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An overly critical media could truncate the Naga peace process

The media has the proclivity to sensationalise and give space to discordant voices. This is detrimental to the peace process as it could harden the stances of even those who had come around to supporting it.

opinion Updated: Nov 05, 2017 17:15 IST
A file picture shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh with Naga leaders after signing the framework agreement in 2015. Seated on the extreme right is R N Ravi, chief interlocutor and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s envoy, who is leading the Centre’s team of interlocutors
A file picture shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh with Naga leaders after signing the framework agreement in 2015. Seated on the extreme right is R N Ravi, chief interlocutor and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s envoy, who is leading the Centre’s team of interlocutors(PTI)

A peace ‘process’ by its nature is a complex and tortuous journey. The Naga peace process --- now known as the Naga Framework Agreement --- has been criticised for the secrecy that surrounds it. The media is suspicious of the contents of the framework, which was signed between the rebel outfit NSCN(I-M) and the government of India on August 3, 2015. When the media is not privy to anything newsy, it tries to interpret things its way.

The Naga peace process is complex because there are many stakeholders, all of whom do not have a stake in peace. Those who believe that all the Nagas in Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam are for peace are naive. Each group has its own idea of what the framework should be.

Getting disparate groups together to arrive at a consensus is not a runaway victory. If the process is speeded up to meet a deadline, it could become a half-baked mission. If it takes too long, it can turn the stakeholders cynical. Whoever is the interlocutor in a peace process has to be part psychologist and part strategist. Dealing with fragile egos and repeated claims of a ‘unique history,’ which in contemporary times poses a new set of problems can be a trying experience.

What is the role of the media in a peace process? The media often believes it has the grasp to unravel the most complex of human problems. But at the best of times media is a victim to the tyranny of one-dimensional thinking. This smugness can spoil a peace process at a critical stage. The primary role of the media is to inform and educate.

First, they help to define the political atmosphere in which the peace process takes place. Second, the media has an active influence on the strategy and behaviour of the stakeholders. Third, it has an important influence on the nature of debate about a peace process. Fourth, the media can buttress or weaken the legitimacy of the stakeholders.

But peace-building is a slow process and often without drama. News is about events, not processes. When the media reports a process, it tends to make it simplistic because it does not consider itself a stakeholder but an onlooker. While August 3, 2015, was considered a major news event, the drama ended there. But when the media feels that a process has taken more time than what it should have, there is a propensity to give the story a negative aspect and cancel out the positives.

The media has the proclivity to sensationalise and give space to discordant voices. This is detrimental to the peace process as it could harden the stances of even those who had come around to supporting it. Even today there is a lot of kite flying about the territorial integrity of Manipur, if the peace process is wrapped up. These are intended to confuse and confound.

The interlocutor for the framework, RN Ravi, has had extensive discussions not just with the NSCN(IM) but also with the other armed groups and civil society organisations including the tribal Hohos. This constant pushing of the envelope to make the framework inclusive and ‘comprehensive’ is something that has not been tried in the past. There is greater involvement of stakeholders in the Naga Peace Process today than ever before.

The media has incidentally not highlighted these positive developments. On the contrary, sections of the media have given voice to those with an agenda to radicalise even moderate voices. Sometimes leaders of different political groups could be the biggest spoiler to the peace process since they stand to gain by emotionally influencing their constituents that the process is not to their advantage. Consensus among the political leaders of Nagaland is critical to the peace process.

Professor Gadi Wolfsfeld in “The Role of the News Media in Peace Negotiations: Variations over Time and Circumstance,” says one of the most common premises of all peace negotiations is that it is imperative to keep the news media out because the greater the media involvement the more likely it is for the talks to fail.

I recall being part of a workshop organised by the International Red Cross on media tools for peace-building. I realised then that a hyperventilating media or an overly critical one could truncate the process.

Negotiations and peace processes rests on two important pillars. One is the tangible evidence of a commitment to peace on the part of the major combatants and second, the willingness of the combatants to pursue a negotiated settlement. Hence there is a symbiotic relation between negotiations and peace processes. But there are unforeseen variables, which could wreck this process. After all, as statesman Edmond Burke says, the social organism is more complicated than we can know.

Patricia Mukhim is editor, The Shillong Times, and former member, National Security Advisory Board

The views expressed are personal