The return of killings in Nagaland – at least 13 civilians and one soldier at last count – has brought the focus back on three important things, rather three questions: Where is the Nagaland Peace Accord, framework for which was signed in August 2015 between separatist Naga groups fighting for a special dispensation and the Indian government? Secondly, in light of the grandstanding and chest-thumping in the Indian security establishment following the signing of the purported accord, why is the state still under the ambit of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act? And, finally, since the state is under AFSPA, under what law will, if it is found that the security forces’ personnel opened fire without any real provocation, punishment be meted out?
Where is the Nagaland Peace Accord?
Shrouded in mystery ever since the Narendra Modi government signed with much fanfare a framework agreement to find a “permanent solution” to the decades-old, often bloody, demand of the Naga groups for autonomy, the framework agreement has now almost been consigned to the dustbin. While the Centre has never officially made the agreement public, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) put the same out in the public domain last year after a tiff.
It was signed in the presence of PM Modi after several rounds of negotiations between the government of India’s interlocutor RN Ravi, a former intelligence bureau officer, and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah).
But, dispute over the interpretation of several key clauses of the agreement, especially a separate constitution and flag of the state, has ensured that the final agreement continues to be elusive.
While the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) asserts that the framework agreement assured the people of Nagaland a right to their own Constitution and a separate flag, the government of India is not ready to grant it this wish since it would go against the BJP’s assertions with regard to such demands, especially after the amendments in Article 370.
With little forward movement, Ravi was replaced as the interlocutor while the unease on both sides continues to simmer and the Union government’s silence on the issue is deafening, even as its officials keep asserting that peace has returned to the state.
Why is the state still under the ambit of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act?
The framework agreement and its subsequent developments, we were repeatedly assured, had brought peace back to the state. If the elusive peace had indeed returned, why were central forces, including the Army still deployed for dealing with internal security situations in the state?
Why, as the notification issued by the Union government in December last year, extending the period for which Nagaland would continue to remain under AFSPA, say that the reason for doing so was that the whole state of Nagaland was in such a “disturbed and dangerous condition” that the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power was necessary?
The same was again extended in June this year.
Is the continued extension of AFSPA in the state a tactic acknowledgement by the Union government that peace is not on the horizon?
Under what law will, if it is found that the security forces’ personnel opened fire without any real provocation, the punishment be meted out?
For those unaware, the AFSPA gives special protection to security forces through a legal cover in dealing with situations that could arise while dealing with serious internal security threats in areas which have been brought under the ambit of this law.
This protection has often ensured, mostly in Jammu and Kashmir, that security forces personnel and Army officers and jawans escape any severe punishment even in cases where their actions against the civilian population is found unjustified.
That is why, today’s assertion by Nagaland Chief Minister in the aftermath of the bloody killings that a “high level SIT will investigate” and justice would be delivered “as per the law of the land” for the “unfortunate incident leading to killing of civilians” could end up being empty words.
The Army has also put out a statement, regretting the incident. But, unless concrete and transparent action is taken and responsibility fixed for the lapse, nothing will satisfy the Nagas. The demand for revocation of AFSPA will only gain more traction.