Shaping Conducive Environment for Signing Naga Peace Accord

 By Vaibhav Kullashri
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Naga insurgency, considered the oldest in the world, is the last major challenge to aspiring peace in northeast India. The unabated efforts of the Indian armed forces have led to the subsequent decline in insurgency-related incidents, killings and improvement in the connectivity across the northeastern state. Ever since the ceasefire agreement with NSCN(IM), a prominent insurgent group, signed on August 1, 1997, Nagaland remained largely peaceful but alienation remained.

A case in point, when the whole of India was celebrating the 75th year of Independence with the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign, the NSCN (IM) was hosting the Naga National flag at ‘Camp Hebron’ in Dimapur. [1] Having signed the framework agreement in 2015 with Government of India (GoI), the NSCN(IM) is now reluctant to sign the formal Naga Peace Accord without accepting the demand for a separate flag and constitution, which they boast of being part of the framework agreement.[2] Now, the framework agreement itself becomes a hurdle in signing an accord.[3]

GoI has denied agreeing to the demand of a separate flag and constitution and alleged that it is their (NSCN(IM)) well layout tactics to derail the peace process. Even the peace process has much to contribute as NE has a history of mushrooming new insurgent groups once the peace is settled with the old one. Therefore, creating a conducive environment for peace must prevail over signing the peace deal, doing so will make signing of peace deal a redundant affair.

Nagaland remains one of the worst performing states in the northeastern region in NITI Aayog’s report on India’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), published in 2021.[4]A report indicates that 73 percent of the Nagaland population lives below the national poverty line, with 25 percent of the state population not having adequate access to nutrition, 69 percent lacking access to cooking fuel and 70 percent do not have proper housing facilities. The data points to the dire state of Nagaland’s Human resource management, lack of infrastructure and prevailing corruption.

To make matters worse, unlike other northeastern states, Nagaland holds a homogenous Naga identity but is divided among itself with distinct customary and traditional practices. With more than 19 recognized Naga tribes [5] and endless stakeholders, i.e., student unions, women associations, church groups, gaou bhuras, insurgent groups and many others, reaching a common conclusion is practically impossible. But providing governance is possible and this is where the solution lies.

Providing good governance is key to solving the Naga issue [6]; this can be done by holding the government accountable for the allocation of funds by the central government, sealing the loophole in the government machinery and giving more power to the village administration. Besides this, creating critical infrastructure for health, education and employment will enhance the people’s confidence in the government. Nagaland is the only state in the country that does not have a medical college.[7] Therefore, completing the project which is in the pipeline in war footing mode will make people more participative and inclined toward the country.

The Indian armed forces, especially Assam Rifle (AR), can be used to gain the people’s confidence through initiatives like operation Sadbhawna. AR, known as the sentinel of the northeast, is omnipresent in Nagaland and can be used to train the state police force. The requirement to deploy central forces in counter-insurgency will tremendously decrease following the creation of a strong police force. It will also provide space for AR to perform its primary function of guarding the Myanmar border. Out of 46 battalions, 36 are deployed in counter-insurgency operations, while the rest are deployed to the Myanmar border.[8] These human resources crunch along the Myanmar border is a boon to the insurgent group to carry out illegal activities. The tight vigilance along the Myanmar border will choke insurgent support from the foreign nation and a strong police force within the state will do away with the contiguous law, i.e., AFSPA. Over time, the AFSPA has become an emotive issue to the people of the northeastern state and doing away with such a law will unquestionably help win the hearts and minds of the people.

Another critical element that requires special attention is the creation of employment opportunities in the state. As an agrarian state, Nagaland is bestowed with a climate suitable for producing quality vegetables and fruits like Pineapple, Kivi, persimmon, chestnut, peach, avocado, lemon, plums and others. However, it lacks an agro-based factory, cold storage facility and a good connectivity network. It leads to under exploitation of critical natural and human resources. Therefore, tapping agricultural potential, providing incentives, supporting small agro-based start-ups, encouraging industrial development and improving connectivity will help reduce the state’s unemployment rate.  Nagaland’s unemployment state of affairs can be understood from the fact that youth lined up to join the insurgent cadre ahead of the final agreement to benefit from rehabilitation policy.[9]

Also, focusing on providing due respect to Naga culture and depicting and including their history in the national curriculum is crucial for national integration. Nagaland is making its mark in the fashion and film industry;[10] a recent feature of Naga model Andrea Kevichusa in the Bollywood movie ‘Anek’, depicting insurgency in Nagaland, is a significant success and this needs a more significant push from the government to make people in other parts of the country aware of Naga’s distinct culture and traditional affinity.

Insurgency in Nagaland has now reduced from a political to a social issue. The motive of keeping insurgency fueled is to gain easy money from the center, carry out extortion and continue illegal activities. It can be improved by providing good governance, tightening vigilance along the international border, reaching out to ordinary people, decentralizing power, creating job opportunities, recognizing shared cultural and traditional values, accepting and respecting different cultural affiliations and enhancing the mode of communication. Doing this will create a conducive environment for signing the Naga peace accord, if at all required to be signed.

Endnotes

  1. Sumir Karmakar, “Insurgency in Northeast: Peace pangs in periphery”, Deccan Herald, 13 August 2022. Available at https://www.deccanherald.com/specials/insurgency-in-northeast-peace-pangs-in-periphery-1135693.html, accessed on 19 August 2022.
  2. Liz Mathews and Deeptiman Tiwary, “Framework agreement the key hurdle in the way of Naga Peace Accord”, The Indian Express, 29 November 2021. Available at https://indianexpress.com/article/india/framework-agreement-the-key-hurdle-in-way-of-naga-peace-accord-7646484/, accessed on 19 August 2022.
  3. Ibid.
  4. National Multidimensional Poverty Index, NITI Aayog, 2021. Available at https://www.niti.gov.in/sites/default/files/2021-11/National_MPI_India-11242021.pdf, accessed on 19 August 2022.
  5. Rouhin Dev, Adyasa Ananya Das, “A Tumultuous Journey of the NAGA Peace Process”, Cornell Policy Review. Available at https://www.cornellpolicyreview.com/a-tumultuous-journey-of-the-naga-peace-process/?pdf=5994, assessed on 19 August 2022.
  6. Sumir Karmakar, “Peace won’t come unless the Naga issue is resolved” ,Deccan Herald, 13 August 2022. Available at https://www.deccanherald.com/specials/peace-won-t-come-unless-naga-issue-is-resolved-1135727.html, assessed on 19 August 2022.
  7. The Morungexpress news, 06 February 2021. Available at https://morungexpress.com/nagaland-only-state-in-india-without-a-medical-college#:~:text=It%20is%20a%20known%20fact,India%20without%20a%20medical%20college., accessed on 19 August 2022.
  8. Shivanand H, “Why replace the Assam rifle along the Indo-Myanmar border”, IDSA, 29 July 2011. Available at https://idsa.in/idsacomments/WhyReplacetheAssamRiflesalongtheIndoMyanmarBorder_shivanandah_290711, accessed on 19 August 2022.
  9. Sumir Karmakar, “Job hopes prompt Nagaland youths to join rebel group”, Deccan Herald, 03 December 2021. Available at https://www.deccanherald.com/national/east-and-northeast/job-hope-prompts-nagaland-youths-to-join-rebel-groups-782230.html, accessed on 19 August 2022.
  10. Nupur Amarnath, “How Northeast states are making a mark in Indian fashion”, The Economic Times,15 July 2018. Available at  https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/how-northeast-is-making-a-mark-in-indian-fashion/articleshow/64990465.cms, accessed on 19 August 2022.