The recent disclosure of the controversial Naga ‘framework agreement’ has added to the controversy surrounding the peace talks, and cast fresh light on the role of former Intelligence Bureau officer and current Nagaland governor RN Ravi.
Ravi had served as an interlocutor for the Indian government for the agreement signed between the insurgent outfit National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) and the Narendra Modi government in 2015. The terms of the agreement were classified as “secret” by the Indian government.
Last week, the NSCN-IM released the text of the 2015 agreement and accused Ravi of circulating a doctored version of the agreement amongst other Naga groups.
Revisiting documents relating to a 2017 Right To Information (RTI) case pursued by activist Venkatesh Nayak to seek disclosure of the framework agreement, shows it was Ravi who made the case for not disclosing the single page document in a briefing to Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) Radha Krishna Mathur.
Mathur, it is worth noting, has since been appointed as the Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh by the Modi government.
CIC Mathur’s order dated 15 May 2017 shows that R N Ravi—who was serving as the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee as well as the union government’s interlocutor for Naga peace talks at the time—made several, possibly exaggerated, claims while briefing him to argue against disclosure of the information. Mathur accepted these claims to decide against the disclosure of the framework agreement.
“If the text of the signed Accord as put out by the Naga faction is indeed authentic, I fail to understand how its disclosure would prejudicially affect national security. The text reads more like a press note than a framework for negotiation.Venkatesh Nayak, RTI applicant”
Yet the current controversy over the precise phrasing of the framework agreement has reiterated the importance of transparency, and specifically the spirit of the Right to Information law, in conducting peace talks to resolve the decades old insurgency in the North East.
In this context, Ravi’s arguments in favour of not releasing the framework agreement in public domain, and the consequences of the CIC’s acceptance of them, appear to have added to the mistrust between Naga groups and the Indian government.
According to the CIC Mathur’s order of 15 May 2017, after telling him a detailed history of the Naga movement from the pre-independence period to the signing of the framework agreement in August 2015, interlocutor Ravi “pointed out the salient parts of the agreement.
He stated that premature release of the sought for information will be prejudicial to the national security and hence, the information is exempted under Section 8(1)(a) of the RTI Act, 2005.”
According to this section of the RTI law, any public authority can deny information if disclosing it will “prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state, relation with foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence”.
CIC Mathur’s order shows that Ravi relied on this specific section to argue that the terms of the framework agreement should not be disclosed.
But the ‘framework agreement’ put out by the NSCN(IM) last week makes clear that it contains broad statements of agreement and there are no specific details that could endanger national security. Having read it, the veteran RTI activist Nayak told HuffPost India that he failed to understand how releasing it in the public domain would have affected national security.
“If the text of the signed Accord as put out by the Naga faction is indeed authentic, I fail to understand how its disclosure would prejudicially affect national security. The text reads more like a press note than a framework for negotiation. The CIC’s reasoning sounds completely unconvincing now in light of this document purported to be a copy of the accord,” Nayak said.
To be sure, in his RTI application, Nayak asked for details about all files relating to the framework agreement and copies of all documents in all those files in addition to a copy of the framework agreement. The government may well have had grounds to prohibit disclosure of all information at that time and could have chosen to release it in a staggered manner over time.
However, R N Ravi was clear during his briefing to the CIC Mathur that he was against disclosure of any information relating to the framework agreement, including the agreement document itself, in the public domain.
Indeed, as the text of the order shows, the chief of India’s Joint Intelligence Committee further told the CIC Mathur that, “the Framework Agreement between the GOI and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland is targeted to achieve a solution and it will be disruptive if it is presently disclosed in the public domain.”
He described the ground level situation at the time as “sensitive and fragile”. The government did not want to “lose the gains arising out of the” framework agreement, interlocutor Ravi said, and also made sure to note that “there is no ulterior motive in not disclosing the information to the general public”. The objective of the government, he added, “is to bring enduring peace and prosperity to the entire Northeast region at the earliest.”
However, more than three years down the line, Nayak believes these claims are not believable.
“The issue of not having an ulterior motive in MHA’s refusal to disclose now becomes highly questionable in light of the claims made by the Naga Faction which released the two documents alleging material difference between the two. Ironically ulterior motives are now being attributed to the Interlocutor himself. So there is all the more reason to come clean on the text of the signed document,” Nayak said.