The historic peace accord signed by the government and the NSCN-IM on Monday came nearly 40 years after another similar treaty inked in Shillong failed to establish peace and led to a fracturing of the Naga rebel movement.
On November 11, 1975, then Nagaland Governor LP Singh signed what came to be known as the “Shillong Accord” with six representatives of the Naga rebels in the capital of Meghalaya.
The ambiguous nature of the agreement – including a clause that said representatives of underground groups would have “reasonable time to formulate other issues for discussion for final settlement” – and the lack of support from hardline leaders like Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu meant the Shillong Accord did not lead to lasting peace.
Cut to 2015, and the 85-year-old Swu is in the intensive care unit of a Delhi hospital and could not attend Monday’s signing ceremony while Muivah, 78, is no longer the firebrand leader who had trekked to China via Myanmar to get Beijing’s backing for his group.
At the same time, the NDA government has signalled its intent to be more accommodative towards the demands of the NSCN-IM, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi describing Monday’s accord as what can be achieved when the two sides “seek to understand concerns and try to address aspirations”. This has given rise to hopes of a lasting solution in Nagaland.
The road to peace in Nagaland will be long and arduous
Though details of the “framework agreement” inked on Monday are yet to emerge, it will be crucial to see how the NSCN-IM’s key demands, including the creation of a Greater Nagaland, are handled by the government.
Nagaland’s neighbours such as Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have already expressed their opposition to the integration of Naga-inhabited areas into a Greater Nagaland. The tricky issue has even triggered violent protests in Manipur several times in the recent past.
The government’s policy for tackling the NSCN-K – which abrogated a 15-year-old truce with the government earlier this year and formed the United Liberation Front of West South East Asia along with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and several other militant groups – too will be crucial for ensuring peace in Nagaland.
At the time of the Shillong Accord of 1975, the Naga rebel movement had been weakened because China had stopped extending support to it, while the creation of Bangladesh meant the insurgents could no longer seek shelter in the erstwhile East Pakistan.
The Naga National Council, which had been the predominant group for nearly four decades, splintered after several leaders refused to accept the Shillong Accord. In 1980, Muivah, Swu and SS Khaplang, a Hemi Naga from Myanmar, broke away and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).
With renewed backing from China and, according to some reports, Pakistan, the NSCN became the most lethal and feared insurgent group in the restive northeast till the emergence of the ULFA in the 1980s.
Naga peace accord: Key moments of the insurgency
But in 1988, the NSCN split into two – the IM faction led by Swu and Muivah and the K faction led by Khaplang – after a failed attempt to assassinate Muivah. This led to bloody internecine clashes as both factions sought to establish their dominance in Nagaland.
The government established contacts with the NSCN-IM in the mid-1990s to explore the possibility of holding peace talks and Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao met Muivah and Swu in Paris in June 1995. Late Union minister Rajesh Pilot, an old northeast hand, played a key role in wooing the Naga rebels to the negotiating table during meetings in Thailand, where the NSCN-IM leaders established a base and acquired several businesses.
This was followed by contacts by Rao’s successor HD Deve Gowda and other senior government officials, mostly in Europe and Thailand, before the two sides agreed to a ceasefire in July 1997 to pave the way for talks.
The NSCN-K too agreed to a truce with the government and began peace talks in 2000. However, the group ended the truce earlier this year and launched a series of attacks on security forces, including an ambush in June in Manipur that killed 18 soldiers.
The 1975 accord was not the only agreement signed with the Nagas. The 1947 Naga-Akbar Hydari Agreement promised some amount of autonomy to the Nagas while the Sixteen-Point Agreement of 1960 led to the creation of the state of Nagaland by carving out the Naga Hills from undivided Assam.
The 1947 pact was signed by then Assam governor Akbar Hydari and representatives of the Naga National Council (NNC) and recognised the “right of the Nagas to develop themselves according to their freely expressed wishes”.
However, the two sides differed on the interpretation of a clause that said the Naga Council would be asked after a 10-year period whether they wanted the pact to be extended. Some in the NNC rejected the agreement and this triggered the insurgency as well as operations by security forces to put down the uprising.
Though the 1960 accord led to the creation of Nagaland, it did not address the underlying issues that had triggered the insurgency. Moreover, the agreement was signed with the moderate Naga People’s Convention and was rejected by the hardline NNC, which was the main group among the insurgents.