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The Naga Question
Violence and the Peace Process
Shantanu Nandan Sharma#

It has been more than four years since Nagaland, one of the most persistent conflict zones of South Asia, has witnessed a cease-fire between the Government of India (GoI) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) group (NSCN-IM). With the other faction of the NSCN, the Khaplang group (NSCN-K), also being roped into a cease-fire agreement in April 2001, the chances of peace returning to this conflict-ridden North Eastern State loomed large.

When on July 25, 1997, the then Prime Minister, I K Gujral, made a statement on the cease-fire agreement – which commenced on August 1, 1997 – on the floor of Parliament,1 there was widespread scepticism. The critical underpinnings of this incredulity were related to the modalities of the GoI’s negotiations and the political dialogue with a group such as the NSCN- IM, whose agenda was nothing less than a sovereign state of 120,000 square kilometers, comprising the whole of present-day Nagaland, as well as parts of Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar. Apart from scepticism, analysts also pondered on how different this attempt at ushering in peace could be from the cease-fire of 1964-67 that had generated immense hope to the people of Nagaland, but that had resulted in equally great disappointment.

Thuingaleng Muivah, General Secretary of the NSCN-IM while contextualising the 1964-67 cease-fire effort, opined that it collapsed because "the Indians were not sufficiently disposed towards a solution to the problem... and on the Naga side, some lurking suspicions were there."2 Whether such a claim is true or not, the fact remains that, from the outset of the present cease-fire, the failure of the peace process of the 1960s has injected a note of caution in the process.

Critics have also argued that progress on the peace process has been extremely tardy and, after four years of negotiations, the real dialogue on substantive political issues is yet to begin. What has been achieved so far is merely the formulation of a certain kind of framework for the discussion of various political issues.

However, given the backdrop of the complexity of the subject, there was no short-cut method to discuss the core agenda right from the outset. It was necessary, in the early stages of the process, to be cautious and to go slow so as to avoid any premature end to the peace process. The NSCN-IM has maintained its position that nothing less than the independence of the Nagas is an ‘honourable’ solution, whereas for the Indian negotiators, sovereignty of any constituent of the Indian state is non-negotiable. Hence, if both the parties attempt to sort out the contentious issue of sovereignty at the very initial phase of negotiations, the fate of the dialogue can well be anticipated.

An issue that has been a stumbling block in the Nagaland peace initiative for the last four years relates to the geographical area wherein the cease-fire would be applicable. As the cease-fire of the 1960s included areas beyond the then new-born State of Nagaland, NSCN leaders may have reckoned that the latest effort would also encompass all Naga-inhabited areas outside this State. All their press releases and interviews did suggest that the Indian negotiators gave a commitment that it would be applicable to all Naga inhabited areas. But, the fact is, no document relating to the 1997 cease-fire enumerated the territorial aspect, thereby leaving a grey area to disturb the peace process once again.

Had the ghost of the ‘Greater Nagaland’ concept not traumatised the people of the adjoining States, particularly those of the Imphal Valley, the issue of the cease-fire area would not have had such an impact as was manifested in Manipur. Why should the people of Manipur, particularly the populace of Imphal Valley, express such violent discontent at the extension of the Naga cease-fire to their land? Literally, a cease-fire is an arrangement in which people or countries that are fighting each other agree to stop fighting in order to discuss their disagreement. Where does the territorial aspect emerge?

The extension of the cease-fire beyond the present State of Nagaland has always been considered to be a springboard to the realisation of the concept of Greater Nagaland. Even before the Naga cease-fire was announced in July 1997, the issue of integration of Naga-inhabited areas leading to the dismemberment of Manipur had come to the fore. Various Naga tribes inhabit four of the five hill districts – Senapati, Ukhrul, Chandel and Tamenglong – comprising 70 percent of Manipur’s total area of 22,372 square kilometres. The only other hill district, Churachandpur, not inhabited by the Nagas but by the Zomis (Paites) and Chin-Kuki groups, has an area of nearly 20 percent of the State of Manipur. This means, the valley districts – Imphal East, Imphal West, Bishnupur and Thoubal – which house nearly 65 per cent of the total population of Manipur, have an area of a mere 2000 square kilometres or 10 per cent of the State's total area. The Valley people mostly comprise the Meiteis, the most dominant class of the Manipuri society and also some Pangans (Manipuri Muslims) who constitute 6.5% of the total population.

