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#1577, 4 December 2004
Naga Nationalism: The Inward Turn of a Conflict
Bidhan S Laishram
Research Officer, IPCS

One major success of the ongoing negotiations between the NSCN-IM and the Government of India (GOI) has been the peaceful overcoming of minor hurdles that might have become major obstacles to peace. The latest that has cropped up, however, raises questions as to whether the parties are genuinely interested in moving forward.

The NSCN-IM has recently accused the GOI of playing divisive politics by promoting rivalry within the Naga insurgency. It specifically charged on 15 November that the Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) had been supplied with "at least 80 self-loading rifles, made in the Indian Army Ordnance Factory". The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Military Intelligence (MI) are, according to the NSCN-IM, arming the FGN and NSCN-K, thereby encouraging factional politics among the Nagas so as to keep the NSCN-IM under pressure at the negotiating table. The GOI's interlocutor, K Padmanabhaiah, has clarified that there is "no logic or reason for the government or its agencies to support a small group like the NNC or the NSCN (K)".

The charge of the NSCN-IM is significant in the background of the reported fight between the Naga insurgent outfits which claimed the lives of at least eight militants besides injuring a score of others, with the consequence that the planned visit of the NSCN-IM's leadership on 28 November to New Delhi and Nagaland remains postponed. The visit had been eagerly awaited by the Naga civil society for the opportunity to freely discuss issues involved in the peace talks. It would also have provided the leadership with broad-based inputs about the aspirations of the Nagas. The setback is huge.

It is important at this juncture to examine the routes that the peace talks have taken so far. What emerges glaringly from such an examination is that what started as a conflict between the Indian state and the Nagas has transformed into intercommunity tensions or, to put it mildly, neighbourhood politics. In the latest stage of this transformation, the quarrel within has greater chances of becoming dominant. The reversal of stated policies by the GOI as was witnessed when Manipur revolted against the extension of ceasefire between the GOI and the NSCN-IM into Manipur's territory in June 2001 and its effects on community relations are difficult to be erased. The demand for unification of Naga dominated areas into 'Nagalim' slipped under uncertainty in a clause of the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA Government of Manmohan Singh, which said there would be no change in the existing territorial structures in Northeast. Despite insistence by the Nagas that such unification is 'non-negotiable', peace talks were declared to be smoothly going on. What diplomatic understanding kept it outside the domain of conflict is not known. That also symbolises the failure of the Indian state to recognize the interconnectedness of ethno-nationalist claims characterising the region.

Contradicting logics of the GOI in seeking an end to the insurgencies of the region has to a large extent damaged the chances of attaining an enduring peace and a harmonious cohabitation of communities. The logic of security demanded that the State give preference to the more 'powerful' insurgent groups. The residue represented by the 'smaller' groups were sought to be suppressed through various tactics including political de-legitimization. Selective talks, however, only encouraged others to become more 'powerful' making them believe that New Delhi listens only to guns. The civil society has been sidelined along the process.

It can be so interpreted in the present Naga case that the people should first settle their internal differences to achieve an 'honourable' solution. But, the fact is that neither the NSCN-K, despite a ceasefire already in place, nor the NNC, is involved in the peace talks. Nor are civil society organisations a party, despite their whole hearted efforts in making the talks possible. It may only be natural that differences emerge within the Naga society; but it does not bode well when the other party is accused of encouraging those differences. Because, when differences are perceived as 'manufactured', those are meant precisely to disable reconciliation.

Addressing the question of who 'truly' represents Naga political aspirations cannot be avoided if the Government has already accepted its legitimacy. Interest in power may multiply the number of political actors and their competing claims. The tragedy is that what could have been a healthy sign of democratic culture has now become a question of political manipulation, having permitted the entry of distrust in the negotiating room. The GOI should seriously ask how this has happened as lessons learnt here will bear on dealing with the many insurgencies of the region. That goes beyond asking: should the search for security seek to suppress differences or, should the search for genuine peace encourage differences? What should be the nature of responsible state action?

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