NSCN-IM, NNPG pledge to move ‘forward’ and fight ‘cynicism’

The Naga peace talks saw a merciful positive moment on Wednesday. Amid fast changing developments with regard to the Naga peace talks, the two warring militant groups — NSCN-IM led by Thuingaleng Muivah and the umbrella organisation NNPG led by N. Kitovi Zhimomi — on Wednesday pledged in a joint statement to “overcome the cynicism” and make forward movement in peace.

“We are committed to a dialogue in order to move forward, live in peace and overcome the cynicism,” read the statement inked by V.S. Atem, the top military commander of NSCN-IM, and Alezo Venuh, NNPG coordinator.

The statement said, among other things, that “disagreements” between Nagas and Naga groups have made each one “foes and strangers, rather than members of the same family”.

It said, “We are aware of our differences”, adding that therefore, all individuals and organisations should “refrain” from all forms of “rhetoric, assumptions and agendas that are divisive”.

The joint statement added: “Such a culture must end immediately.”

The initiative for the joint meeting was taken by a group of social workers and intellectuals under the platform ‘Forum for Naga Reconciliation’.

Notably, the development came within two days after the Centre categorically directed the Nagaland Core Committee of legislators and ministers to meet the NSCN-IM leadership and convince them to sign the final peace pact at the earliest.

The NNPG — the umbrella body of seven militant groups operating in Nagaland — had finalised details with the Government of India in 2017 and 2019 and is keen to ink the peace pact to herald an era of lasting peace in Nagaland.

When contacted, a key NNPG leader told this reporter that “the need of the hour is that Nagas should no longer confuse themselves, and instead focus on an early solution for peace in the state of Nagaland”.

Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio also expressed his “deep appreciation” to the FNR, the NSCN-IM and the working committee of NNPG on the “historic step taken to remain committed to peace, unity, respect and settling outstanding issues”.

“Peace and unity is the only way forward,” Rio tweeted late on Wednesday.

There are some inherent complexities in the entire issue. While the NNPG wants a solution for Nagas of Nagaland and also that the ‘regional territorial council” should be given to the Nagas outside Nagaland — like in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh — for its part, NSCN-IM holds a sizable presence in the hilly areas of Manipur.

Thuingaleng Muivah himself is a Tangkhul Naga from Manipur and reportedly the ‘Manipur angle’ figured at the September 12 meeting in Delhi between Home Minister Amit Shah and a Naga delegation led by Chief Minister Rio.

Various socio-political bodies and even the NNPG had earlier alleged that the NSCN-IM wants to dictate terms to ‘Nagas of Nagaland’ — which they would reject outright.

At the September 12 meeting, Shah had told the Naga delegation that they were approaching the “wrong man” when Chief Minister Rio and others were trying to impress upon the government of India to expedite the peace process.

This reference was made to the NSCN-IM, which had stalled the peace talks by raising the demands for a Naga flag and a separate Constitution.

At the meeting, recent data revealed by the National Crime Records Bureau that the state of Nagaland tops the list of states for extortion and related offences also figured.

“People are fed up with extortion in the name of peace process,” several Naga leaders insisted.

With regard to the flag and a separate Naga constitution, Shah was reportedly yet again categorical, saying: “Woh baat nahi karna (Please do not raise these two issues).”

The Home Minister, however, assured: “You ask for anything else, we are there with you.”

The ball is finally yet again in the court of the NSCN-IM — which originally entered the peace parleys with the centre way back in 1997.

With the Centre having made it clear that the onus is on the NSCN-IM to end the stalemate and ensure an early inking of a peace pact, the Nagaland Core Committee led by Chief Minister Rio is now likely to meet the militant leaders after September 22.

The inking of a joint statement by the NSCN-IM and the NNPG incidentally came on Wednesday — hours before BJP national President J.P. Nadda is to make a two-day visit to the state.

Elections are due in Nagaland by February-March 2023.

Five years back during the 2018 Assembly elections, the ‘Election for Solution’ slogan was raised chiefly by the BJP and also by the Rio-led NDPP, which fought the polls together.

Public pressure and general mood in the state seemed to have influenced the thought process of Nagaland legislators and ministers.

At the meeting with Shah on Monday, an 11-member panel admitted that it would be difficult for political leaders irrespective party affiliation to face the electorate in Nagaland without a solution to the Naga political problem.

(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. The views expressed are personal)

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