Thus, statistics clearly indicate that, despite the support of Chin-Kuki-Zomi groups of Churachandpur to the Meiteis in their effort to preserve the integrity of Manipur, the consolidation of Naga inhabited areas into one unit would imply Manipur surrendering at least 70 per cent of its area. The Valley people, proud as they are of their 2000-year-old history and concerned about the preservation of their territory, are not prepared to give any leeway to the mechanisms of Naga integration. Thus, when the Nagaland Legislative Assembly passed a unanimous resolution in December 1994 asking for the integration of Naga-inhabited areas of the other States with Nagaland, tensions gripped Manipur. In reaction, the Manipur Legislative Assembly, on May 6, 1995, adopted a resolution aimed at protecting the territorial integrity of the State. Furthermore, it also distinctly rejected the concept of Greater Nagaland.3 Even before the present cease-fire commenced on August 1, 1997, tension over the possibility of Naga integration was very much prevalent in Manipur. The simmering tension also explains the Manipur Legislative Assembly’s re-ratification of its resolution on March 17 and July 11, 1997, thereby reiterating its stand of ‘no compromise’ on the territorial integrity of the State.

It is widely held that the concept of Naga integration goes against Manipur’s desire of retaining the boundary delineated during the Maharaja’s time. Manipur remained an independent kingdom ruled by Meitei kings till the British conquered it in 1891. When India secured independence in 1947, the State of Manipur declared itself as a constitutional monarchy with its own rules and laws. The State began functioning under the Manipur State Constitution Act, 1947,4 signed by Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh. However, like many other princely states which joined the Indian Union in the post-Independence years, Manipur, too, merged with India under a merger Agreement signed on September 21, 1949.5

The fear of a consolidation of the Greater Nagaland concept at the expense of the neighbouring States has been recurrent in Manipur. An example of such fears is visible in the August 4, 1997, Imphal rally in which an estimated half a million people expressed their solidarity and intent to protect the territorial integrity of Manipur.6 This was also the very first expression of the apprehensions about the Centre’s cease-fire with the NSCN-IM.

Furthermore, for the NSCN-IM, the geographical limits of the cease-fire turned out to be more important, and probably prestigious, than the cease-fire itself. The integration of all Nagas residing in three States of India's North East and parts of Myanmar has always been an open agenda for this militant outfit. Muivah himself is a Tangkhul, a prominent Naga tribe from the Ukhrul district of Manipur. Many other ‘core commanders’ of the outfit are also Tangkhuls from Manipur. Thus, domestic constituency compulsions have also rendered the NSCN-IM with no other option but to constantly pressurise the GoI to accede to its demand of observing the cease-fire in all Naga-inhabited areas.

The cease-fire talks have progressed at different levels. The Prime Minister's emissary had a series of meetings with Isak Chishi Swu, the Chairman, and Muivah, the General Secretary of the NSCN-IM, at different foreign locations. The Union Home Ministry also initiated a process of dialogue with the NSCN’s second rung leadership, led by V.S. Atem. Even as talks progressed, complexities deepened on the aspect of geographical limits of the ongoing cease-fire. While Swaraj Kaushal, the then emissary of the Prime Minister, explained that "whereever they are, we observe cease-fire, even abroad... it covers Delhi and even Paris,"7 the then Joint Secretary (North East) in the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), G.K. Pillai, later clarified that "the cease-fire area is limited only to the State of Nagaland."8

In the midst of such a confusing scenario, Isak Chishi Swu gave an ultimatum to the GoI on August 26, 2000, on this contentious issue. In a letter to the Prime Minister, he said, "If your Government does not officially implement cease-fire to all Naga areas by 15th September, 2000, we will no longer be under any obligation to continue this cease-fire and you and your government will have to bear the responsibility for the failure of this Indo-Naga peace process."9 On behalf of the GoI, the Prime Minister's emissary, K. Padmanabhaiah, while replying to Swu's letter, clearly stated that none of the representatives of the GoI had agreed to extend the cease-fire to all Naga-inhabited areas. He also indicated that the government would consider the extension of the cease-fire with the NSCN-IM to other areas in the North-East, subject to the condition that the outfit accept and agree to issue a statement to the effect that the cease-fire extension to other areas will not be interpreted by them as a step towards recognition of their claim to Greater Nagaland.10

Against the backdrop of possible opposition from the people of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh regarding the extension of the Naga cease-fire to their States, an option the Centre had at that point of time was to consult the governments of the affected States. On September 28, 2000, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called four Chief Ministers of the North Eastern States – Prafulla Kumar Mahanta (the then Chief Minister of Assam), Mukut Mithi (Arunachal Pradesh), W Nipamacha Singh (the then Chief Minister of Manipur) and E K Mawlong (Meghalaya) – to Delhi to discuss the contentious issue. Though Meghalaya has no Naga-inhabited areas and thus is not a directly affected State, its views were sought in the light of the continuing support provided by NSCN-IM to the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC)11, one of Meghalaya's growing insurgent outfits. As opposed to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, where the extension was perceived as leading to a possible loss of territory, Meghalaya considered related issues more as a law and order problem.

