Putting an end to decades-long bitter insurgency in Nagaland, India signed a historic peace accord with the rebel NSCN(IM) on Monday that promises a return to normalcy in the state, while making it easier for India to integrate eastwards towards Asia.
The agreement was signed by chief Indian interlocutor R N Ravi with T Muivah, chairman of NSCN (IM), the largest of the Naga insurgent groups, at the Prime Minister’s residence on Monday evening. The signing was witnessed by PM Narendra Modi, home minister Rajnath Singh and national security advisor Ajit Doval. From the other side, 19 top Naga leaders from different organizations and civil society groups were present.
The terms of the accord have not been announced, triggering speculation about what the details could be. Sources said Muivah did not insist on the demand for the creation of greater Nagaland by clubbing all Naga-dominated pockets scattered across Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. This suggests that the breakthrough could be about an agreement over the degree of autonomy that Nagas outside Nagaland will have.
Modi termed the accord a “landmark” and welcomed it saying, “We will not only try to heal wounds and resolve problems, but also be your partner as you restore your pride and prestige.” Muivah said the government and Nagas were entering a “new relationship”. However, the insurgent leader sounded more cautious than Modi. An optimistic Modi said: “Today, we mark not merely the end of a problem, but the beginning of a new future.”
While Muivah promised that Nagas would honour the accord, he acknowledged that challenges still remain.
The accord promises to end the longest running insurgency in the northeast, which has significant implications for development of the region. Naga violence has been a big deterrent to investment in those states. But more than that, it has alienated generations of Nagas, which has made peace more difficult.
It could also isolate the NSCN (Khaplang group), which was responsible for attacks on Indian security forces, particularly the Dogra regiment convoy, which resulted in an Indian army cross-border action to destroy their camps in Myanmar.
But the importance of the development is not just domestic. The insurgency has been on obstacle for the efforts to deepen engagement with Myanmar and the larger “Act East Policy”.
A former Union home secretary, who was the Centre’s interlocutor for 12 years, called the peace accord a “big breakthrough”.
“The Naga political issue had lingered for six decades, taking a huge toll on generations of our people,” Modi said. Over 3,000 lives have been lost in this insurgency. “Unfortunately, the Naga problem has taken so long to resolve because we did not understand each other… Today, as you begin a new glorious chapter with a sense of pride, self-confidence and self-respect, I join the nation in saluting you and conveying our good wishes to the Naga people,” the PM said.
The government said it would release an action plan of the agreement soon.
The first peace talks with the Nagas were held during Narasimha Rao’s tenure, and were picked up during the Vajpayee years. Blaming the problems to a legacy of the colonial rule, Modi said, “The colonial rulers had, by design, kept the Nagas isolated and insulated.” He said they had “propagated terrible myths about Nagas in the rest of the country” and “deliberately suppressed the reality that the Nagas were an extremely evolved society.”
“It is a victory for the Naga people, their history,” said a senior government source.
Before the signing of the accord, Modi called up other political leaders including Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, former PM Manmohan Singh, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, BSP boss Mayawati, CMs of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu (Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha), DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi and others to give them a heads up about the agreement.