New Naga Interlocutor May Queer Pitch
The Nagas have, thus far, represented a unified front in opposing the appointed interlocutor
NEW DELHI: The appointment of R.N. Ravi, a former Intelligence Bureau Special Director and currently the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, as the interlocutor and representative of the Government of India(GOI) in the ongoing Naga peace talk, has all the potentialities to derail the whole process. The National Socialist Council of Nagalim( Issac-Muivah), so long the principal stakeholder on behalf of the Nagas in the negotiation table, has expressed itself in strongest possible words against Ravi. Other Naga organizations have not lagged behind and they have also joined the chorus.
Ravi’s appointment may indicate a hardening of stand by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the PMO had finalized his name overruling the choice of the Home ministry. Of course Ravi is competent and he knows the nitty gritty of the problem but,most of all, he is absolutely hard about the NSCN(I-M) and by making him the interlocutor the Prime Minister may try to capitalize on the division among the Naga insurgents on tribal lines.
So far the Nagas have, however, presented a united front in this respect. The NSCN(I-M) has described him to be a man who is not guided by conscience and is well known for his antagonistic approach to the Naga issue. The Naga Ho Ho, the apex body of Naga tribal organizations, has opposed Ravi’s selection and has wished for the appointment of a ‘ neutral’ interlocutor. The Ho Ho has particularly referred to an article written by Ravi in the Hindu newspaper where the intelligence man had virulently castigated the long drawn ceasefire in Nagaland and had rued the absence of a credible state there which has resulted in chaos created by elements working on sub-national lines. The United Naga Council has also resented Ravi’s appointment and has referred to his opposition to ceasefire. Situation has come to such a pass that the Nagaland Governor P.B. Acharya has been forced to take the field and appeal to the Naga society and organizations to give Ravi a chance.
Only time can say whether Narendra Modi has taken a right decision or not. Ravi’s Achilles’ Heel is that he speaks and writes too much, quite unbecoming for an intelligence official who is supposed to maintain a low profile. However years of ceasefire has dampened the fervour of most of the NSCN(I-M) cadres and a large number of them have become used to a cozy life after acquiring huge properties by dint of extortion money. Particular mention may be made of Shillong where many NSCN cadres are known to have made significant investments. One calculation on the part of the GOI may be to strike a hard bargain with the NSCN(I-M) through Ravi at a time when the secessionist Naga organization has developed a soft underbelly.
Not an impractical idea but the official interlocuror on behalf of the GOI must have full control over his facts when he meets the hard boiled Issac Swu and Thieungelang Muivah of the NSCN(I-M) at the neogiation table. His main argument against the ceasefire is that the NSCN(I-M) is an organization of the Tangkhul Nagas of Manipur and hence any understanding only with them defies logic. It is a fact that Muivah hails from Manipur. But the Chairman of the organization is Issac Swu who is a Sema Naga and the Semas form one of the largest of all the Naga tribes in present day Nagaland.
However there are cogent logics behind Ravi’s opinion too. The Nagas comprise of 25 tribes and fratricidal fights have been going on among them for a long time. The Naga National Council(NNC), which was founded by the legendary A.Z. Phizo, has lost much of its strength and relevance but its name still rings a bell in the ears of the Nagas and the disrespect which the Government of India has been showing to it by not making it any party in negotiation, has not gone down well with the people of Nagaland. Secondly schism within the Naga society is now too visible and palpable. Recently six Naga tribes namely the Chang, Konyak, Phom, Khaimniungan, Yimchunger and Sangtan have decided to bury the hatchet among themselves and carve out separate niches for themselves in Naga society independent of the NSCN.
This is undeniable that an understanding with the NSCN(I-M) only will serve no purpose. The NSCN is an off shoot of the NNC. Swu and Muivah do not represent it alone. There is a very powerful NSCN faction led by S.S. Khaplang, a Konyak Naga, hailing from Myanmar. He has terrific fire power and is held in awe by security forces. Both Issac Swu and Thieungelang Muivah oppose the entry of Khaplang at the negotiation scene on the ground that the latter comes from Myanmar and has his bases there. But at the same time they are demanding integration of the Naga inhabited areas of Myanmar in their concept of a greater Nagalim.
Meanwhile things are turning from bad to worse in Nagaland. Defying the ground rules of the ceasefire agreement NSCN cadres, belonging to both I-M and Khaplang factions, are levying ‘taxes’ on the common people. Government as well as private sector employees, have to pay 25 percent of their gross salary twice a year to the NSCN(I-M) faction. For the Khaplang faction the going rate is 20 percent of the salary. Moreover every village household has to pay more than one hundred rupess in a year. In addition businessmen and contractors have to pay a ‘ loyalty tax’.
It is an accepted fact that peace is not possible in Nagaland without any conciliation among the warring Naga tribes. The chilling revelation by Ravi in his article in the Hindu that 1800 Nagas have died in three thousand fratricidal wars during the period 1997-2013, is a pointer to the mutual hatred that persists among different Naga tribes. Sometimes back people belonging to the Sema tribe swooped down upon NSCN(I-M) camps resulting in violent clashes. The incident indicates the declining influence of the NSCN(I-M) on Naga society as Issac Swu himself is a Sema Naga. However that did not stand in the way of a Sema backlash against the NSCN(I-M).
But the time is perhaps ripe for a solution. Recently the civil society in Nagaland rose in protest against levying of taxes by the militants while in some other states of the North-East secessionism is on the wane.