After more than nine years of ceasefire, fifty-odd rounds of political negotiations in about nine different countries from three continents, the effort to find an honorable and peaceful solution to one of the oldest political conflicts in the Asian context, still remains quite distant. The fundamental issue of difference in the Indo-Naga conflict has been on the matter of sovereignty; and more specifically the question of how Nagas can freely exercise their sovereignty, without any external imposition. Though in principle the issue is quite clearly defined, in reality it has over the years compounded and the national, regional and global stakes on how this issue is resolved, has multiplied.
The mainstream media in the sub-continent has consistently insisted and conditioned a perspective which suggests that the responsibility to arrive at a peaceful and honorable solution lies with the Nagas. However facts and experiences prove otherwise and history quite clearly establishes that the root causes of the issue reveals the primary aggressor as the Indian state. While it is recognized that the process for any sustainable solution will require both Nagas and India to work together in addressing the needs and interests of both entities, the focal question of Nagas exercising their sovereign rights can be addressed meaningfully only when the burden of accountability and responsibility is shouldered equally by the parties involved.
For that reason, the viewpoint that suggests greater responsibility on the Nagas is not only erroneous but also negatively impacts any genuine process for peace. This erroneous viewpoint downplays a critical fact that the bargaining power lies with the India. Failure to establish and recognize this would only undermine the credibility of any negotiating process, since the theatre of negotiations continues to be defined by the degree of power. Consequently, so long as the question of power being in the hands of India is not addressed, constructive negotiation on the focal issues would elude the process.
The negative attitude has to be put into perspective because the history of the subcontinent has been one of conquest, suffering and humiliation. The socio-political mind frame reflects insecurity, internalized feelings and fear, as a result of which she approaches negotiations from the standpoint of national security while her understanding of state, is overwhelmingly associated to territorial control. The reluctance to openly engage with issues of territory and sovereignty is obstructed by fear of the ‘domino effect.’
Such continuing reluctance however, only leads to multiplication of problems. At one time, it was only the Nagas, but now the dilemmas have increased many folds with different issues and people at stake. For any sustainable political solution to be arrived at, it is essential that the broader narratives which determine political decisions are constructively engaged with internally and externally; at a peoples to peoples level. A public discourse that engages with historical injustices is necessary, so that the insecurity and fear that stems out of them do not obstruct the opportunity to constructively move the peace process forward.
Nagas too must grabble with those very issues that prevent honest dialogue. While history has brought the Nagas thus far, it is true to acknowledge that issues of hurt and acrimony from the past and present are disabling the future. It is unlikely that a contentious past can be the basis of understanding, so Nagas too must dialogue together around an inclusive and persuasive vision around which Nagas can heal and come together as one with unity in purpose. In the same manner, Nagas must convince India that while exercising its sovereign rights, it will not harm her interests.
History today demands a quantum leap from India and the Nagas. A quantum leap where power politics no longer is the basis of negotiation, and insecurity is no more the guiding attitude. A dynamic approach that is forward-looking through sharing responsibilities guided by the questions of rights and mutual respect must assume the spirit of the process.
The manner in which the Indo-Naga political issue is resolved will undoubtedly determine the future of the Nagas as a free sovereign nation, and that of India as an emerging super-power. The challenge is to find a solution that will meet both needs.