The four decades old armed insurgency in the Indian state of Nagaland, originally launched to achieve a sovereign territory for the Naga people spread over India’s volatile northeast and Myanmar, is on the brink of coming to an end.
After 20 years of painstaking negotiations, the Indo-Naga political talks are nearing a logical conclusion as the leadership of the largest Naga rebel outfit (NSCN-IM) has finally agreed to settle for peaceful co-existence with India under a so-called shared sovereignty umbrella.
But will the much-anticipated settlement following the 2015 Framework Agreement, signed by NSCN-IM leaders and Indian government representatives in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, produce the desired result that the Nagas and their region desperately need?
After all, it is undeniable that there has been a sharp deterioration of relationships within Naga society and continuous difference of opinion among the splintered groups of Naga struggle on the question of integration and sovereignty.
Moreover, as pointed out by former Indian home secretary K. Padmanabhaiah, who served as chief interlocutor for talks with Naga rebels, “shared sovereignty has many components and it would be premature to opine authoritatively whether such a concept can bring lasting peace in the Naga inhabited areas.”
A concerned Naga source says he is hopeful that “the settlement will be the best for all Nagas on both sides of the Indo-Myanmar border at this stage and also acceptable to India,” while adding that the disparate Naga rebel factions and political groups must evolve a common position on the terms for a political settlement to ensure a positive outcome.
Undoubtedly, the Nagas desperately want and need a settlement that will free their homeland from decades of violence, lawlessness and corruption to usher in an era of prosperity.
The Indian constitution being a flexible document, most of the Naga demands can be incorporated – without affecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country – if an imaginative approach is used
Former Indian home secretary K. Padmanabhaiah
And the imaginative experiment that a federal India with strong unitary features is poised to embark on is their best bet in a terrorism infested world that is reluctant to proactively support wars of national liberation.
In fact, moving away from semantics, New Delhi has explicitly committed to sharing sovereign power by providing genuine devolution which will make Nagas de facto sovereign. And that involves separate parliament, supreme court, constitution, flag, dual citizenship et al.
“The Indian constitution being a flexible document, most of the Naga demands can be incorporated – without affecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country – if an imaginative approach is used,” says Padmanabhaiah, citing how a democratic India has toiled hard to preserve the special and unique aspects of the history and culture of its provinces.
If the Naga peace accord clicks in a region where identity crisis afflicts most tribes and communities, there will be demand for replicating this unique experiment with some modifications in Kashmir too.
Professor Gull Mohammad Wani, who has been involved in back-channel India-Pakistan peace initiatives and authored authoritative books on Kashmir’s autonomy and self-rule, admits that a solution which hinges on peoples’ sovereignty and not territorial sovereignty per se offers hope for an amicable settlement on the vexed Kashmir issue.
But for that to happen, the Indian state must accord recognition and acceptability to Kashmiri exceptionalism and protect Kashmir’s unique identity, asserts Wani.
Seema Sengupta is a Calcutta-based journalist and columnist