|WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE NAGA TALKS?|
WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE NAGA TALKS?BHARAT BHUSHAN, The Telegraph
20 June 2005 Monday
Problem of history
The first phase of intensive negotiations with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) is coming to an end. After one more round of talks with the government, its general secretary, Thuingaleng Muivah, is leaving for Amsterdam. The talks are stalled and Muivah says that he does not know whether or when he might return to India. The break from the negotiations should provide time to the two sides to analyze the 12 to 13 rounds of formal discussions they had. Several things went wrong for the Indian negotiators. The government of India had no proposals of its own. It only reacted to the proposals of the NSCN (I-M). The NSCN (I-M) submitted two sets of proposals — one on September 21, 2001 from Amsterdam and another as a memorandum on April 1, 2004 from Bangkok. The 2004 memorandum reformulated the first proposals by prioritizing the issues for discussion.
The NSCN (I-M) wanted to discuss the political issue first — negotiating “an appropriate federal relationship with India”; a division of competencies which would leave all subjects to Nagaland except defence, foreign affairs, communications and monetary policy, with the Nagas having a say in the first three, wherever their interests are affected; recognizing the legitimacy of the Naga demand for the reunification of their homeland and implementing it in a reasonable time frame; and a transitional agreement which would also convert the NSCN (I-M) army into a new regular armed force under the new state government. The reaction of the government was that the NSCN (I-M) proposals were not practicable. In effect the government was saying — ask for something that we can give. This reaction shows that the government was not ready for negotiations. The Naga proposals were known for three years before the NSCN (I-M) leaders were invited for an intensive dialogue in India. Why were they invited if the only thing that New Delhi wanted was for them to change their demands to those that could be easily met?
Another mistake that the government negotiators made was that they did not see the issue from the Naga perspective. The Nagas see their problem with India as unique, flowing from a history that was specific to them. The government negotiators, however, tried to equate the Naga issue with that of any other state of India — the logic being that nothing should be done for the Nagas which the government was not in a position to do say for the Tamil or the Telugu people. A specific problem situated in a unique history — of a people who do not consider themselves a part of India either by conquest or consent — was sought to be converted into a general problem of Centre-state relations. It seems to have been entirely forgotten that Nagaland, for nearly two decades, after independence was under the charge of the ministry of external affairs before being brought under the home ministry in the mid-Sixties. It was under the external affairs ministry that the state of Nagaland was created in 1960. There is no other Indian state which can claim that distinction. The specific history of Nagaland however seems to have been given the go-by.
Before now, the Naga issue has been addressed by giants like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi. They may not have been able to settle the Naga issue, but they did not resort to cheap subterfuge. Instead of trying to tune into their wavelength and understand what they want, the government was only clear about what it does not want to give the Nagas. As it is, the government has merely rejected what the Nagas want without making an attempt to reframe their proposals. This would involve redirecting the attention of the NSCN (I-M) leaders from the positions they have taken to identifying their interests, and then making specific proposals to find ways of meeting them. If for example, the Nagas propose that they want a say in foreign affairs, the attempt should not be to reject the suggestion out of hand but to convince them that if there were to be boundary rationalization with Myanmar abutting Nagaland, then they would be consulted; that a Naga affairs officer could be posted in the Indian mission in Yangon or that the Nagas would be included in Indian delegations to United Nations bodies dealing with tribal and indigenous people. The attempt ought to have been to redirect the Nagas towards a problem-solving framework.
There was certainly no handholding of the NSCN (I-M) to guide them towards a mutually acceptable framework of settlement. Underground groups are not equipped in the same way as governments are in understanding the tangle of constitutional law, Centre-state relations and the collateral impact of decisions in a huge country like India. Leaving them to their own devices is tantamount to hoping for a failure. The negotiations have to be changed from bargaining for advantage to solving the problem jointly and cooperatively. The handholding has to be done outside the negotiating room to create conditions conducive for an agreement on the negotiating table. The ratio of informal meetings to formal ones has to be overwhelmingly in favour of the former. The process of negotiation itself is a part of the solution. No one realizes this better than Thuingaleng Muivah who has taken the ritual of participation in the negotiations to new heights. In ceasefire negotiations his entire cabinet turns up. In peace talks, adequate representation is given to the various NSCN leaders and at each stage others not present are briefed in detail. This is his way of ensuring that when a compromise has to be made, they would be willing to make allowances they may not make otherwise.
On the Indian side, a similar joint effort is missing although the prime minister is sincere about a settlement. The home minister suffers from a no-concessions mindset; the national security advisor comes with the baggage of experience of handling several insurgencies. The only frontline political person with any gumption among the negotiators is Oscar Fernandes who has the tough task of balancing the forces tugging in different directions. The government has not educated itself and the NSCN (I-M) on the consequences of not reaching an agreement at all. The costs and consequences of not reaching an agreement with the Nagas are enormous. Besides the bloodshed that the Nagas have already witnessed, another generation of Naga youth would be condemned to the jungles. The bitterness that has already lasted three generations will go on for another three. If there is no progress in the Naga talks, one can write off any prospect of starting a peace dialogue with the United Liberation Front of Asom. There is some disturbing talk that the Indian army thinks that if the Nagas do not extend the ceasefire this time around, it would not mean much because the army can “handle” them. Of course the might of the Indian army would not allow the NSCN (I-M) to occupy land in Nagaland, but if the Naga issue could have been solved militarily why did it not happen up to now? Bravado clearly is no substitute for hard political thinking.