The ceasefire agreement between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), anounced by prime minister 1K Gujral on 24 July 1997, is more than four years old. The agreement promised to bring about a lasting political solution to this long-drawn-out conflict through unconditional dialogue at the highest political level to be conducted in a neutral country. A set of ground rules and modalities to implement them, finalized on 12 December 1997 and further revised on 13 January 2001, aimed to facilitate the negotiations on politically substantive issues that underlie the five decades’ long war.
A number of basic questions occur even as we try to evaluate the agreement at the end of its four tumultuous years: What progress has the promise of dialogue made in this period? Is there sufficient transparency in the process? Have both the sides been observing the ground rules, in letter and spirit? Has the Ceasefire Monitoring Group, set up to supervise adherence to these ground rules and to investigate complaints of their violations, been functioning effectively? Has the ceasefire brought respite from the violence and unremitting harassments, that has been the Nagas’ lot over the past 50 years? Do they feel sufficiently relieved to acquire a stake in its continuance?
A central problem of the ceasefire agreement was that it did not include revocation of draconian laws, such as the Assam Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1953, Nagaland Security Regulation, 1%2, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, and Assam Disturbed Areas Act, 1955, which allow the security forces to violate fundamental rights with impunity on the pretext of countering insurgency. With such laws still in force the role of the army and the paramilitary during the operation of the ceasefire was never really clarified. Given that there was a civil administration functioning under normal constitutional law and a security administration operating under special laws, the subordination of the military to civil authority and the legal demarcation of respective roles was a precondition for the success of the ceasefire. This issue itself arose from the related question of the state government’s role in a ceasefire agreement between the Union of India and an insurgent group in the state. How do its agencies go about their law and order functions without jeopardising the special terms of the agreement?
There were two other aspects of the situation crucial to the efficacy of the ceasefire. For one, the attitude of the other insurgent groups and factions involved in the long war with India, who have not been included in the agreement, is vital to the maintenance of peace. And to what extent are civil society organisations uncontaminated by the violence, involved in the process of finding a just peace? If the 1997 ceasefire was in limbo, it was precisely because the modalities of the agreement failed to address these fundamental issues.
But there were also other specifis grievances. In the four years since the peace process formally began, dialogue made no progress because the NSCN(IM) insisted on universal coverage of the ceasefire, which the Union Government had been unable to enforce after initially promising it. General Atem and P. Shimrang in Dimapur, two main representatives of the NSCN(IM) in the region, made it clear during discussions that unless the government of India kept its pledge there was no point in continuing with the ceasefire.
On 8 May 2001, the Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed receiving an ultimatum from lsak Chishi Swu, chairman of the NSCN(IM) and Thuingaleng Muivah, its general secretary, threatening to withdraw from the peace-process if the government of India failed to honour its commitment to extend the cease-fire to “all the Naga areas”. Seemingly, this threat had an effect.
On 20 May 2001, The Indian Express reported that the prime minister’s representative was leaving for Bangkok for talks with the leaders of the NSCN(IM). The report also in-dicated that the chief ministers of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, the other states affected by the Naga question, had agreed to include the Naga-populated areas of their states within the ceasefire zone. One day before their scheduled meeting in Bangkok, the People’s Front government in Manipur collapsed after being defeated in a confidence motion tabled by chief minister Radhabinod Koijam.
Koijam belonged to the Samata Party, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance running the Union Government. The state then came under President’s rule. An editorial comment in The Statesman on 28 May 2001, indicated that the fall had been engineered to facilitate the extension of the Naga ceasefire to the Manipur areas since Koijam’s government was vociferously opposing it. The negotiations in Bangkok yielded results. On 14 June 2001, the Union Home Secretary, Kamal Pande, announced that it has been agreed to extend the ceasefire for one more year without territorial limits. In response, a large number of Manipuri political groups including the Samata Party, Manipur People’s Party, All Manipur United Clubs Organisation (A MUCO) and All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU) said that they were against the extension and would oppose it. The Congress chief minister of Assam also voiced the same sentiment. The ostensible concern was the territorial integrity of other Northeastern states since the NSCN(IM) was laying claim to the Naga-inhabited hill areas.
