By Suryatapa Bhattacharya
New Delhi, Aug 10 : Political parties in Nagaland are putting pressure on the central government to draft a peace accord with rebels who have spent six decades fighting for greater independence and Naga unification.
The Nagaland government has since 2009 sought to negotiate an "honourable" end to its conflict with the rebels, which has its origins in a pre-partition desire for an independent Naga homeland.
This week Niephiu Rio, the state's chief minister, led a delegation of 60 legislators from across party lines to petition the government and opposition to find a solution to the conflict.
"This is a rare occasion for all the political parties to come together and pledge to make any kind of sacrifice to have a permanent settlement," said Mr Rio at a news conference in New Delhi on Tuesday.
The fighting between Naga fighters and the army has killed 20,000 people since the insurgency began in the 1950s.
Some insurgent groups have demanded full independence from India, while others, such as the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NCSN), want to expand Nagaland into a "Greater Nagaland" that would include portions of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
The Indian government is loath to grant concessions to rebel groups because it may set precedent in a country beset by inter-ethnic struggles and separatist movements.
Nagaland legislators have offered to resign to form a "party-less interim government" to negotiate an end to the conflict. The interim government could include rebel groups, Mr Rio said.
"You cannot resolve the issue unless the centre is involved," said Sanjoy Hazarika, the director of the Centre for North-east Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, one of India's oldest Islamic universities.
"This is not simply an issue of what Nagaland wants, it includes the demands of rebel groups, and the governments of three states."
If the rebels' demand for a Greater Nagaland is met, it will mean taking two-and-a-half districts of Manipur, two districts in the easternmost portion of Arunachal Pradesh and the upper region of Assam. "That is not going to happen anytime soon," said Mr Hazarika.
Upper Assam is the region's industrial hub and has significant oil reserves but complications arise because Nagas do not have sole claim on some of these areas.
The NCSN and a splinter faction, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Khaplang (NCSN-K), signed respective ceasefires with the government in 1997 and 2001.
About 60 rounds of talks between rebels and state government have made little progress since the mid-1990s and, according to Samir Kumar Das, the vice chancellor of the University of North Bengal, rebel groups are frustrated.
"Patience is wearing out. The insurgent groups are restive and impatient. They have been in negotiations for so long. What have they achieved?
"The violence has come down but that does not necessarily mean that a solution has been reached," Mr Das said.
These concerns were echoed by Mr Rio.
"The Naga people feel that 15 years of ceasefire and political dialogue was long enough a period for the government of India to understand the issue. They now want an acceptable and honourable solution to this issue before next year's assembly polls," he said on Tuesday.
Complicating matters, the splinter group, the NCSN-K, has been silent on the new talks.
"They are being smart," said Mr Hazarika. "They are waiting for the government to say something.
"This is also one way of them telling the government that we are prepared for a solution, but what's your solution?"
The central government has yet to take a public stance, but the ruling Congress Party's representatives in the Nagaland state legislature oppose a Greater Nagaland.
The silence could in part be because the government is currently bogged down over accusations that it helped cause the current violence in Assam.
The opposition and many Assamese claim that the violence between Muslims and the Bodo group has been instigated by illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
Mr Rio believes that the time has come for another such agreement, and that the opportunity may not present itself again.
"We are hoping that good sense will prevail and lead to early settlement. If the government of India fails to reach a settlement, it will be a lost opportunity," said Mr Rio.
"All political parties have surrendered their position, which is very rare. They have pledged to make any kind of sacrifice to have a permanent settlement."