HURDLES IN THE PEACE PROCESS
Bharat Bhushan, The Telegraph
16 May 2005 Monday
Return to the jungle
Not much should be read into Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), saying that there could be a return to violence in Nagaland. The Naga peace talks may not succeed immediately — one may not see a dramatic development in terms of an “accord” being signed in a month or two. Yet one cannot say that the talks are heading towards failure or that a return to violence is imminent. Muivah’s conduct at the peace talks has been exemplary and there is no suggestion that he is eager to go back to the jungle. He has behaved with immense patience, explaining, not once but several times over, the position of the NSCN (I-M) and what the organization can accept and what it cannot.
It would be patently unfair to put the burden of success or failure of the talks on the NSCN (I-M) alone. Negotiations should not and cannot mean that the Nagas should come all the way. If that is the expectation, then even if Muivah keeps talking to New Delhi, his supporters will abandon him and the issue will remain unresolved. Leaving aside the difficult issue of integration of Naga areas for the time being, there are several other obstacles to be overcome by the two sides. These are: negotiating a new federal relationship; joint defence; organizing a Naga army; citizenship; organizing an appropriate judicial system; and openness to multi-party democracy. The most difficult of these is of negotiating a new federal relationship. Yet one must understand that this formulation, presented in the NSCN(I-M)’s memorandum of April 1 2004, is a giant leap forward. In their memorandum of September 21, 2001, Nagas only talked of a “close partnership between Nagaland and India” — the two entities were seen as separate. The Nagas came a step closer when Muivah and NSCN(I-M)’s chairman, Isak Swu, came to Delhi in January 2003, and said that India and Nagaland should become “two nations inseparably bound”. Still, Nagaland was seen as a separate nation.
However, India’s oldest and most well organized insurgent organization is now saying that it is willing to explore “an appropriate federal relationship with India, governed by the agreement in such a way that it cannot be changed unilaterally in the future by either side.” This is indeed progress. To expect that the Nagas should come all the way is both unrealistic and insulting to the Naga leaders who have shown great boldness in coming this far. The NSCN(I-M) has proposed that all competencies should vest in the Nagas except defence, foreign affairs, communications and monetary policy, provided that they have a say in the first three wherever Naga interests are involved. Now it is for New Delhi to start discussing the sharing of competencies, how they affect Naga interests and negotiate what is possible.
One should not react too strongly to Muivah’s statement to the BBC that it was not possible for the Nagas to come within the Indian Union or accept the Indian Constitution. It is the political agreement between the two sides that will define the overall relationship — one cannot put the cart before the horse and give the relationship a name before it is negotiated. In the BBC interview, Muivah spoke of “joint defence”... What this means is that in case of an external threat, the Nagas want a joint defence of their borders with the Indian army. What they mean is that they want an army of their own besides a police force. It is this army which would jointly defend Nagaland with the Indian army.
Raising a Naga Security Force or Naga Rifles is not a difficult task. However, Muivah has to be clear that under this guise, he cannot hope to create a party army of the NSCN(I-M). The NSCN(I-M)’s armed wing should not be absorbed and converted into the new security force. To prevent it from becoming a Thangkul or a party army or an army loyal to Muivah and Swu, it would have to be raised separately from across all Naga tribes. This essentially means agreeing to the decommissioning of the NSCN army. An agreement would have to be reached both on the timing of decommissioning of arms and accommodating the army cadre in central police organizations and rehabilitating those who are over-age or unfit in civilian professions. The demand for a Naga army remains a source of apprehension for the Indian negotiators. On the citizenship issue, the two sides can come quite close. The Nagas want to be citizens of both Nagaland and India. One possibility is that they accept Indian passports with a qualification noting that the holder is a citizen of India in Nagaland. How this is achieved is a matter of negotiation.
Two other issues, which have the potential of creating confusion in the negotiations, are the nature of the judicial system to be followed in Nagaland and the leaders’ attitude to multi-party democracy. The NSCN (I-M) wants the Nagas to have their courts and judicial system to follow tribal customs and practices. They say that they do not want to accept any Indian court except the Supreme Court. This is an untenable position. Even if it were possible to let the Nagas implement their customary law and procedure and have their own civil and criminal justice system according to that law, problems would arise in cases involving non-Nagas.
If such cases have to go to the Indian judicial system then they cannot just move directly to the Supreme Court. The Nagas would probably have to allow for two parallel systems of judiciary — Naga customary courts and Indian courts based on Indian civil and criminal law — with clearly demarcated areas of jurisdiction. Crimes (such as rape and murder) which may attract life imprisonment or capital punishment in the rest of India must not be left to customary law in Nagaland — no blood money or compensation for rape can be accepted.
The NSCN(I-M) also needs to come clean on whether or not it believes in multi-party democracy. Given the early Chinese ideological influence on its leaders, they seem inclined towards democratic centralism and a one-party system. No settlement should take away the democratic right of the Naga people to elect their leaders that they have enjoyed up to now. The peace dividend must not take away rights already enjoyed by the Nagas. If there were an agreement, then within a year or two, Muivah and Swu would have to contest elections and prove that they continue to enjoy the mandate of the Naga people. The cure for an imperfect democracy cannot be dictatorship — however avuncular it might be! Lastly, on the issue of integration of Naga areas, Muivah has suggested a way out. He has argued for a two-stage process — India should accept in principle the legitimacy of the Naga aspiration for integration; and then set in motion a time-bound process to achieve that. This process could be the setting up of a second state reorganization commission. This too, is movement forward.