Naga Stalemate to Continue

New Delhi will not give the NSCN a ‘Greater Nagalim’ because that would entail Constitutional reforms, and Thuingaleng Muivah will accept nothing less because to do so might undo him

Muivah’s NSCN hasn’t made much headway, even after 13 years of talking. MUSTAFA QURAISHI/AP PHOTO
01 April, 2010

NOT MANY, EITHER IN NEW DELHI or in Nagaland, are hoping for an early resolution to the six-decade-old Naga imbroglio. Despite nearly 13 years of negotiations, the problem is stuck on the crucial issue of territory. The Issac-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), which has been negotiating with the Indian government since 1997, is determined to achieve ‘Greater Nagalim’ through a merger of the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam with the present Indian state of Nagaland. It may give up on its long cherished dream of Naga sovereignty—but someone like Thuingaleng Muivah, who hails from Manipur’s Ukhrul district, is not expected to budge on the territorial question. Without his own district and other Naga areas of Manipur in a future ‘Nagalim,’ Muivah’s own position in future Naga politics would become suspect.

But after the violence in Manipur over the extension of the Naga ceasefire to other parts of northeast India, New Delhi knows that any attempt to create a Greater Nagalim will unleash much trouble. It would entail a fresh reorganisation of the Northeast—a process fraught with uncertainty and ripe with potential for much turbulence. Apart from immediate violent resistance in the states neighbouring Nagaland, the creation of a Greater Nagalim would fuel the aspirations of a dozen or more battling ethnicities in the Northeast, all seeking exclusive tribal homelands on their own terms. And that is a risk New Delhi, under any dispensation—the United Progressive Alliance, the National Democratic Alliance or even the left-of-centre United Front—would clearly be unwilling to take.

Although Muivah is also insisting that the NSCN has not given up the demand for Naga sovereignty, there are clear indications that might become possible if the territorial question were resolved to the satisfaction of the rebel leadership. The NSCN has indicated that it is prepared to accept a “special federal relationship” with India—an arrangement that would involve considerable changes to the Indian Constitution and would give Nagaland “very substantial powers” in every sphere except on key federal subjects like defence and foreign affairs. The broad contours of the ‘special federal relationship’ have been worked out through painstaking backroom negotiations—but they need to be firmed up through a few final rounds of dialogue.

However, this will not be possible unless both sides can broadly agree on the territorial aspect of the settlement. Muivah and his close followers in the NSCN may also give up their claims on areas of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh; they are no longer talking of an ‘Eastern Nagaland’ (the Naga-inhabited areas of Myanmar) while raising the Greater Nagalim issue. Muivah’s fierce rivalry with Myanmarese rebel leader SS Khaplang, who belongs to the Hemi tribe, might explain why Eastern Nagaland has entirely vanished from the putative map of a Greater Nagalim.

But how can Muivah and his close Tangkhul lieutenants accept a Nagalim without Ukhrul or Chandel, Tamenlong or Senapati, in it? Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian national political hero, never did get over the loss of his native Nice to France as the price for French support for Italian unification. Napoleon would never let his native Corsica out of France. Had Subhas Chandra Bose remained at the helm of Indian politics in 1947, it is unlikely that he would have accepted the partition of Bengal as the price for India’s independence. So why blame Muivah for feeling so strongly about the incorporation of the Naga areas of Manipur and other northeast Indian states in a future Nagalim?

Muivah is also desperate to get the Nagas “something more” than they have already gotten from India. That, apart from his personal emotions, explains why he is so desperate for a Greater Nagalim. Even if Muivah gets more autonomy for the Nagas, his rivals in Naga politics, both in the overground and the underground, will turn around to accuse him of failing to get the Nagas a substantial package. Unless he gets the Nagas something more than the separate state they got in the 1960s, through Article 371, it will not justify the extended years of Naga rebellion that are solely the doing of Muivah and his close lieutenants. Those whom Muivah has branded as traitors for having accepted the 1975 Shillong Accord will then come out to settle scores with the China-trained Tangkhul rebel. They will ask, if this is all Muivah has achieved— just some additional autonomy—why did he impose an additional 30 years of guerrilla violence on a people already scarred by conflict since 1956?

For a change, Delhi does understand Muivah’s compulsions. Muivah, on his part, does understand New Delhi’s problems. But neither side can budge beyond a point. New Delhi cannot accept Naga sovereignty or an expanded Nagalim. Muivah cannot accept a Naga settlement without a Greater Nagalim. The NSCN’s de facto influence in Nagaland—and in the Naga areas of Manipur—is all too evident. Nagaland’s regional party-led coalition is staying in power with NSCN support; most Naga politicians in Manipur (and in at least two districts of Arunachal Pradesh) are elected only after they receive the blessings of the NSCN. The NSCN does not lose much, in real terms, if a settlement is delayed. It would lose if the talks were to break down and fighting began again, because the Naga commoner is suffering from conflict fatigue and wants no resumption of violence. The NSCN’s only real option is to keep talking—which is what it has been doing for 13 years, and will perhaps continue to do for many more.