The Bangkok agreement was a belated recognition of the argument that the peace process, in order to be meaningful, had to be comprehensive, that its objectives could not be accomplished if the antagonists seek an accord in one state while remaining belligerent in other areas. The extension also suggested total abjuration of violence by both the sides and the restoration of a rational process to resolve political differences. It presupposed accountability, the end of impunity, and the repeal of ‘black laws’ such as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. In this sense, the June extension of the ceasefire opened the way to a just peace for all the people in the Northeast. But the violent agitation for its repeal in the other states has added a new twist to the process.
AMUCO and AMSU called for a three-day strike in Manipur to protest against the extension of the ceasefire. The popular agitation, although limited to the valley of Imphal, became extremely violent. On the third day of the strike, mobs stormed the government buildings and torched the State Assembly building after assaulting several legislators and former ministers. The police had to open fire to stop the unruly crowds from invading the house of Radhabinod Koijam, the outgoing chief minister of the state. This resulted in several deaths. Despite the imposition of curfew, violent protests continued.
Naga organisations showed sensitivity to the emerging situation. The All Naga Students’ Association of Manipur (ANSAM), the Naga Women’s Union of Manipur (NWUM) and the Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights mourned the deaths in the police firing. They issued a statement appealing to all “Meitei brethren” and the Naga population in the state to “maintain communal harmony at this critical juncture”. “The need of the hour is peace and dialogueamong ourselves,” the statement emphasised. Thuingateng Muivah clarified that the agreement to a universal ceasefire with the Government of India “deals only with the ceasefire, nothing beyond that. The declaration of a ceasefire is not against anyone and it does not deal with territorial limits.” He further explained, “We have agreed not to fight in any part of India or Asia or anywhere. There is no reason for anyone else to interpret it more that that.” The Naga HoHo, the apex body of all Naga tribal councils, convened a special meeting to consider the situation. Its statement ointed out that the violent protests in Imphal Valley “revealed the extremely complicated and sensitive challenges the Nagas face to evolve a workable solution with our neighbours. Ultimately, we need a settlement that will ensure security, stability and peace for ourselves and for our neighbours. Our actions will decide whether we develop and survive together in a changing world or drag one another down to a common hell of perpetual animosity and violence, which can only be destructive to all.” The statement called on the Nagas not to “ignore or treat lightly the intensity and depth of our neighbours’ insecurity about their future”, and went on to suggest that the leaders of both the communities should sit together and find a common approach to deal with the controversy.
These statements from the Naga organisations, however, did not mollify the protesters and the violent agitation continued. Thousands of Nagas fled Imphal Valley to the safety of the hills. On 27 July, the Home Minister of India told reporters that the government had decided to rescind the Bangkok agreement and to once again limit the ceasefire to the state of Nagaland. According to him, the leaders of NSCN(1M) were agreeable to the decision. The crowds in Imphal celebrated the announcement.
V.S. Atem, the seniormost leader of the NSCN(IM) in the region, issued a stern warning that his organization “cannot be a party to any ceasefire that is restricted only to the State of Nagaland”. He denied the home minister’s claim that his organization had endorsed the annulment of the extension. In a separate statement faxed to the Press Trust of India from Amsterdam, Swu and Muivah said that they have not agreed to the government’s decision to rescind the 14 June Bangkok agreement. The statement said: “Of course, both sides believed that better understanding could certainly be arrived at in the course of talks… Therefore, any announcement, declaration or statement given by the
Home Ministry are unfounded.
They are in no sense acceptable to the Nagas.”Does the lay reader, who daily scans through newspapers and probably also watches television, understand why this trend of events is not favourable for the prospects of peace in the region? Does he or she sufficiently emphathise with our forebodings that history may repeat its vicious cycle unless civil society develops an informed aversion to its inveteracy and forges a collective will to break free? One needs to become aware of the content of Naga history because there is no other way of understanding the mechanisms and compulsions which, again and again, drive people back into blunder. History tells us of the evils of doctrinaire intransigence, and so too of the dangers inherent in compromises that are born of fear and greed, or foisted on unsuspecting people by stealth and deception. if repetition of our past tragedies is to be avoided, it is necessary to not only expose the falsehoods of the victors, but also puncture the myths of innocence that the vanquished all too easily develop to conceal their failings.
