New Delhi: With an aim of ending insurgency in Nagaland, the government on Monday signed a peace accord with key Naga outfit The Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM).
The announcement was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his 7 Race Course Road residence in the presence NSCN-IM leader Thuingaleng Muivah.
PM Modi described the event as a “historic” step to usher in peace in the state.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and government's interlocutor R N Ravi was also present at the occasion.
The signing of the pact is the culmination of over 80 rounds of negotiations that spanned 16 years with first breakthrough in 1997 when ceasefire agreement was sealed.
While the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaac-Muivah) is the biggest Naga rebel group which has been maintaining the ceasefire, another faction led by S S Khaplang continues to indulge in violence and was believed to be behind the deadly attack on army in Manipur in June that left 18 soldiers dead and 18 injured.
It was not immediately clear whether the agreement meets the main demand of NSCN(IM) for integration of all Naga-inhabited areas in the North East across Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
Details and execution plan within this framework agreement will be released shortly, official sources said after the accord in which Doval played the central role.
Describing the accord as “historic”, Modi said, “Today, we mark not merely the end of a problem, but the beginning of a new future.”
He added, “We will not only try to heal wounds and resolve problems, but also be your partner as you restore your pride and prestige.”
Muivah said the government and Nagas were entering a “new relationship” but added that “beginning from now, challenges will be great.”
The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed on January 31, 1980 by Isak Chisi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and S.S. Khaplang opposing the ‘Shillong Accord' signed by the then NNC (Naga National Council) with the Indian government.
Later, differences surfaced within the outfit over the issue of commencing a dialogue process with the Indian Government and on April 30, 1988, the NSCN split into two factions, namely the NSCN-K led by S S Khaplang, and the NSCN-IM, led by Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah.
Before the agreement was signed, Modi spoke to leaders of various parties including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress' Mallikarjun Kharge, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, BSP's Mayawati, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
He also spoke to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her Tamil Nadu counterpart J Jayalalithaa besides the Nagaland Governor Padmanabha Acharya and Chief Minister T R Zeliang. He also called up DMK leader M Karunanidhi and JD(S) leader H D Deve Gowda.
"The Naga political issue had lingered for six decades, taking a huge toll on generations of our people," the Prime Minister said in an apparent reference to the violence which has claimed over 3000 lives since Independence.
"Unfortunately, the Naga problem has taken so long to resolve because we did not understand each other... Today, as you begin a new glorious chapter with a sense of pride, self-confidence and self-respect, I join the nation in saluting you and conveying our good wishes to the Naga people," Modi said.
Muivah appreciated Modi's "vision" and "wisdom" and said Nagas "can be trustworthy".
He mentioned that the peace moves were first initiated by the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao when the outfit gave a commitment about ceasefire. Then the outfit leaders had held talks with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001.
Modi said the problem was a "legacy of the British Rule" and "the colonial rulers had, by design, kept the Nagas isolated and insulated."
He said they had "propagated terrible myths about Nagas in the rest of the country" and "deliberately suppressed the reality that the Nagas were an extremely evolved society".
The Prime Minister said "negative ideas" were also spread about the rest of India amongst Naga people.
"This was part of the well known policy of divide and rule of the colonial rulers," he said.
He said he had the "deepest admiration for the great Naga people for their extraordinary support to the peace efforts" and complimented the NSCN(IM) for maintaining the ceasefire agreement for nearly two decades, with a sense of honour that defines the great Naga people.
The Prime Minister said that since assuming office last year, peace, security and economic transformation of North East has been amongst his "highest priorities. It is also at the heart of my foreign policy, especially the ‘Act East' Policy."
He said he had personally kept in touch with the progress of the negotiations with NSCN(IM).
79-year-old Muivah has been at the forefront of the negotiations with the government.
Despite the government-brokered ceasefire with NSCN(IM) in 1997 and NSCN(K) in 2001, the Naga insurgent groups continued to indulge in inter-factional killings and targeting of security forces outside Nagaland where the ceasefire does not exist.
Rampant corruption, collection of taxes, levies and extortion had added to the woes of the common people in Nagaland and Manipur, official sources said.
19 other top Naga leaders from different groups and civil society organisations were also present at the function to sign the accord.
* I join the nation in saluting you and conveying our good wishes to the Naga people: PM Modi after historic peace accord with NSCN-IM
* This is really historic and has happened after six decades: Ninong Ering, Congress MP on Naga accord
* Naga ka ujjwal bhavishya ko sakaar karne ke liye hum poori shakti laga denge (We will give our best for the bright future of Nagas): PM Narendra Modi
* I asked my office to supervise these talks and I personally kept in touch with the progress: PM Narendra Modi
* Today to the people of Nagaland I want to say that your talents, tradition and efforts will make nation stronger: PM Modi
* Today we mark not merely the end of a problem but beginning of a new future: PM Modi
* I thank my senior colleague Rajnath Singh, who supported and advice us. His contribution was invaluable in bringing us here today: PM Modi after peace accord with NSC-IM
* Peace, security and economic transformation of North east has been one of my highest priorities: PM Modi
* Mahatma Gandhi loved the Naga people and was sensitive to their sentiments: PM Narendra Modi
* Unfortunately the Naga problem has taken so long to resolve, because we did not understand each other,its a legacy of British rule: PM Modi
* I am deeply impressed with the unique culture and way of life of Naga people, their courage is legendary: PM Modi after peace accord with NSCN-IM
* I have the deepest admiration for the great Naga people for their extraordinary support to the peace efforts: PM Modi
* Prime Minister Narendra Modi describes the accord as 'historic', appreciates Naga leaders for showing "wisdom".
* Thank Thuingaleng Muivah for his cooperation in signing this historic accord: PM Modi
* Naga political issue lingered for 6 decades, took a huge toll on generations of people: PM Narendra Modi
* NSCN felicitate PM Modi with a traditional jacket and shawl
* Today under the visionary leadership of PM we have come close to understanding each other- NSCN leader Thuingaleng Muivah
* I thank god for this momentous occasion- NSCN's Thuingaleng Muivah after signing peace accord with GOI
* Peace accord between Govt of India and NSCN(IM) signed