A dream, a demand and the talks
Why he who came as a dove suddenly turned into a hawk?
With the exit of interlocutor RN Ravi, hopes for a breakthrough are running high among the rank and file of NSCN-IM, including its powerful General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah. Yet, the question whether Ravi was removed from the Naga talks as demanded by Muivah or for another mission in the Tamil heartland still remains to be answered.
RN Ravi was transfereed out of Nagaland state to Tamil Nadu as its Governor and a change of guard was effected with the appointment of another former Intelligence Bureau official AK Mishra as the new interlocutor. The NSCN-IM chief had openly voiced a demand for Ravi’s ouster and appointment of a new interlocutor and it seemed the 23-year-old talks between the group and GOI was heading for a breakdown. However, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah roped in Assam Finance Minister and NEDA Convenor Himanta Biswa Sharma and Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio to break the deadlock. They succeeded and now officials of the Intelligence Bureau have been engaging with the NSCN-IM and deliberations are still going on. Relations between RN Ravi and leaders of NSCN-IM soured last year and the talks ended in a stalemate.
On August 14, Muivah stated that the Naga flag and constitution were non-negotiable and that the (framework) agreement included the idea of unification of all Naga people, living in areas across Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur as well. This stance of the NSCN-IM had the potential to derail the peace process, as it has been reported the Centre had earlier made it clear that a separate constitution was not acceptable and Assam, Arunachal and Manipur will not be divided.
Muivah’s intention all along had been wresting the dream of ‘Greater Nagalim’ by pushing hard on an impossible demand. Thuingaleng Muivah is not a fool and surely, by now he must have realised that GOI would never give in to the demand for a separate Naga flag and Constitution, given the recent bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir into two Union Territories and repealing of Article 370. If he actually thinks he can make the flag and constitution happen, it would be wishful thinking. The talks may go on and on, but it will not happen during Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s watch.
Again, it is unthinkable that GOI would go for a solution which could create other problems in the region again. K Padmanabhaih, the then interlocutor, burnt his fingers when he signed the controversial Bangkok ceasefire agreement without territorial limits in 2001. Civil society organisations in the three states, including Manipur are closely monitoring the talks and any hint of an arrangement affecting the three states would lead to eruption of fierce protests in the region again. And of course, there is the demand by Kuki underground groups for considering their demand before any resolution with the Nagas. Now coming back to the question of whether the Centre would give more leeway to the rebel group for the sake of a solution at the cost of neighbouring states, we must raise another question. At any stage of the prolonged talks, did interlocutor RN Ravi go beyond his brief? He held talks across the board with various stakeholders, including the CSOs of the neighbouring states. He even managed a secretive ‘Framework Agreement’ just before NSCM-IM leader Isak Chisi Swu died, in the presence of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In addition to his responsibilities as an Interlocutor, he was appointed the Governor of Nagaland state. It came as a surprise to many, as he is still involved in talks which we all know goes beyond Nagaland state although the ceasefire is limited to the state only, whatever be the claims made by NSCN-IM. Why he who came as a dove suddenly turned into a hawk?
The writing on the wall is clear. He has achieved what he came to do. He has successfully divided the Nagas and isolated the NSCN-IM or for that matter, the Tangkhul leadership. Perhaps, he was doing exactly what he was mandated to do. There is every likelihood that the new interlocutor also would not go beyond the mandate given to him by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister.