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At wits’ end

J B Lama | New Delhi |

Even 20 months after the Narendra Modi government signed the framework Naga peace accord (3 August 2015) with NSCN -IM leaders, the Nagas are yet to know its contents.

This comes as little surprise though, because even the contents of the 25 July 1997 ceasefire accord, announced in Parliament amid thunderous applause by then United Front Prime Minister IK Gujral, are yet to be made public.

At that point of time, NSCN chairman Isak Swu was in Bangkok. After a week of the truce coming into force, when the Naga leaders claimed it also covered Manipur’s four hill districts, the people in the Imphal valley were outraged.

For the first time it drove a wedge between the Meiteis and the hill people. Over the years it has merely strained the relationship between them.

For one, the Naga leaders have all along kept the integration issue alive.

After the BJP government under Atal Behari Vajpayee took over at the Centre, the two Naga leaders were so determined to confirm the ceasefire jurisdiction that they even followed the Prime Minister to Paris in February 1998 and, after holding a 15- minute talk with him, claimed the ceasefire would be extended to other states as well.

When no decision on this was forthcoming, three years later, then Indian emissary P Padmanabhiah took the two Naga leaders to Osaka to meet Vajpayee again.

What transpired there is not known, but the very fact that they followed Vajpayee even to Japan was suggestive of their determination to bring parts of Manipur under the truce, apparently to fulfill their aspiration for Greater Nagaland.

The Vajpayee government made a last-minute attempt to please the Naga leaders by extending the ceasefire to Manipur in June 2001 when the state was under a short spell of President’s Rule. All this took place after signing what was described as the “Bangkok agreement” with Naga leaders. In the mayhem that followed, 18 Meitei protesters lost their lives and government property worth crores of rupees went up in flames. The BJP government was left with no alternative but to backtrack.

Vajpayee, in fact, had accepted the Nagas’ “unique history” — that they had never lived under any foreign rule and assured them a homeland even if this necessitated amending the Constitution. He promised that in 2003 when the NSCN -IM leaders came to India for formal talks with the Centre. Vajpayee appointed lawyer Swaraj Kaushal (by virtue of his being the Mizoram governor at the time of signing of the historic 1986 Mizo accord with Laldenga) for talks with the Naga leaders but he quit after a few months, alleging that the Prime Minister did not keep his promise to extend the ceasefire to Manipur.

During the UPA government’s 10- year-rule, neither serious attempts were made to solve the mystery of the truce jurisdiction nor did it seriously take talks with Naga leaders because of the latter’s insistence on integration.

The “framework accord” may be the Narendra Modi government’s masterstroke, but by keeping its contents under wraps it has merely hoodwinked the Nagas.

All that can be said is that it was the result of a panic reaction. The Centre knew full well that any final settlement without the signatures of both Swu, a Sema from Nagaland, and Muivah, a Tangkhul from Manipur’s Ukhrul district, would do more harm than good.

At that point of time, Swu was undergoing treatment in a Delhi hospital. So the best thing the Modi government did was to have the framework accord duly signed by Swu. It has apparently taken care of the political aspects. Swu expired in August last year.

In the peace talks, too, there has been no transparency.

The contents of the charter of demand, the Naga leaders submitted in 2010 to the Centre are not known nor is the government’s counter charter. For one, the demand for integration is not new.

In May 1947, when then Assam governor Sir Akbar Hydari visited the Naga Hills, in his welcome address Naga National Council general secretary, T Sakhrie said, “The ancient boundary with the Ahom kingdom, previously scrupulously observed by the Ahoms, has been overstepped throughout its length.

All the valuable forests, previously part of the Naga Hills, have been transferred to Sibsagar or Nowgong districts.

In fairness and equality, Nagaland should be restored to Nagas for it is an open cry that Nagaland should be for the Nagas.” In the June 1947, a nine-point agreement with the governor was signed by the Nagas.

There was also the demand for modification of present administrative division to bring back into the Naga Hills, all districts and forests transferred to Sibsar and Nowgong and put them under a unified administrative unit.

The 16-point agreement of 1960 arrived at between the Centre and the Naga People’s Convention, ultimately led to the creation of Nagaland on 1 December 1963.

It says, “The other Naga tribes-inhabited areas contiguous to the present Nagaland should be enabled to join the new state, if they so desired.” It was pointed out to the Nagas that “Articles 2 and 4 of the Constitution provided for increasing the area of any state but it was not possible for the government of India to make any commitment in this regard at this stage”.

In November 1975, the Shillong accord that moderate Naga National Council leaders signed with the Indira Gandhi government also mentions territorial integration.

At the far end of the BJP rule, in February 2004, Vajpayee told a crowd at Kohima that integration was an issue requiring political consensus and that as far as the Centre was concerned it was a closed chapter. It took Muivah a month to react. He said that “having acknowledged the uniqueness of Naga history, Vajpayee’s approach was highly questionable and unacceptable”, adding that “insisting on consensus of other people to determine the future was absolutely irrelevant, rather it was an attempt at shifting responsibility to switch the peace process off the track”.

The “other people” was obviously a reference to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. In 2003, the Kohima-based Naga Hoho submitted a 73-page “white paper” to the President explaining that integration meant the removal of arbitrary borders and blamed the British for “superimposing” this conditions wherein they were placed under different administrative units without their knowledge and consent.

It continued that “Nagas want to reclaim 100,000 sq km” (more than six times the present size of Nagaland) on the plea that the ‘Naga-inhabited areas did not spring up overnight’.”

The dangerous implication of the failure of talks alone should convince the Centre to discuss the emotive issue of integration with the three adjoining states who fear their territorial integrity is under threat.

Both the BJP government and India’s interlocutor for negations, RN Ravi, have assured the people of Manipur that the integration issue does not figure in the “framework” deal.

Muivah, however, is not amused, and says the Centre has “recognised” the Nagas’ demand for Greater Nagaland. All this niggling uncertainty is merely pushing the Northeast to the brink.