By Syed Ali Mujtaba
As a student of South Asia, I have watched the negotiations in Sri Lanka between Tamil Elam chief negotiators Anton Balasingham with Eric Solheman, the Norwegian negotiator for the Sinhala group. In between the talks there were Elam wars and IPKF and a whole lot of twist and turns in the Tamil Eelam drama. This story finally ended with a military victory of Sinhala Armed forces over LTTE.
A similar story of negotiations and armed conflict is being watched with Nagaland and India. While Indian position is Nagaland is part of India, Nagaland spokesperson say that Nagaland is a separate country. This comes out clearly after watching the interview of Isac Muvia, the undisputed leader of the main insurgent group NSCN(IM) of Nagaland. Hearing him, I have a feeling that any time, the talk will break and India is going to take a final call on Nagaland and Muvia’s militia is going to take on Indian soldiers as was the case with the LTTE in Srilanka.
The Naga peace talks have been held between India and Nagaland since 1947/49 with breaking of the talks and starting of the insurgency. This cycle is going on since India’s independence. The latest rounds of talks have been held since 1997 with Indian interlocutor Ravi, the current governor of Nagaland. Nothing tangible has come out in 23 years of negotiations. This was made public by Naga principal spokesperson Isac Muvia.
In the interview with Karan Thapar, Muvia says Nagaland was never a part of British territory and India has no territorial claim over Nagaland. He wants India to accept Nagaland as a separate country. He wants India to recognize a separate Naga constitution and flag as symbols of Naga’s sovereignty. Muvia says he cannot compromise on these two issues till the last man standing. He wants the Naga areas in Indian states of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam to be amalgamated with Nagalim or greater Nagaland. He is only ready for shared sovereignty with India but on the basis of mutual respect of each other’s sovereignty.
Now these are very hard positions that India cannot accept. The only option for India is assert its state power and military might to officially merge Nagaland into the Indian Union. The option for Muvia is to go back to insurgency as it was the order before 1997.
The catch here is Naga insurgency is sustained by China and its new found opportunity for China to open another front. There is also Christian angle and American angle to the Nagaland problem. It is the American protestant church that has converted the tribal and non-believers of any organized religion to Christian fold. Just like backing Karan and Shan insurgents in Myanmar, the Christian world has backed Nagas insurgency for the right to self-determination.
India’s muscular policy on the state of Jammu and Kashmir that unfolded on August 5, 2019 was supposed to be made operational for Nagaland as well. However, India’s strategic thinkers voted against the move they wanted to wait and watch to find out the fall out of Kashmir policy which has not yet stabilized. It was further delayed due to Covid 19 pandemic.
However, now it looks that the peace talks with Nagaland are almost on breaking point will the Indian home minister use the same muscular policy that it applied on J&K on August 5, 2020. Nagaland is an interesting story that is playing itself out…
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com