by the Naga national flag and the Yehzabo (Constitution). These two issues are not negotiable. It cannot be bartered away in exchange for any temporary gains.”

Amidst all this, one can also not ignore how in January 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) declared the entire state of Nagaland as a “disturbed area” for six more months under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958.  

Nagaland has remained under AFSPA for close to sixty years. AFSPA allows security forces to conduct operations anywhere and arrest anyone without a warrant. It has been condemned by many rights groups and most famously by human rights defender Irom Sharmila for its misuse by security forces to commit excesses, abuse and human rights violations.

In fact, scrapping the AFSPA was one of the key demands of the draft framework agreement to maintain peace in the region signed between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak Muivah) and the government interlocutor RN Ravi in 2015. However, the act was not withdrawn.

Image courtesy: Ministry of Textiles, Government of India

Related:

MHA declares entire Nagaland ‘disturbed area’
Nagaland steps one step closer to lasting peace
Turmoil in the NE: The Naga Pact and its ramifications

Turmoil in the North East: Where are the Naga Peace Talks headed?

NSCN (IM) demands clarity on BJP’s stand on Naga independence and plebiscite, even as a Core Committee is formed by Nagaland CM for the talks

Just a day after a Core Committee was set up to take the Naga Peace Talks forward, the Isak Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) has demanded that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led central government first make its stand clear on two key events in Naga history: the declaration of Naga independence in 1947 and the Naga plebiscite of 1951.

On June 10, the government of Nagaland constituted a Core Committee that comprises Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament KG Kenye and Lok Sabha MP Tokhedo Yepthomi, and all 60 members of Nagaland’s Legislative Assembly. It is noteworthy that the ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDDP) is a BJP ally. Chief Minister Rio has convened a meeting of the Core Committee on June 19.

On June 11, the Times of India quoted a NSCN (IM) statement as saying, “BJP should make its stand very clear, either to admit these factual accounts of history or deny it.”

The subjects of independence and plebiscite were also mentioned in the latest issue of Nagalim Voice, a publication by the NSCN (IM). In an article titled Political Significance of Indo-Naga Ceasefires in Naga History, the publication says lays down the Naga version of events as they transpired post-independence.

“Not wanting to accept any form of foreign domination, alien subjugation and exploitation, the Nagas in the “Naga Hills District” formally declared their independence on August 14, 1947 from the British Rule,” says the publication adding, “The Nagas were invited to join the Union of India when it was formed for the first time in history in 1950, but they rejected the offer outright. On January 24, 1950, the Naga National Council (NNC) informed the Indian Government, the United Nations (UN) and those countries that had their embassies in Delhi that the Nagas do not accept the Indian Constitution.”

It further says, “To reaffirm the declaration of Naga Independence, the Naga people under NNC took the historical step to strengthen the Naga political movement as they organized a Naga Voluntary Plebiscite, and informed the Government of India (GoI) on January 1, 1951 of their intentions. The Plebiscite was held on the 16th May, 1951. The result tabulated eventually in March 1952 was 99.9% voted in favour of sovereign independent Naga state.”

Nagaland in Colonial times

As we have reported earlier, the history of how Nagaland came to be a part of India, is complicated.

A region with a large population belonging to Naga tribes came under the control of the British in 1881. In 1886, it was named the Naga Hills district. From 1875 to 1910 several other regions inhabited by various Naga tribes such as the Lotha Nagas, Ao, Sema Nagas and Konyak Nagas were annexed by the British and added to this district. In 1912, the Naga Hills district was made a part of the Assam Province for ease of administration. When Nagaland formally joined the Union of India in 1963, many lands with large Naga populations continued to be part of Assam.

In fact, at present there is also a dispute regarding the border between Nagaland and Assam, as Nagaland claims large swathes of land in four Assam districts of Shivsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong should be made a part of Nagaland given the large population of Naga people in the region and how historically the region was a part of Naga territory. These border dispute talks have been temporarily shelved till Covid-19 is brought under control in the region.

