Nov 09, 2012

Nagalim: Eyeing the Beginning of the End

Prospects of a win-win resolution to one of the oldest ethnic conflicts are surfacing. Based on the statement issued by the Nagalim leadership and the comments of the Indian government, the ten year old conflict could be resolved as soon as 2013.


Below is an article published by the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses:

It appears that a resolution to the decades-old Naga conflict is not far off if one takes into consideration the statements of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim led by Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah—NSCN (IM)—in recent months. In October [2012], this group organized a people’s consultative meeting at its headquarters, Camp Hebron, which was attended by top-ranking leaders as well as by members of Naga civil society. After this meeting, the group issued a statement to the effect that almost all present at the meeting backed the leadership’s efforts to find an honourable solution through the ongoing peace negotiations with the Indian government.

On the Indian government’s side, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde was even more categorical; he has hinted that a solution is most likely by March 2013. The other significant development in this regard is the commitment reiterated by the representatives of the Joint Legislators’ Forum of the Nagaland Assembly led by Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio that they support an ‘interim solution’ and are ready to resign from their present positions in order to facilitate a final resolution to the Naga conflict by March 2013.

What could count as a feasible resolution package in this context? For one, it should not threaten the present territorial boundaries of the states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. As is well known, the NSCN (IM)’s Greater Nagalim demand is based on the territorial unification of all Naga inhabited areas in Nagaland, Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. These include: Manipur’s four hill districts of Churachandpur, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul; Assam’s Dima Hasau and Karbi Anglong districts; and Arunachal Pradesh’s Tirap and Changlang districts. Hence, any resolution based on territorial changes will not be acceptable to these states as was demonstrated by the violent protests in Manipur in 2001.

However, what will work is a non-territorial resolution and this is what the Union Home Minister appears to be hinting at. That would mean greater autonomy for the Naga inhabited areas in these other states. This would encompass separate budget allocations for the Naga inhabited areas with regard to their culture and development issues. For it to be practically feasible, a new body should be constituted that would look after the rights of the Nagas in the other northeastern states besides Nagaland.

This is a resolution framework that is worth considering by the other states, especially Manipur as it would enable it to maintain its territorial status quo while only giving up developmental privileges in its Naga inhabited areas to a new Naga non-territorial body. This arrangement should serve Manipur well as, under the present circumstances, the ethnic divide and distrust between the Meiteis and the Nagas is so immense that most Nagas residing in Manipur believe that they are discriminated against when it comes to development packages by the Meitei dominated Manipur state assembly. It would also mean that Manipur can then concentrate on the development of its other ethnic minorities and not have to constantly worry about Naga dis-satisfaction.

A non-territorial resolution framework also favours the Nagas as their other core demands such as recognition of their “unique history” and culture, Naga leverage over deciding the development path for the Naga inhabited areas in the Northeast, etc. will all be met through greater autonomy based on a non-territorial resolution package. This is an optimal gain for all affected parties under the present circumstances. For the India government too, it would result in recognizing the Naga’s “unique” history and culture within the territorial integrity and sovereignty framework of the Indian Constitution.

The fact that such a non-territorial resolution package is gaining popularity in Nagaland can be discerned from the fact that Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio along with all 60 Nagaland State Assembly Members including the MLAs of the Opposition parties is in support of such a framework. Being politicians, none of these MLAs would have so openly supported such a framework had there been no support for it in Naga society. It also means that a resolution to the Naga conflict would increase their chances of winning in the Nagaland state assembly election scheduled for March 2013. This is indeed a positive sign and an opportune moment.

The next round of talks scheduled for mid-November 2012 between the NSCN (IM) and the Union government is therefore critical. Muivah and Swu have visibly consulted almost all significant Naga civil society actors like the Naga Hoho and the United Naga Council. The only other tricky issue that needs to be grappled with is factionalism among Naga groups, especially the differences between the NSCN (IM) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland led by S.S. Khaplang. There were recent demands from districts like Mon, Tuensang, Longleng and Kiphire inhabited by Naga tribes like the Konyaks, Changs, Sangtams, Yumchungers, Khianmungans, etc. (nearly 500,000 people) in Nagaland for a separate “frontier Nagaland or Eastern Nagaland” under the aegis of the Eastern Nagaland Public Organization (ENPO). To be noted is the fact that these districts are also dominated by the rival NSCN (K) faction. Both rival factions continue to clash especially in two districts of Arunachal Pradesh—Tirap and Changlang. Hence, while a resolution package between the NSCN (IM) and the Indian government will resolve the decades-old animosities between the Nagas and Meiteis especially if the ethos of the resolution is non-territorial, a final resolution package must have the consent of the NSCN (K) as well. Only then will the Naga inhabited areas in Northeast India witness real peace after decades of violence.

Nevertheless, a non-territorial resolution for one of the oldest ethnic conflicts in the Northeast will offer a way forward to resolving many other ethnic conflicts such as those involving the Kukis, Meiteis, Bodos, Dimasas, Hmars, and Karbis. The recent Bodo violence in Assam against immigrant minority communities only broadcasted the dangers of an ethnically slanted territorial council which failed to safeguard the physical security of minorities in Bodo inhabited areas. In that light, a non-territorial resolution framework is perhaps the only feasible outcome to the multiple ethnically slanted conflicts in Northeast India.