For the sake of learning from the past, let us briefly recount an episode from the 1960s. In May 1964, New Delhi constituted a Peace-Mission consisting of Jayaprakash Narayan, B.P. Chaliah, then chief minister of Assam, and Michael Scott, an English pastor sympathetic to the Nagas, and it worked out a ceasefire agreement between the Government of India and the Naga underground. The agreement was a prelude to political negotiations to peacefully resolve the conflict. While endorsing the principle of self-determination of all subject people, the Peace Mission suggested that the Naga underground could “on their own volition, decide to be a participant in the Union of India and mutually settle the terms and conditions for that purpose”. The Mission asked Government of India “to consider to what extent the pattern and structure of the relationship between Nagaland and the Government of India should be adapted and recast, so as to satisfy the political aspirations of all sections of Naga opinion…” Both the sides rejected the proposal. Members of Indian Parliament demanded Jayaprakash Narayan’s arrest for suggesting that it was more important to have friendly Nagas “on our frontiers closely associated with us in some new constitutional manner rather than unfriendly and discontented Nagas kept forcibly within the Indian Union.”
Jayaprakash Narayan resigned from the Peace Mission in February 1966 after the Naga underground expressed lack of confidence in his impartiality. The ceasefire agreement between the two recalcitrant parties was made to last till September 1972 because the logic of ‘peaceful’ attrition had taken over. Minoo R. Masani, the leader of a parliamentary delegation to Nagaland in February 1965, said: “As the weeks and months pass, peace brings with it a relaxation of tensions. This involves, insofar as the village population is concerned, a freer expression of opinion and a greater assertiveness against the demands and exactions of the (underground) ‘Naga Federal Government’. Now that the Indian army no longer operates, the villages are turning to the state administration and the Indian army for protection against the underground. Fear is diminishing. People do not wish to pay taxes endlessly to the ‘Naga Federal Government’… So far as the underground is concerned, a long period of peace must involve a measure of disintegration. The men from the jungles are going home to the villages to eat and sleep with their families. They taste the joys and comforts of domestic life. This is something that Mao Tsetung’s rules of guerrilla warfare do not permit of. Those who have talked to small groups of Naga underground men find, in private conversation, that they are already becoming more reasonable and there is no desire to go back to the jungles…”
Even as the ceasefire agreement declared on 25 July 1997 is already four years old, and no substantive progress has been made in negotiations, these words of complacency are being heard all over again. No doubt, the Naga people want peace and the men languishing in the jungles long for simple domestic pleasures. However, if we do not reach the source of their discontent which brought them to the path of war with India, their political recalcitrance may soon reassert itself. As for the Naga warriors and their leacrs, they will hopefully recognise what their movement at all its twists and turns, has been doing to their people Those who waste themselves in the pursuit of utopias can probably contribute no more to history than others who apathetically resign themselves to a self-perpetuating status quo.
Bertrand Russel, the English philosopher and a well wisher of the Nagas who indirectly contributed to the formation of the Peace-Mission in 1964 by recommending it to Jawaharlal Nehru, introduced the concept of “compossibility” while discussing the idea of existence in the writings of Leibniz, famous seventeenth century German philosopher. Shorn of complied,’ tions, Russel’s concept suggests that every predicate, necessary or contingent, past, present, or future is already implicit in the notion of the subject that carries it. So, ultimately, the existence of these predicates is not affected by our capacity and incapacity to observe them, nor by their being manifest or latent, nor by their contradicting or not contradicting each other. Applied to the history of the Indo-Naga conflict, which so far has largely remained a chronicle of lost opportunities, Russel’s idea of “compossible” may point in the right direction. Instead of bemoaning all the possibilities and opportunities that were not seized, it is necessary to realise that the lost opportunities are not, and indeed cannot be, lost for good. Then and only then will history cease to be the dead-weight it has been until now.