1947: Akbar Hyderi Agreement and Independence

In June 1947, the NNC and Assam Governor Akbar Hyderi initiated negotiations to settle the Naga issue by way of an interim political and administrative arrangement.

As per the agreement, the Nagas were granted varying degrees of judicial and administrative autonomy. The Naga Council was also granted taxation rights. The Governor of Assam and the Government of India were to ensure the observance of the agreement for a period of 10 years, following which a decision was to be taken to either extend the agreement or enter into a fresh one. 

However, the clause about the 10-year period has been interpreted by the two sides differently. While the Nagas saw it as independence from India after 10 years, India took it to mean that a new agreement would be entered into should the present one fail to address all concerns sufficiently.

However, this was not acceptable to the NNC and on August 14, 1947, Angami Zapu Phizo declared Nagaland’s independence, a move India did not find acceptable. 

Talks, violence, statehood and ceasefire

What followed was a period of talks with the Indian administration led by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. This period was often marred by bouts of violence before Nagaland formally became a state of India subject to certain conditions in 1963. But this did not stop armed insurgency and bloodshed in the region. Armed Naga groups, many of whom were designated terrorist groups clashed with Indian security forces leading to multiple casualties on both sides.

Meanwhile, several excesses including gendered crimes were alleged to have been committed by security forces who allegedly misused the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that was originally enacted in 1958.

Finally, a ceasefire was declared in 1997 following with concerted efforts were made from both sides to begin a peace process.

We have covered these historical developments in detail our previous reportage that may be read here.

Framework Agreement and Peace Talks

The Naga Peace Talks follow from a Framework Agreement signed between Naga groups led by NSCN (IM) and the government of India in 2015. It deals with several unresolved matters related to Nagaland’s autonomy. In 2017, six other Naga nationalist groups joined the talks. These are NSCN (Kitovi Zhimomi), the Naga Nationalist Council, the Federal Government of Nagaland, the NSCN (Reformation), the National Peoples Government of Nagaland (Non-Accord), the Government Democratic Republic of Nagaland (Non-Accord). Later even the NSCN-K came onboard and declared a ceasefire in December 2020.

In fact, in a speech delivered on March 22, 2021, a day commemorated as Nagaland’s 42nd Republic Day, NSC (IM) Yaruiwo (Chairman) Q Tuccu recognized the importance of the Framework Agreement and said, “The Framework Agreement is the meeting point of the two sovereign peoples. Sensible Nagas understand that this is one of the options where the Indians and Nagas can come closer to each other because it serves the purposes of both the parties. And therefore, it would be a great loss for them if they would betray the Framework Agreement or miss the chance.”

Naga demands: Separate flag and Constitution, repeal of AFSPA

When it comes to talks between Naga groups and the government of India, a long list of subjects needs to be discussed in detail, including some demands by Nagaland such as a separate Constitution and flag, that the Indian government finds contentious.

This demand was in fact reiterated in Nagalim Voice’s May 2021 edition, where is says, “Naga people held two things dear: their political identity as symbolise by the Naga national flag and the Yehzabo (Constitution). These two issues are not negotiable. It cannot be bartered away in exchange for any temporary gains.”

Amidst all this, one can also not ignore how in January 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) declared the entire state of Nagaland as a “disturbed area” for six more months under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958.  

Nagaland has remained under AFSPA for close to sixty years. AFSPA allows security forces to conduct operations anywhere and arrest anyone without a warrant. It has been condemned by many rights groups and most famously by human rights defender Irom Sharmila for its misuse by security forces to commit excesses, abuse and human rights violations.

In fact, scrapping the AFSPA was one of the key demands of the draft framework agreement to maintain peace in the region signed between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak Muivah) and the government interlocutor RN Ravi in 2015. However, the act was not withdrawn.

Image courtesy: Ministry of Textiles, Government of India

Related:

MHA declares entire Nagaland ‘disturbed area’
Nagaland steps one step closer to lasting peace
Turmoil in the NE: The Naga Pact and its ramifications

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