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Talk by Shri G.K. Pillai, Distinguished Fellow, IDSA on “Naga Peace Talks: What Next?

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  • June 04, 2014

    The Internal Security Centre, IDSA organized a talk on ‘Naga Peace Talks: What Next?’ on 04 June 2014 by G K Pillai, former Home Secretary of India and presently, Distinguished Fellow, IDSA. Pillai gave his views on the current situation in Naga peace negotiations as well as the unique history of the Naga people. Dr. Arvind Gupta, DG, IDSA, chaired the talk.

    Pillai initiated proceedings by providing an insight on the history of the Naga people and its foundations. The term ‘Naga’ was actually christened by the British when they entered the area in 1832. Initially, the British had a policy of working from outside the region but eventually had to intervene in order to control the region. Gradually, the Naga Hills, which at that time constituted the current Kohima and Mokokchung districts, were brought under Assam in the year 1874. The speaker then discussed some important landmarks like the Scheduled District Act of 1874, Government of India Act, 1919, where the Naga Hills were declared as backward areas and the Government of India Act, 1935, which gave the status of ‘excluded area’ to the Naga Hills. The Naga National Council (NNC) declared these Acts as legally or constitutionally incorrect as they never considered themselves a part of British India. Other important events highlighted were the formation of the Naga Club in 1918 and the memorandum provided by the Naga Club to the Simon commission in 1929 demanding liberation for Naga areas once the British leave India. This is better explained further by the speaker with the discussion on ‘rise of Naga consciousness’.

    Angami Zapu Phizo and T. Sakhrie took the centre stage in the speaker’s next argument as he discussed their importance in resonating the Naga tribes’ independence and sovereign status. The two individuals conceptualized the Naga issue with widespread preaching of anti-India sentiments and the adversities they would have to face once British leave India. This affected the tribes immensely as they were used to live freely even before the British came along. Parallel to these developments, the speaker discussed India’s status as a sovereign state on the way to nation building. The NNC declared independence a day before India became a sovereign nation. The nine point Hydari agreement was discussed by Pillai and he argued that had it been implemented for ten years, the Indian Government as well as the Nagas would have found time to ponder on their decisions and a lot of confusion could have been avoided. The following years were marred with violence and bloodshed until the 16 point agreement in 1960 and the formation of Nagaland as a State in the year 1963. After this, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed in 1980 which eventually broke into two factions in 1988, namely; NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K). Towards the end of the 20th century, as Counter Insurgency operations increased, there was a yearning for peace in Nagaland. There was an initiation of peace talks from the government which was accepted by the NSCN (IM) as they were under pressure due to the operations of the security forces. The Government of India appointed interlocutors to carry out the peace talks. The first incumbent was Swaraj Kaushal who was followed by K. Padmanabhaiah. After almost ten years, RS Pandey was appointed as the interlocutor and he covered a lot of ground in bridging and forging an understanding with the NSCN (IM).

    Pillai asserted that there needs to be respect and honour on both sides to reach a final resolution. As the NSCN (IM) submitted their proposals and these were discussed in the Cabinet Committee on Security and counter proposals were made. Agreement has been achieved on a majority of these issues.

    For the future peace talks, the speaker gave the following recommendations:

    • The process of negotiations should be completed in a given timeframe.
    • The NSCN (IM) should open talks with other groups/organizations in the region as they alone cannot negotiate with the Government of India and hope that the other groups/organizations will accept what they have negotiated.
    • The Government of India needs to take the Government of Nagaland and eventually the other state governments into confidence on the terms of the settlement.
    • The Naga civil society needs to endorse the results of negotiations as the people will have the final say on a lasting peace.
    • The six months following the 2014 Lok Sabha elections are very critical on the way forward as all stakeholders need to stay focussed and not drift from the issue at hand
    • All the stakeholders have to bite the bullet and put their unfortunate chapter behind them.

    An intellectually enriching discussion followed the presentation and some of the key points raised were:

    • The formation of a ‘supra national’ body which envisages the better future of the region. It could promote and preserve the various aspects like the Naga culture, language, tradition etc. Though, some of the discussants did feel that this body would not work if stretched beyond the scope of cultural and social context. The speaker duly agreed.
    • Self-representation starts from ground level and in India the people are empowered to do so with the help of Panchayati Raj. Even the local communities in Nagaland should be made aware of the benefits of this system as Nagaland is the only state without this system. The speaker agreed as he previously asserted that the local people need to be taken in confidence and the final representation has to be a collective consent of majority of the population. A very apt example of a female representation in a local village council was put up by the speaker. The Nagaland Assembly has also passed legislation for one-third women representation in municipal bodies as these were not part of the traditional Naga institutions.
    • The Naga culture and the other North-Eastern traditions need to be integrated in the rest of the country and even a small step like including the name of Brahmaputra in the national anthem could be a positive start. The history of the NE people must be integrated into text books at the all India level.

    Dr. Arvind Gupta noted that India might be at the cusp of change in the Nagaland region and also the negotiators in the region need to have the perfect input and understanding of the problems in order to achieve a breakthrough in the peace talks.

    This rapporteur report has been prepared by Amanish Lohan