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5-min read

Hoping for Best, Preparing for Worst: People in Nagaland Brace Themselves Ahead of October 31 Peace Talks Deadline

In Kohima, people are going about their business despite fear and apprehension over the talks. Others are busy stocking up on ration in anticipation of a worst case scenario.

Karishma Hasnat | CNN-News18

Updated:November 6, 2019, 11:43 PM IST
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Hoping for Best, Preparing for Worst: People in Nagaland Brace Themselves Ahead of October 31 Peace Talks Deadline
Nagaland government has taken steps to meet any eventuality and have put their respective police forces on "high alert. (PTI/Representative Image)

Guwahati: “Let’s hope for the best" - this is what people in Nagaland are saying as negotiations continue between National Socialist Council of Nagaland, Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and Centre over the ‘sensitive’ Naga political issue. Both sides will spend the next few days under immense pressure as the October 31 deadline looms, though a further extension is still desired by some organisations and individuals. The last round of talks ended inconclusively in New Delhi, on October 24, with NSCN-IM remaining steadfast in its demand for a separate Naga national flag and constitution.

“It is a very sensitive issue, and the ball now is in the court of Government of India. We, too, want a solution at the earliest, but if the government wants the best for Nagas, they should give more time - not to create confusion or complications -- but only if there are signs of a positive outcome,” a senior leader of one of the NSCN factions told News18 on the condition of anonymity. However, he approved the manner in which the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) have dealt with the issue.

It has been 22 years since talks between NSCN-IM and the government officially began in 1997. In August 2015, the Union government signed a framework agreement to seek a final solution with IM. The seven NNPGs joined the talks later by signing a ‘Deed of Commitment’ with the government in 2017.

“This is people’s movement. People should unite and stand together, no one should be left out. The only obstacle now, is IM’s demand for separate a flag and constitution. But they might also not stick to their demand. I expect a positive outcome on October 31…The NNPGs are very sincere and serious about it. Things should be okay,” the NSCN leader added.

In Kohima, people are going about their usual business despite fear and apprehension over the talks. Others are busy stocking up on ration in anticipation of a worst case scenario.

“Everyone is waiting to see what will happen - hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst,” said Loreni Tsanglao, a local resident of Kohima.

“Most of the people are not aware of the talks and what’s going on, and are making extreme assumptions. They have never seen movement of army convoys to this extent before,” she said.

At the same time, people are also wary of landslides affecting road connectivity along Dimapur-Kohima route, which is considered to be the lifeline of the people in Nagaland. “This could be another reason for panic,” remarked Tsanglao.

A day after the latest round of negotiations on Thursday, 17 NSCN-IM members, including one of its top leaders, former kilo kilonser (home minister) Hukavi Yeputhomi quit the group to join the Working Committee of the NNPGs, stating that they did it “on their own volition and with a clear conscience”.

“When people are tired, they want a solution. These are times that even a leader should listen to the voice of the people. There are hard bargainers in politics, but at the age of 85, Th Muivah (NSCN-IM chief) should understand that the Government of India have shown seriousness in the issue, the senior NSCN leader said, “This is the right time, right situation to see a conclusion,” the senior NSCN leader said.

“They were against the 16-point Agreement, the Shillong Accord in 1975 – they cannot repeat history. In the 21st century, the political scenario is totally different. An armed confrontation will not bring any solution,” he added, also being critical of the disunity among the Nagas.

“Today, if leaders say Nagas are one, we have to prove to the world the oneness of the Nagas – but in reality, do we see that? This brings about a lot of setback,” the leader said.

“The Naga reconciliation process went on for 45 years, but politically it could not be materialized. Had the reconciliation been positive, if Nagas had come together, the situation would have been very different today - of course, the Nagas of Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur can’t be part of this solution,” he added, stating that NGOs and civil societies should function without any biases and speak in the interest of Naga people.

A consultative meeting of 14 apex tribal Hohos of Nagaland and other civil societies with the Talks Interlocutor and Nagaland Governor, RN Ravi, was held on October 18. Reportedly, some of the senior citizens present in the meeting had pleaded for restraint and a reasonable extension so that – each of the Tribal Hoho chiefs could go back to their respective tribes and garner a voice of the majority on the issue.

They wanted that various factions be given time to speak to the Naga people, and to confront the NSCN-IM to come up with an explanation for the demands for a separate flag and a constitution, along with the other ‘competency clauses’.

“Why is the government trying to impose its will upon the Naga people? In the past 22 years of political negotiation, both parties were not in a position to disclose the contents of the Framework Agreement or the Competency Clauses – and even if they did, people are not expected to memorise everything. Why is the government running out of patience when people are left in such a confused state? If not a flag or constitution, what is the best option?” said Chuba Ozukum, former president of Naga Hoho.

“Enough time should be given to think over and study everything thoroughly, discuss every point in a proper platform and then come up with a conclusion. That is what we deserve, and no party should backtrack from the agreed principle,” he added.

The Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) is not happy with the way they have been “sidelined” by the government on peace talks.

“We made our contribution to peace building for so many years, and in the last moment, the government, the Talks Interlocutor sidelined us – how can we be happy? When we talk of inclusiveness, everyone should be on board, and more time is desired. If there can be a peaceful solution, nothing like it,” said Abeiu Meru, NMA President.

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