Before the meeting with the Prime Minister, all the four North Eastern Chief Ministers had expressed their reservations against the Centre's move to extend the ceasefire beyond Nagaland. Yet, during the meeting, they were persuaded and probably pressurised to an extent that none of them emphatically expressed their opposition after the meeting.12 The meeting apparently remained inconclusive and it was decided that another round of talks would be held within a short time.13 The Prime Minister changed his strategy to deal with the Chief Ministers and decided to talk to them individually rather than together. As the NSCN-IM increased pressure on the government, the PM appeared to have convinced the Assam and Arunachal Pradesh Chief Ministers with the promise that the cease-fire would not be extended only to the Naga inhabited areas, but to the entire Northeast, so that there was no impression of a consolidation of the Naga-inhabited areas.14 The GoI also promised that the territorial integrity of the concerned States would remain intact. Regrettably, the Centre effectively lost a critical opportunity to initiate a ‘middle path’ of both extending the cease-fire to all Naga inhabited areas as also convincing the people of these States that this would not lead to any loss of territory.

It was at this juncture that Radhabinod Koijam, after breaking away from the Congress and joining the Samata Party, became the Chief Minister of Manipur, and called for a month-long unilateral cease-fire with all the underground outfits in the State from March 1, 2001. His agenda was directed towards encompassing all underground organisations operating in the State in order to create a platform for further negotiations. The extension of the unilateral cease-fire beyond one month was endorsed unanimously at an all-party meeting on March 27. The first 26 days of the month of March (till one day before the All Party Meet) had witnessed only 36 cases of insurgency-related violence in the State.15 This was much less compared to January (162 cases) and February (168 cases).16 Armed with the statistics indicating an initial success of the initiative, as also with an endorsement by all political parties of the State, Radhabinod Koijam urged the MHA to reaffirm his proposal. But, the Centre refused to endorse it, reportedly on the grounds that it could not say ‘yes’ to the move as a majority of the insurgent groups had shown reluctance to abide by such an initiative. The underlying argument was that if the insurgent outfits squarely reject the cease-fire and resort to unlawful activities, the government’s decision to pursue an all-pervasive cease-fire with a one-sided response would be irrational. The argument appeared weak, as party politics within the National Democratic Alliance emerged as the real backdrop against which the Centre had forged its response. The Manipur unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to be precise did not want the Samata Party to secure any significant success. The politics of the following months confirmed the behind-the-scenes drama, when the Manipur BJP unit went ahead and toppled the Koijam regime, leading to yet another political vacuum in the State.

But what the Union government seemed to have missed as a result of the Home Ministry’s refusal to endorse the Manipur government’s proposal of an umbrella cease-fire to all the outfits, was the opportunity to extend the cease-fire with the NSCN-IM to Manipur as well. Had the cease-fire been extended to all outfits – including the NSCN-IM – in the valley and the hills, the people of the State would not have reacted the way they did in the days immediately following the Bangkok Agreement of June 14, 2001. Complexity arises in this context if one considers aspects of the June 14 Agreement, particularly the failure to enunciate the position regarding land per se, or whose land would go where. The real fears were based on the proposition that if the cease-fire was extended to the State of Manipur, for example, it would tantamount to a recognition of the NSCN-IM's presence and influence in the Hill districts of the State, and this, in all probability, would provide a fillip to the concept of Naga integration.

Facets of the cease-fire

Before providing an insight into the nature of protests against the cease-fire area extension, its fall-out and the manner in which it was tackled, an examination of certain other aspects of this four-year-old cease-fire is necessary. Although the cease-fire area issue dominated the discussions between the two parties, the peace process also witnessed both praiseworthy and problematic aspects that were necessary consequences of the process itself.

When the late Rajesh Pilot, known for his acumen on Northeastern affairs, flew incognito to Bangkok and initiated a peace process with Isak Chishi Swu and Muivah of the NSCN-IM in November 1996, or when the then Premier, Deve Gowda, subsequently initiated a dialogue with the NSCN leaders at Davos in Switzerland, the expectation was that it would lead to a cessation of violence at least for a few months. Wary of each other, both the parties in a certain sense were happy to strike a deal for three months. Although initially it was extended once on a three-month basis, the inherent problem with such an exercise was related to a constant fear that the peace process itself would be derailed. On each occasion of the completion of the third month, the question of whether a further extension would be realised haunted the peace process.

Essentially, the peace process discussions could not proceed at a faster pace due to several reasons. Firstly, it was necessary to avoid contentious issues that could lead to a premature end of the peace talks. Great importance was, consequently, attached to the modality of final talks for settlement. The idea here was for the parties in dialogue to understand each other and develop an informal atmosphere vis-à-vis the talks. This assumed added significance since a final settlement could take place only in the context of substantial give-and-take between the two parties. Furthermore, the GoI would have to provide the insurgent group a deal that would also satisfy the outfit’s domestic constituency.

The NSCN-IM’s refusal to talk within India as also its insistence on talks at the Prime Ministerial level evidently slowed down the pace of the peace process. The GoI accepted these conditions and no one has ever tried to belittle the outfit and its leaders’ ego by questioning the necessity of an Indian Prime Minister flying down to a foreign country to discuss domestic matters with them.

Furthermore, Naga insurgency is a 50-year-old phenomenon and it cannot be dismissed as yet another armed romanticism by a few frustrated youth. The Union government had experimented with it by a successive recourse to military solutions by bestowing the Army with extensive powers under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. Thus, the government's recognition of the Naga insurgency as a political issue was a major shift of policy and, coupled with the NSCN-IM’s consent to enter into negotiations, it turned out to be a major development as far as ushering in peace in the strife-torn Northeastern States was concerned.

The underlying rationale of the policy was to tackle the NSCN-IM, considered to be the mother of all insurgent outfits operating in the Northeastern region. And once progress is made on this front, the consequent assumption is that the other outfits are also likely to be roped into the peace process. The consent of the other faction of the NSCN, led by a Hemi Naga from Myanmar, S S Khaplang, to formally enter into a cease-fire with the GoI in April 2001 has vindicated the possibility of the success of such a policy. An outfit from Assam, the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) had also entered into a formal cease-fire with the GoI in September 1999 and talks with the militant group are reportedly proceeding smoothly. Certain analysts might set this development aside as another inconsequential event, but the fact remains that it was the BLT, which was responsible for a large number of killings in the Bodo-dominated areas in Assam. Unlike many other insurgent outfits in the North East, the BLT does not demand a sovereign state, but is fighting for a Bodo State within the Indian Union. During the Kargil war, they were the first to take a unilateral decision to suspend all operations against the Indian security forces in order to convey a message to the GoI that they were not anti-nationals.18 The GoI sent emissaries and the initial phase of informal talks finally took a formal shape. However, no positive response has been received so far from some of the powerful outfits, such as the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB),19 in Assam; the United National Liberation Front (UNLF)20, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)21, etc., from Manipur, the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT)22 and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF)23 in Tripura. And until and unless these organisations come to the negotiating table, the prospects of a permanent peace in the entire Northeast will remain a distant hope.

In the case of the Khaplang faction, the unilateral cease-fire by both the parties as a token of goodwill began the process, leading to a formulation of the ground rules in April 2000. Even in this case, the process began slowly as the Centre had to initiate steps with utmost caution, since the Khaplang faction reportedly maintains close links with the Nagaland Chief Minister S C Jamir, although the latter has consistently denied such a linkage. Furthermore, the Centre could not afford to jeopardise the peace process with the NSCN-IM by bringing the NSCN-K into the equation, since there was a long-standing fratricidal war between the two factions. Data on three and half years of cease-fire (from 01.08.1997 to 31.01.2001) indicated that, out of the total insurgency-related killings of 376 persons, as many as 236 were due to the fratricidal war.24

The peace process with the Khaplang faction commenced with the Army’s unilateral cease-fire, initially for a period of two months, beginning November 15, 1998. The NSCN-K responded positively and experimented with a cease-fire for 20 days, which was later extended. The prospects of peace loomed large in the beleaguered State of Nagaland when the NSCN-K also offered a three-month unilateral cease-fire to the NSCN-IM with effect from September 2000. Chief Minister Jamir, who had been isolated so far vis-à-vis the peace process with the NSCN-IM, facilitated the Khaplang group’s case with New Delhi. The groundwork for the NSCN-K to enter into a formal dialogue with the GoI was created on October 3, 2000, when Jamir briefed Union Home Minister L K Advani about the need for involving all the militant groups in the State in order to find a durable solution to the Naga problem. Finally, on April 10-11, 2001, discussions were held at New Delhi between the representatives of the GoI, led by P D Shenoy, Additional Secretary, MHA, and those of the NSCN-K, led by Tongmeth Wangnao Konyak, leading to the preparation of the actual Ground Rules for future talks.

A critical component of the 15-point Ground Rules is the content of the very first Rule, which enunciates that "these ground rules will be valid only for the State of Nagaland." Had the geographical limits of the cease-fire with the IM faction also been clearly specified at the outset, it would not have taken a shape of mistrust and confusion in Manipur. A few costly lapses by the Centre, born out of inexperience and short-sightedness, in its initiatives for a dialogue with the NSCN-IM, were thus avoided in the process with the NSCN-K.

But why did the people of Manipur react so aggressively once it became clear that the Naga cease-fire would be extended to Manipur also? The fear of losing Naga-inhabited areas was predominant, but the people at large were also angry at the entire government machinery as also the political structure that was steering it. Political instability has remained a constant feature of Manipur ever since it became a State in 1972. But the utter disregard of even rudimentary political norms, as was displayed by Manipur’s political class in the recent past, led to an atmosphere of disillusionment with the political system. The pent-up anger against the political class of the State culminated, on June 18, 2001, four days after the decision to extend the ceasefire beyond the territorial limits of Nagaland, in unprecedented violence in Manipur. On June 18, thousands of protestors marched towards Raj Bhawan, the only seat of power in the absence of a popular government. On being prevented from proceeding further, the angry mob began targeting the political establishment irrespective of all party affiliation, and burnt down the historic Manipur Legislative Assembly building. They also set on fire many other buildings, including the official residence of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Sapam Dhananjoy, the Manipur Pradesh Congress office, as also the office of the Manipur State Congress Party. They also ransacked the offices of the BJP, the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Samata Party. The only common thread in the violent action, in which 14 persons lost their lives, was that the targets were the political establishment alone. During the course of one and a half months of agitation, popular resentment against local politicians was reflected repeatedly.

It was also a movement to preserve the territorial integrity of Manipur, for which an immediate demand to revoke the three words – without territorial limits – from Clause 1 of the June 14 Agreement was made.25 The protests were primarily directed against the Centre's decision to extend the cease-fire without any consultative process with the concerned States. It was a spontaneous movement and the leadership emerged from the All Manipur United Clubs Organization (AMUCO), comprising as many as 83 social and voluntary organizations. Later, an apex body called the United Committee, Manipur (UCM), comprising, apart from AMUCO, five other organisations, including the All Manipur Students Union (AMSU), was also formed to spearhead the movement. During the AMUCO-organised general strike, prior to the June 18 violence, the entire Imphal Valley wore a war-like ambience, as one observer noted: With hundreds of burnt tyres and effigies of the Central leaders like Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Home Minister L K Advani, the PM’s emissary K Padmanabhaiah and NSCN General Secretary Muivah, for three consecutive days, the Imphal skyline was enveloped in smoke.26 Popular resentment was also directed towards the local politicians who were increasingly being perceived as incapable of articulating popular aspirations. The magnitude of resentment was discernible when the protestors gave a deadline to the politicians to resign by 6 P.M. on June 21, 2001.27 A few Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) including the Speaker were manhandled and two legislators N. Bihari and K. Tomba are reported to have received high burn injuries.28 The people's representatives had no other option but to leave the State temporarily and seek refuge in Delhi. But, the reverberation reached Delhi as well, and the political class faced the wrath of angry students from Manipur at Manipur Bhawan. The riot control police was brought in to control the situation and the political leaders could return to the Bhawan only after a day’s absence.29 The Manipuri legislators refused to yield to the protestors’ demand for mass resignation by June 21 and instead attempted to explain their predicament to the Central leaders in Delhi, as also to seek their support. Even the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, meeting them separately, are reported to have given an assurance regarding the territorial integrity of the Northeastern states.

Despite the assurances provided by the Prime Minister that the boundaries of the existing Northeastern states would not be altered, people in Manipur had little faith, since this militated against the concept of Naga-integration, which was the bedrock of the NSCN-IM’s position. What was needed, in this context, was some measure that could institutionalise this assurance and make a permanent national commitment to the idea of protecting the territorial integrity of the affected States. The Home Minister’s suggestion of a resolution in Parliament was squarely rejected by the agitating UCM as being inadequate in this context.

Although a provision for such a Parliamentary Resolution does not find place in the Constitution, it is mentioned in Rules No. 170 to 183 of the Direction of the Speaker, Lok Sabha, which refers to an expression of the views and the wishes of the people, and is generally adopted where there is unanimity on the issue.30 The reason for the agitating leaders from Manipur rejecting the proposal was that a simple majority is required to undo such a resolution. The underlying fear was that as the peace process progresses, a time might come when the issue of Naga integration could dominate the political landscape and the government would then not hesitate to undo its own Resolution. The Manipur leadership emphasised the amendment of Article 3 of the Indian Constitution to introduce a provision making the concurrence of the Legislative Assembly of a particular State mandatory for any alteration of the existing boundaries of the concerned State. They also found it acceptable if the case of Manipur was taken separately, and such a provision was made for this State alone, with suitable amendments to Article 371 (c) of the Constitution to define the requisite territorial guarantee.31 However, the process for such a Constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority of both Houses of the Parliament and the ratification of at least half of the total State Legislative Assemblies of the country, and finally the assent of the President of India.

A significant aspect to be noted in this context is that even as the Centre provided indications regarding the territorial integrity of Manipur, as also its desire to initiate a Parliamentary Resolution to institutionalise the Prime Minister's commitment, the NSCN (IM) did not react at all, belying its avowed emphasis on Naga integration. This was certainly surprising, since, if it failed to oppose the Centre’s initiative to provide Constitutional safeguards for the territorial integrity of other Northeastern States, this would naturally imply a step down from its claim for an ‘independent country.’ Even over-ground Naga organisations like the United Naga Council, Manipur (UNC) refrained from opposing the Centre's move to provide Constitutional safeguards for Manipur’s territorial integrity, contradicting their own oft-articulated aspirations on Naga integration.32

Had the Centre’s commitment to provide territorial safeguards to all the Northeastern States been translated into action through a Constitutional Amendment, plausible opposition may also have emerged from certain Bodo or Kuki groups who have been demanding separate Statehood within the purview of the Indian Constitution. If the concurrence of the State Legislative Assemblies was made mandatory for any redrawing of boundaries under a Constitutional amendment, then none of these agitating groups could ever expect to fulfil their goals. Would the Assam government, for example, ever pass a resolution in the State Assembly to bestow Statehood to the Bodos?

More importantly, the likely reason for the Centre’s failure to express a willingness to initiate a Constitutional amendment even at the height of the volatile Manipur agitation was not linked to its fear of possible opposition from certain quarters in the Northeast, nor was it due to the lengthy process of the Constitutional amendment itself. The underlying fear was, in fact, if such a provision was included in Article 3, it would be tantamount to almost overhauling important facets of Centre-State relationship in the Indian context.

After the Bangkok Agreement

Although the post-Bangkok Agreement (June 14, 2001) scenario witnessed ethnic tensions between Meiteis and Nagas, both these powerful communities showed tremendous restraint and maturity in not allowing even a single incident of communal violence to occur. As the agitation in Imphal turned violent with anti-Naga sentiments becoming prominent, a few thousand Nagas residing in the Imphal Valley either took refuge in the Hill districts of Manipur or even shifted to various places in Nagaland. For Nagas residing in the valley, the incidents of June 18 were a critical moment33 as there were open threats and provocation on that particular day. But better sense prevailed among the Meitei leadership and extreme caution was exercised to prevent any possible Meitei-Naga clash.

As a by-product of the agitation over the Bangkok Agreement, however, the demand for integration of Naga areas resurfaced prominently once more. Naga organisations – Naga Hoho, Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), United Naga Council Manipur, Naga Students’ Federation, etc. – while supporting the cease-fire extension, argued that ‘peace in one Naga-inhabited area and violence in another Naga pocket will not lead to a permanent solution to the 53-year-old problem.’34 To justify the need for the cease-fire to be extended to Manipur and other areas, the Naga leaders have cited earlier processes to consolidate the Naga-inhabited areas of the Northeast as one unit.

In an effort to counter the agitation in Manipur, the Naga organisations held a number of pro-cease-fire rallies at various places in Nagaland, the Manipur Hills and also in Delhi. When it appeared almost certain that the final decision on the fate of the Bangkok Agreement would be taken after the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Chief Ministers of the Northeastern States on July 27, 2001, various Naga leaders met the PM on that morning in a last-minute effort to salvage the cease-fire area extension clause. The delegation cautioned the Prime Minister, "If the Government of India goes back on its commitment, it will lose all its credibility and accountability, closing the doors to all outfits, to have any kind of faith in the utterances and agreements made with the Government of India. The ramification of the going back on an official agreement that the world already knows goes far beyond the Naga issue or the Government of India or whatsoever the good intention."35

The Naga leaders while lobbying for their cause also attempted to direct pressure through the Congress party, which had already been criticising the Union government for what it perceived was the inept handling of an important issue. They tried to convince Sonia Gandhi, the Congress President, that there were no two opinions within the Indian National Congress, as was demonstrated by the August 4, 1972 Joint Agreement of the United Naga Integration Council (UNIC) and the All India Congress Party.36 They further pointed towards a clause of this 29-year-old agreement, which stated, "the Congress party does not oppose the Naga integration movement as anti-party, anti-national, anti-state and unconstitutional activity."

