In Naga peace talks lie fate of rebels’ own deal
In the matter of rebellions and fractious peace processes, it’s always good to be able to tell friend from foe. The Naga peace process is already throwing up some interesting parameters and possibilities.
First, there’s the matter of saving face.
On 9 September, Nagaland’s new governor and the government’s interlocutor for the Naga peace process, R.N. Ravi, met Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN (I-M), the largest Naga rebel group, and ato kilonser, or prime minister, of its civilian organization. Ravi and Muivah were together at the Nagaland Police complex in Chumukedima, locally known as Chumu, not far from the checkpoint that serves as a gateway between the plains around Dimapur and the Naga Hills.
Muivah and his coterie had expressed displeasure at the peace talks being downgraded from the level of the prime minister to that of a mere governor since Ravi assumed that post in early August. As this column explained, that was an error of judgement. Ravi was, and is, the leading edge of the national security apparatus for the process.
Governorship actually invests Ravi, an Intelligence Bureau veteran, with a statesmanlike role to bring together all sides, in Nagaland as well as Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, which have contiguous Naga homelands—and other ethnic groups who remain suspicious that a Naga peace deal will take away territory for a super-Nagaland. It’s beyond—and greater—than Muivah.
Ironically, Ravi could be Muivah’s ticket; the ticket for his family and coterie, too, who, like that of some other leaders, form the creamy layer of the rebellion. Indeed, the ticket for the top leadership of all Naga rebel groups in talks with the government for whom Ravi remains the common platform. It could be part of a bizarre—and yet, the most practical—resettlement and rehabilitation process in the subcontinent’s recent history of conflict resolution.
There are several steps to it. One is that of disarming rebels. From my discussions, it appears that an arrangement has been reached with all Naga groups and factions currently in peace talks with the government. My take, though, is that this will be a process of sleight of hand and photo-ops. There is every likelihood that plentiful rebel arms and ammunition will remain cached in both India and Myanmar—where several Naga groups have ethnic and logistical links. It’s not for nothing that NSCN, as its 1980 formative avatar, and after its bloody split in 1988 into the Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions, is somewhat grandly called the mother of all rebellions in South Asia. As I detailed in my 2012 book, Highway 39, and subsequent writing, Naga factions in particular have made shelter, logistics and supply of weapons and ammunition into revenue streams.
Ceasefire, even the much-touted framework agreement for peace between the government and I-M signed in August 2015—the intent for conclusive peace that has since been extended to seven smaller Naga groups and factions—hasn’t stopped procurement or training. Even as you read this. Some among the top and second tier leadership have also long planned for post-peace deal—even post-Muivah—exigencies.
If there is a night of the long knives, it will be a matter between various factions within Naga groups, as much as between one group and another. And, in a matter of some irony, the safest place for Muivah may not be Camp Hebron near Dimapur, the headquarters of both I-M’s administrative and military wings, which will probably be dismantled after a peace deal is signed, but his government-provided ‘ceasefire’ residence of several years in New Delhi’s Lodi Estate. While some leaders will certainly accept government sinecures, his is unlikely to be a simple case of a rebel leader being pensioned off to the Rajya Sabha.
Meanwhile, other aspects of a conclusive peace deal include administrative aspects. One is of course with the cadres, who have a choice of accepting rehabilitation packages to resume life as civilians or be inducted into police and paramilitary units—under the watchful eye of the home ministry.
Then there is the matter of assuaging Naga pride and honour without offending any other ethnicity in the three contiguous states with Naga homelands. Arrangements and agreements of politics and political economy are being negotiated. More on that shortly.
This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights and runs on Thursdays.