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The Naga issue

Oken Jeet Sandham |

Exactly one month after the formation of the Naga Democratic People’s Party-led government, headed by a former three-time chief minister, Neiphiu Rio, the Centre came out with a statement that while finally settling the longstanding Naga issue the territorial integrity of the North-east states will not be disturbed.

This is for the first time the Centre has rest in doubt the suspicion that New Delhi had, in fact, accepted the NSCN’s core demand for integration of all Naga-inhabited areas of the contiguous states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, which in another sense means Greater Nagaland.

Addressing a press conference at Guwahati on 7 April, Union minister of state for home, Kiren Rijiju said the NSCN (IM) had already dropped its demand of sovereignty and other serious issues from their charter of demands. In fact, one of the contentious issues in the Naga peace process has been the question of integration and the NSCN (IM) leaders had often said there would be no compromise on this.

Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur (mostly likely to be affected) have said in no uncertain terms that they will not allow this to happen. In fact, the last two state assemblies have already passed resolutions that they will oppose it tooth and nail. They, however, want the contentious issue resolved peacefully. So the three states are sure to welcome Rijiju’s statement.

Rijiju had said “We are progressing with the peace process with absolute clarity. The neighbouring states need not have to worry as there would be no adverse impact. Not even an inch of territories of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh will be affected.” Further explaining that the BJP is part of the government in both Manipur and Nagaland in the latter it is the second largest.

Chief ministers of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur, Pema Khandu, Sarbananda Sonowal and Nongthombom Biren Singh, respectively visited Nagaland in December last year during the Hornbill Festival. They also attended the historic installation of the NDPP-BJP-led PDA government at the Kohima local ground on 8 March.

This is significant in the sense that it was for the first time the three neighbouring chief ministers were seen together at Kohima.

While Rio was the chief minister for 11 years, he had once accused his Manipur counterpart Okram Ibobi Singh as the “enemy of the Nagas”, for suppressing the rights of the Nagas in Manipur.

If the BJP-led government at the Centre is serious about resolving the Naga issue, the time is ripe for the final settlement. Prime Minister Narenda Modi kept his promise by signing the historic Framework Naga Peace Accord on 3 August, 2015 within 18 months of his installation.

Significantly, apart from the NSCN (IM) general secretary Th Muivah, its Chairman Isak Swu, who was undergoing treatment in hospital, also signed the accord. He died after some months.

But, unfortunately the Modi government has kept the entire North-east in suspense by not making public the contents of the agreement. Indian Interlocutor RN Ravi is yet to say how the issue will be solved, though he had hinted at an early settlement.

The BJP national secretary in-charge of the North-east, Ram Madhav said at a felicitation programme for candidates at Dimapur, that there should be election for solution to the Naga issue. It drew flaks from various quarters, particularly civil societies who had been clamouring for a solution before the elections. With the slogan “Solution before Election,” the civil societies under the banner of the Core Committee of Nagaland, Tribal Hohos and civil organisations held a series of meetings with the representatives of all political parties.

It culminated in the signing of a “Joint Declaration” on 29 January. The representatives of all political parties responded saying they will not issue party tickets to candidates and also not file nomination papers. Surprisingly, the BJP representative who signed the “joint declaration” was suspended by the party saying he was not authorised to sign any document except attend the meeting called by the CCNTHCO.

As Modi has said he would resolve the Naga issue during his present tenure, the solution is likely before the 2019 general elections. At the same time, there cannot be two or three settlements but just one, involving all the stakeholders. Significantly, the Centre is already in the process of negotiating with six Naga national political groups (as rebel units are known).  The only one that has opted out is the Naga National Council, led by Adino Phizo, (the late AZ Phizo’s daughter) and the NSCN (K) which now operates from across the Indo-Myanmar border. The state government and many civil societies have urged the Centre to bring these groups to the peace process.

Of late, the NSCN (K) has expressed that it is not adverse to talks. In fact, its leader K Khaplang, since deceased, abrogated the ceasefire in March 2015 after observing it for 14 years, in protest against the Centre not keeping its promise to call his group for formal talks.

Interestingly, the Centre has failed to highlight the reason why the group had to walk away from the ceasefire after maintaining it for nearly 14 years. Khaplang waited for a call from Delhi but it never came. Apparently, because the NSCN (IM) had told the Centre that if it involved their bête noir they will walk out of the talks.

However, sensing that there could never be a permanent solution to the longstanding Naga issue, the TR Zeliang government passed a resolution requesting the leaderships of the NSCN (K) to join talks.

It even sent leaders of Naga Hoho and Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation to Myanmar to meet the leaderships of the outfit to convey the resolutions of the state government and the desire of the Naga people that they should come back to the ceasefire and for talks.

When this was going on, the National Investigation Agency arrested a number of Khaplang (K) cadres and even summoned Zeliang to cooperate with the probe into the alleged extortion activities of the proscribed NSCN (K).

He wondered whether the initiatives taken by his government would be misconstrued as “negative” by his political adversaries. He did not rule out his political adversaries’ nefarious games to weaken his political standing as could be seen from a series of summons issued to him and his previous CMO staff by the IA for alleged payment to the NSCN (K).

Indian Interlocutor RN Ravi often announced that the Centre would not go for a piecemeal solution and that it will be inclusive, and in that case, the NSCN (K) and NNC (Adino) should join the peace process. Although Rijiju disclosed the Prime Minister’s commitment to settle the issue during his tenure, it is still not clear how many agreements will there be for the logical conclusion or in what modalities they are going to clinch the final deal.

(Within days of the minister’s statement the NSCN (IM) in a press statement blamed Rijiju for “creating a lot of confusion” with his statement and accused him of “vitiating the environment of the negotiation” with his “repeated immature statement” on the ongoing Naga peace talks. It continued that “When the talk is progressing at the highest level, Rijiju has no business to talk on political issues of which he is ignorant. We advice him to refrain himself from such repetition in near future in the interest of both the parties,” the statement said).

 

The writer is Editor North East Press Service based in Kohima and author of Narendra Modi And Naga Peace Accord and Modi Walking On Elusive Naga Peace