At the Northeast Chief Ministers’ meeting37 with the Prime Minister on July 27, 2001, all except the Nagaland Chief Minister S.C. Jamir opposed the extension clause of the Bangkok Agreement. Prior to this, the attempts of Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to construct a consensus on the issue among the Chief Ministers came to naught, as Jamir was steadfast in his support to the Centre’s decision to extend the cease-fire to other areas. In fact, during the meeting, Jamir presented a paper to the Prime Minister describing the possible backlash by the underground groups if the decision was rolled back.

However, subsequent to the PM-convened meet, Home Minister L.K. Advani, in a terse and carefully worded statement said that the three words – without territorial limits – of the June 14 Agreement ‘stand deleted’ and the NSCN-IM was ‘agreeable’ to this.38 This decision led to instant celebrations on the streets of Imphal, where the agitation had taken 18 lives, though Naga leaders from Nagaland and the Manipur Hills condemned the government’s U-turn. The decision was followed by a spurt of protests and economic blockade programmes in Nagaland as well as in the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur. But, contrary to expectations, the NSCN-IM reacted in a relatively mature manner and did not immediately call off the cease-fire agreement. In a statement released a day after the PM-convened meeting, it was, however, pointed out by the group that "In the talks in Amsterdam dated July 23-24, nothing has been finalised on the proposal raised from the Indian side for reviewing the June 14 Bangkok Agreement.... Any announcement or declaration or statement given from the Indian Home Ministry or any mass media are unfounded and so are they in no sense acceptable to the Nagas."39

One plausible interpretation of the NSCN-IM’s unexpectedly soft reaction, even after the GoI went back on its words, was that the militant leadership had gauged the intensity of the reaction in Manipur, as also the possible direct involvement of the Meitei ‘undergrounds’, which might have taken over the agitation. Given the NSCN-IM’s existing equation with the Valley outfits, they did not want these underground groups to turn hostile to the NSCN-IM, and consequently gave the GoI their tacit approval for the deletion.

The massive protests in the Valley districts of Manipur, where hundreds of thousands of people had converged every day to protest against the Centre’s decision to extend the cease-fire to all Naga-inhabited areas, were evidently a major cause of concern for the Union government. The underground outfits did not come out openly, but were reportedly active behind the scenes. What could be the ultimate aim of an insurgent group? It would definitely prefer to witness hundreds of thousands of people openly registering their protest against the Union government, backed by the entire political machinery. It was a dangerous sign by any standards. Even the political representatives of Manipur had repeatedly cautioned the Central leadership that the agitation would go back into the hands of the extremist elements following their July 31 deadline. This could be construed as a critical reason for the Centre deciding to revert to status quo ante vis-à-vis the geographical limits of the cease-fire.

In spite of several acute problems, consequently, the Naga peace process has survived. It is a tenuous truce, with several highs and lows. The dialogue on the substantive political issues is yet to commence. Yet, the success of the peace process can be measured by its very continuation. It is the people’s involvement that has increasingly become the hallmark of the process. The turnout at various peace rallies in Nagaland in the last one year has substantiated the argument that the populace is yearning for peace.40 This is precisely the reason why any party engaged in the talks has to deliberate a hundred times before it decides to walk out of the negotiation process. After all, at this juncture, neither the Government of India nor the NSCN-IM can afford to dissociate itself from the peace process, lest history blame them forever.


# Shantanu Nandan Sharma is Special Correspondent, North East Sun.
  1. See "Naga underground outfit agrees to ceasefire"

  2. Cited in interview with Muivah by Deepak Dewan, North East Sun, New Delhi, September 1-14, 1997.

  3. Manipur Legislative Assembly adopted four resolutions in support of the State's integration.
  4. The Act had eleven chapters and 58 articles.

