Sunday, June 20, 2021
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The trouble with Nagaland’s fat cats and peace


Sudeep Chakravarti

Ravindra Narayan Ravi knows well the route from the Dimapur airport to Kohima, from the commercial capital of Nagaland to its administrative capital. He has made the trip more than once in his role as interlocutor of peace talks with Naga rebel groups.
On his ceremonial journey up from the airport to take over as the state’s new governor on 1 August, Ravi surely saw the 68-km uphill route in a new light: an arterial road devastated as much by the monsoon as a decades-long milking of development funds, symptomatic of a place that is now looking to jettison a troubled past for a peaceable future.
He will be feted by the state’s politicians, many of them millionaires several times over, as declared in their electoral applications. They will arrive in state-provided luxury sport utility vehicles (SUVs) to visit the governor at Kohima’s Raj Bhavan, near the place at which British and Indian — and Naga — forces fought the Japanese advance to a standstill during World War II.
And, as before, governor Ravi might wonder: just how far will Nagaland’s leaders and legislators go; just how much would they be willing to give up in power and perks? The questions apply equally to the government of India and Naga rebel leadership — the former plump with administrative dominance and patronage, the latter with wealth accrued through years of ceasefire, with real estate and businesses in North-East India, ‘Mainland India’ and South-East Asia.
Besides the rehabilitation of rebel ranks, there is also the matter of rehabilitating Nagaland’s rebel leaders. Where will they go? Will the privileged legislators of Nagaland, among the wealthiest in India, make way for the privileged leaders of the rebellion?
On the face of it, yes. In June 2016, all 60 legislators of the state’s assembly and its two members of Parliament remarkably put aside political and tribal differences. They resolved to “put pressure” on the Indian government and the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagalim, or NSCN (I-M), the largest Naga rebel group with which the government signed a framework peace agreement on 3 August 2015, to speed up the process.
They even resolved to give up their seats to absorb rebel leadership into the political mainstream. It harked back to Mizoram’s Congress chief minister Lal Thanhawla stepping aside to accommodate rebel leader Laldenga of the Mizo National Front after the peace deal in 1986.
Nagaland’s legislators had also taken a similar stand in 2012, when they adopted a resolution to give up their positions to accommodate rebels to aid the process of peace and reconciliation.
Of course, in 2012, the agreement between the government and NSCN (I-M) — in ceasefire — was still three years from being signed.
There was also a ceasefire agreement between the government and the second-largest Naga rebel group, the S.S. Khaplang-led (or K) faction of NSCN. Smaller groups, in ceasefire and not, mostly issued statements.
A lot has happened since. In early 2015, the K faction of NSCN ditched its ceasefire with India. In 2018, a major breakaway faction of K sued for peace talks with India, a year after six smaller rebel groups also came on board for peace talks.
As interlocutor, Ravi has had conversations and negotiations with them all, in parallel to his talks with NSCN (I-M). Now with Ravi’s elevation as the state’s governor, among other things, there also remains the tricky matter of integrating all rebel groups into a composite peace process after accommodating factional egos.
As for the people of Nagaland, they are evidently tired of “national workers” who despite ceasefire are still fully armed and recruiting, enforcing parallel administrations, and insisting that a hefty percentage of salaries and development funds be paid to them. A major “anti-tax” movement in Nagaland has greatly disturbed all rebel groups.
Alongside, Naga citizenry is increasingly vocal about the corruption in the local political system, which has since 1963, when Nagaland state was formed, been fed and watered by New Delhi. Naga people have amply demonstrated the courage for peace and reconciliation that Naga fat cats and their patrons may now need to step up to. (Courtesy: Livemint)