Friday, September 17, 2021

An Appraisal on the LAN Agreement

Villo Naleo*

Due to political preferences, the Indo-Naga political issue has gone through many twists and turns. One of the drawbacks was the division among the Naga Political Groups (NPGs). Over the years this division resulted in fratricidal killings. Today, with great effort the FNR (Forum for Naga Reconciliation) has actively facilitated and convened several peace-talks leading to signing of significant agreements and passing resolutions among the warring NPGs.
With almost all the civil societies, churches and NGOs supporting the initiative of FNR in bringing the warring factions together, the FNR has been spearheading peace talks among the NPGs, making significant progress. The Lenten Agreement Naga-land (LAN) is an example of FNR’s initiative and achievement to help the NPGs translate the Covenant of Reconciliation (CoR). In this article, I will give an appraisal on the LAN agreement as FNR commemorates the 10thAnniversary of the signing of CoR.
The Lenten Agreement Naga-land reads:
“Having reconciled on the basis of the historical and political rights of the Nagas, we recognize that all Nagas must unite in the common purpose towards achieving our Naga political aspirations. In the Naga reconciliation process, we have committed to move forward together by condemning the past historical mistakes committed at various stages of our history. We also take inspiration in the positive political steps that have sustained and strengthened the Naga movement. Therefore, “having reconciled in the spirit of forgiveness and mutual respect,” we are committed to overcoming our mistakes, while also recognizing and uplifting our achievements and contributions made at various stages of our political history, a stepping stone towards the common Naga future.
As agreed in the “Naga Concordant,” we, in principle agree to the formation of Naga National Government. While the commitment is a process, until such time, we resolve to work together in the common purpose of achieving Naga political aspirations. This task should begin at the earliest and be completed without delay. In this, we request the FNR to work out the modalities to expedite the process. While this task is being carried out, we call for the maintenance of status quo, by vigilantly refraining from any unwarranted activities by the Nagas.
Furthermore, in the spirit of Naga Unity, through reconciliation and peace, we remain open to other Naga groups who are committed to the Naga Reconciliation and agree to abide and uphold its aim and purposes.”
First, the coming together of the NPGs for a political solution under the aegis, “A Journey of Common Hope” itself is a tremendous landmark. Rightly, the LAN is the outcome of several hours of dialogue among the warring NPGs with the intent to reconcile their differences and find a common hope to go forward. LAN, having recognized the Naga historical and political rights, has valued the relational and dialogical aspect of the Naga history.
Second, LAN has considered the Naga political aspiration as a common story and struggle for all the NPGs. The aspiration has become a discourse for the Naga people, while the struggle of the Naga political issue has been both idealized and idolized in different nationalistic groups. The attempt to emphasize the bigger Naga story, over and above the fragmented pieces, is noteworthy.
Though the discourse has been accepted by one and all, the struggle for nationalism has been differentiated by ideologies that were against the Christian moral ethics. And, for various reasons, in the pretext of fighting for the political rights of the Nagas, several groups have justified and served capital punishments, heavily taxed citizens, and have christened their political stand through the slogan “Nagaland for Christ.” Walking under such a “Christian” banner, they have extorted money from the government employees, business community and common people.

Lenten Agreement on March 28 2014
The NPGs highest level leaders are seen in this file photo with FNR members after signing the Lenten Agreement (March 2014). In this Agreement the leaders committed to “overcoming our mistakes, while also recognizing and uplifting our achievements and contributions made at various stages of our political history, a steppingstone towards the common Naga future.”

Although the connotation ‘political aspiration’ has various implications, the FNR has recognized the basic homework that every peace facilitating body needs to do. And as such, they have emphasised their focus upon the need for peace, the settlement for fair and just political right, the need to admit the past mistakes and the openness to embrace a shared future together. This they have idealized it in the mutual interest of the Naga people who desire justice, peace and reconciliation in the region.
Third, the first paragraph of the agreement reads, “willing to move forward by condemning the past historical mistakes committed at various stages of our history.” The FNR has so far organized and convened many peace talks in and out of the country for the NPGs to come together. The phrase “Condemning the past” in LAN is a way of externalizing the problem. Externalizing creates distance, objectivity and a neutral space in which people can notice the effects of the conflict itself, rather than its causes, and assess whether or not they like those effects. It assists people to step out of positions of blame or shame and enables them to save face by ascribing problems to the conflict itself, rather than to themselves or to the other party. Therefore, externalizing language helps people separate from the conflict story and makes room for alternative stories to emerge.
This, the FNR has done professionally in a separate space where the warring groups could safely admit their mistakes by condemning the past and not just the individual or a particular group. Yet, these are some signs of maturity and professionalism displayed by FNR in brokering peace today. We must all understand that, these preliminary steps are crucial for negotiating their position and interest later when they are called to come together.
Finally, the phrase “having reconciled in the spirit of forgiveness and mutual respect” in the LAN is a call for positioning – positioning of the NPGs in relational terms. It also signifies their positioning for the interests of each other and for the people. This also calls for taking responsibility in portraying self in public and in private, in accord with the CoR.
Another significant outcome of the LAN is found in the statement’s last paragraph, “Furthermore, in the spirit of Naga Unity, through reconciliation and peace, we remain open to other Naga groups who are committed to the Naga Reconciliation and agree, to abide and uphold its aim and purposes.”
The process of constructing an alternative story is created here by the NPGs in accord with the public and stakeholders. The phrase “we resolve to work together in the common purpose of achieving Naga political aspirations” is an alternative story. Prior to their engagement in the LAN they have their own individual and party agendas, ideologies and perspective about the Naga political solution. But as they come together under the flagship of FNR and especially the LAN, one can see their commitment to a shared purpose.
In my observation, the FNR made a significant progress in brokering peace by establishing relationships within conflicting parties, building rapport and listening to their stories. They have made search for meaning as a collaborative journey, helping the political NPGs to externalize the problem and not focusing the spotlight on the groups or their ideologies. Thus, the co-authoring of the alternative Naga story and building of their relationship basing on the new narrative “A Journey of Common Hope” has emerged.
It appears that, ever since the FNR initiated the peace talks, there has been increased understanding, respect and cooperation among the NPGs. This commonness and understanding has been displayed by playing football, doing Bible studies and showing willingness to stay under the same roof and travel on the same airplane for peace talks. Another significant outcome is the acceptance of the journey of common hope as the political desire for the Naga people by the warring factions which is an outstanding achievement.
The LAN agreement has exposed the mistakes that occurred in the past and has condemned them. Having condemned the past, they also decided to forgive and move on to build healthier and stronger relationship for the common future of the Nagas. Thus, the LAN agreement created a new story for the NPGs to pursue and complete that story. For too long misgivings, tribalism and factionalism has become the dominant story that has prevailed in all spheres of the life of the Nagas. But now, the LAN has weaved a new story, a story that gives us a sense of continuity in life, a story inclusive of all Nagas and where belongingness and identity is secured. Therefore, the ball is on the court of the public today
Among the many questions are: How do we take part as individuals, civil bodies, churches to complete the story? Do we still wait for more evidence for them to unite, study their intentions of nationalism? Or, should we for once put away our prejudices, differences, hunches that are disintegrating our solidarity and give FNR a chance to help us re-write our history for the sake of a common Naga future?
About the author:
*Villo Naleo is an Asst. Professor at Shalom Bible Seminary. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D in Peacemaking at the International Graduate School of Leadership (IGSL) Manila, Philippines.