  5. The Agreement was signed in Shillong on September 21, 1949. The signatories were Maharaja Bodhachandra Singh, V. P. Menon, Advisor to Government of India (Ministry of States) and Sri Prakash, Governor of Assam. Article 1 of the Agreement says, "His Highness the Maharaja of Manipur hereby cedes to the dominion Government full and exclusive authority, jurisdiction and powers for and in relation to the government of the state and agrees to transfer the state to the Dominion Government of the fifteenth day of October, 1949..." Manipur was first accorded the part C State status (1949-56), then a union territory (1957-71) and finally the statehood (1972 onwards).

  6. See "The spark that lit the powder keg", The Hindu, Chennai, June 24, 2001.

  7. Cited in an interview with Swaraj Kaushal by Deepak Dewan, North East Sun.

  8. See Interview with Thuingaleng Muivah by Deepak Dewan,

  9. "Extend ceasefire to all Naga areas, or else we'll back out, Swu tells PM",

  10. "Centre evades direct answer to NSCN ceasefire extension demand",

  11. For profile of HNLC see South Asia Terrorism Portal; India; Terrorist Groups; Meghalaya; HNLC;

  12. In opposing the cease-fire in one voice, all the four CMs met at Assam Bhawan, before proceeding towards 7, Race Course Road, the official residence of the Prime Minister. When this writer met them in the CM's suite in Assam Bhawan before they called on the PM, all of them very strongly opposed the Centre's move. Consequent to the meeting with the PM, the Chief Ministers of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh softened their stand to a great extent and refused to comment whether they would continue opposing the extension or not. The then Assam Chief Minister, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, indicated to this writer that he was expecting the final decision to be taken in one of the next rounds of talks. But such a round of talks never took place.

  13. The proposed meeting never materialized.

  14. In an interview to North East Sun's Deepak Dewan, (April 15 to 30, 2001), Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said, "If the Naga cease-fire covers the entire North-East region and the whole country, I have no objection. That's what I told the Prime Minister."

  15. Source: Manipur Police.

  16. Source: Manipur Police.

  17. The BLT is active in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam. For a profile of BLT see South Asia Terrorism Portal; India; Terrorist Groups; Assam; BLT;

  18. Interview with Mainao Daimary, Publicity secretary, BLT by the author. See North East Sun, April 15-30, 2001.

  19. See South Asia Terrorism Portal; India; Terrorist Groups; Assam; NDFB;

  20. See South Asia Terrorism Portal, India; Terrorist Groups; Manipur;UNLF;

  21. See South Asia Terrorism Portal; India; Terrorist Groups; Manipur; PLA;

  22. See South Asia Terrorism Portal; India; Terrorist Groups; Tripura; NLFT;

  23. See South Asia Terrorism Portal; India; Terrorist Groups; Tripura; ATTF;

  24. Source: Nagaland Police.

  25. Joint Statement. (June 14, 2001): In continuation of the ongoing peace process, a meeting was held on 13 and 14 June, 2001in Bangkok between the representatives of the Government of India and the NSCN and the following are mutually agreed upon: 1. The cease-fire agreement is between the Government of India and the NSCN as two entities without territorial limits. 2. Both the parties would abide by the ground rules as agreed on 13 January 2001, both in letter and spirit. 3. It is agreed to further extend the cease-fire for a period of one year with effect from 1 August 2001. 4. The Government of India and the NSCN agree to proceed with the peace process on substantive issues to bring about the lasting political solution to the issue. It is recognized that there is a need for mutual trust and respect. 5. The next round of talks would be held in the last week of July/first week of August 2001. Signatories: K. Padmanabhaiah, representative of the Government of India and Th. Muivah, General Secretary, NSCN.

  26. "Extension sparks territorial fire", North East Sun, July 1-14, 2001.

  27. See "Manipur MLAs, MPs asked to resign",

  28. See "Burning Anger",

  29. "Trust for Truce", North East Sun, July 1-14, 2001.

  30. "Constitutional Alternatives", North East Sun, July 15-31, 2001.

  31. Ibid. The Article has special provisions for the State of Manipur.

  32. K S Paul Leo, President of United Naga Council, Manipur, in an interview with this author.

  33. Ibid.

  34. "For Naga Unification", North East Sun, August 1-14, 2001.

  35. Ibid.

  36. A letter dated July 13, 2001, to Sonia Gandhi by four Naga organisations-UNC, ANSAM, Naga Women's Union, Manipur and the Manipur unit of the NPMHR.

  37. Governor Ved Marwah represented Manipur.

  38. See "Extension of truce beyond Nagaland withdrawn",

  39. See "NSCN (IM) terms Centre's decision 'unacceptable'",

  40. At the Tuensang peace rally (April 5, 2001), for example, organized by All Tribal Councils, around 50,000 people turned up.






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