The centre had recognised the sovereignty of the Nagas through the framework agreement signed in 2015, the top leader of the most prominent rebel group in the region said on Friday, in a radical departure from the government line on the subject.
Observing the Naga Independence Day, marked each year on August 14, Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) or NSCN(IM) said that when it signed the 2015 Nagaland Peace Accord, it agreed that Nagas will co-exist but not merge with India.
"The framework agreement was arrived at and officially signed on the 3rd August, 2015. The Government of India through the framework agreement recognises the sovereignty of the Nagas. The agreement also says, 'Inclusive peaceful coexistence of the two entities sharing sovereign power'," he said.
Thuingaleng Muivah's NSCN(IM) was the main signatory to the framework agreement signed with the central government's interlocutor RN Ravi, the governor of Nagaland, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Hailing the deal as "historic", PM Modi had said, "We mark not merely the end of a problem but the beginning of a new future." The government, which celebrated the agreement as a landmark achievement, made no mention of recognising the sovereignty of the Nagas.
The surprising statement from the NSCN(IM) comes days after the powerful rebel group, which has been part of a 18-year-old peace dialogue with the central government, said that there is a "roadblock" to the final Naga peace deal and asked for the removal of Governor RN Ravi as the government's interlocutor.
Accusing him of creating hurdles in the final settlement of the Naga political issue, the group said that the deadlock with Governor Ravi has reached a "tipping point" and said there is a "trust deficit".
NSCN(IM) said it has been "five long years of waiting" and urged the central government to uphold what was agreed to in the framework agreement signed on August 3, 2015 following negotiations that started in 1997.
Though the formal talks for the final Naga peace deal ended last year, a treaty is still not in sight.