Days before another round of Naga peace talks on October 31, a top leader of NSCN-IM, along with 16 other members, quit the rebel group accusing it of being "insensitive" to the people's plea for an honourable solution to the vexed issue and joined the rival Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs).
In a statement issued Friday night, Hukavi Yeputhomi said the working committee of the NNPGs has been "practical and realistic" in its negotiation with the Centre.
"Without compromising on our history and identity, I, Hukavi Yeputhomi, former kilo kilonser (home minister) of NSCN-IM and currently a member in the ongoing negotiating team of NSCN-IM, along with 16 co-workers, on our own volition and with clear conscience, has joined the WC NNPG," he said.
A team of the Nationalist Social Council of Nagaland, Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) held talks with the Centre's interlocutor R N Ravi on October 24 but the discussions remained inconclusive. The next round is talks is expected on October 31.
Sources said the demand for a separate flag and constitution for the Nagas has become the main contention between the two sides with the NSCN-IM, which had signed a framework agreement with the Centre in August 2015, strongly pressing for it.
Ravi, who is also the governor of Nagaland, had said last week that the NSCN-IM has adopted a "procrastinating attitude to delay the settlement raising the contentious symbolic issues of separate Naga national flag and constitution on which it was fully aware of the government of India's position".
Yeputhomi asserted that the geo-political situation demands that the Nagas be more pragmatic at this juncture. He accused NSCN-IM 'chairman' Q Tuccu and the outfit's 'ato kilonser' (prime minister) T Muivah of being "insensitive to the Naga people's plea for an honourable solution".
"We are convinced that the interest, pursuit and potential of future Naga generations must not be jeopardised by unresolved symbolic issues when negotiating patties have long come to terms that sovereignty and integration were not possible at a present time," he said.
"My decision is based on our people's desire for a peaceful co-existence... We bear no malice against anyone and hope that our decision would be respected," Yeputhomi added.
The framework agreement, signed on August 3, 2015 by NSCN-IM and interlocutor Ravi in presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had come after over 80 rounds of negotiations spanning 18 years.
The NSCN-IM apart, NNPGs have also been holding separate talks with the Centre since 2017 and are willing to settle the vexed issue without insisting on a separate flag and constitution.