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Nagaland's Ballot Beats the Bullets

If 1997, the 50th year of India's independence was significant for the beginning of a ceasefire and talks between the Isaac Chishi Swu-Thuingaleng Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland {NSCN (IM)} and Government of India, 2007 was even more so. In 1997, for the first time since Angami Zapu Phizo's call for Nagas to rise for nationhood with arms, the Naga society had expressed a definite desire for cessation of violence. Ten years later, though peace talks drag on, there emerged a palpable movement for peace, with the Naga youth joining in to make a significant contribution.

Despite the beginning of the peace process, a number of NSCN (IM)'s commanders and cadres continued with their agenda of extortion. But, by 2006-2007, such atrocities and its fratricidal clashes with Khaplang's faction, NSCN (K) had reached a stage where the civil society, and particularly its youth, had begun to react against the violence. NSCN(IM)'S meetings and other activities, as also their very presence in some villages, invited attacks by locals who burnt their vehicles, destroyed their buildings and chased them out. NSCN (K) too had acted against the wishes of the Naga people, and after suffering heavy losses at the hands of Myanmar Army, this faction too agreed to a negotiated settlement of the Naga problem.

On July 30, 2007, for the first time, the Indo-Naga talks were held on Indian soil at Dimapur, Nagaland. The ceasefire between Army/ Central Security Forces and the NSCN-IM was extended for an indefinite period from August 1, 2007. In another development, the Joint Forum of Nagaland Gaon Burah Federation (GBs) and Do-Bhashis Association (DBs) were able to bring together all the underground organizations, which included the NSCN-IM (Kilonser Yanger Pongen), NSCN (K) (Kilonser R M Lotha), Naga National Council (NNC) (General Secretary Vizosielhou Nagi) and NSCN Unification Core Committee (Maj A Chuba Ao). A four-point resolution was jointly signed at Kohima by these organizations that called for putting an end to atrocities against the Nagas, creating a peaceful atmosphere, pursuing peace and unity among different groups and extending the inter-factional ceasefire for a further period of six months from December 7, 2007.

While news about unification of the arch-rival factions of Isaac-Muivah and Khaplang was welcomed by many amongst the Naga community, reports from November 2007 indicate that the unification has, in fact, produced a third front, NSCN (U) almost isolating Tagkhuls dominating NSCN (IM).

Newly recruited cadres of Sema, Lotha, Konyak, Angami and some other tribes, except Tangkhuls and Maos, defected to NSCN (U) after the 'passing out ceremony'. This proves that Semas are not the only ones who want to quit NSCN (IM) to join NSCN (U). Other tribesmen are keen to do so too. On January 30, 2008, a meeting of the Gaon Burras (village headmen)of Lotha tribe and Lotha NGOs was held at Lotha Hoho Office, Dimapur to discuss the tribe's support to NSCN (U). Earlier there were reports indicating likely defection of Lotha cadres from NSCN (IM).  About 60 cadres of NSCN (U) are camping in Dimapur and approx 150 are deployed from there to Chumukedima to prevent tax collection by NSCN (IM).

Despite the turbulence, the Assembly elections in Nagaland, preceded by President's rule, came as a pleasant surprise with a large turnout and peaceful conduct. According to Paolienlal Haokip, writing for Manipuronline, peace in Nagaland gained priority in the electoral agenda, courtesy the BJP's electoral strategy of forging inroads into the state by holding talks with the NSCN (IM) on election eve, and prompted by the strong yearning for peace in the state. Significantly, the Congress that had held reins of power over three terms, lost considerable ground. This reflected the desire of the people to try out a new dispensation to achieve their goals. Despite emerging as the single largest party with 21 seats in the 60 member legislature, the Congress was unable to rope in support of the smaller parties. The Naga Peoples Front (NPF), reportedly a legitimate front of the NSCN (IM), projected itself as principally committed to bringing peace to the state, and succeeded in forming the government in alliance with the BJP.

While the support of the smaller parties for the NPF reflects the popular desire for peace, it may face serious challenges. Firstly, there is little that the NPF-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) can do to better the efforts of the Congress government, including passing unanimous resolutions on integration of Naga inhabited areas to find a solution for the Naga political problem. Secondly, there are inherent systemic limitations on exercising state power, which can create differences between the NPF and its alleged patron, the NSCN (IM). Thirdly, the NPF-led coalition, backed by the NSCN (IM), is likely to sharpen the cleavages within Naga society by further alienating other factions such as those represented by the NSCN (K) and the Naga National Council (NNC). That would be detrimental to the cohesion required for settling the Naga problem.

The coming months will be crucial and while the desire for peace is expected to prevail, will it be strong enough to alter the course of politics in Nagaland? The jury is still out.

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Col Anil Bhat (Retd)
Editor, WordSword Features & Media
Contact at: [email protected]
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