It was on 29 January 2018 that all political parties in Nagaland came together on a platform made by the Core Committee of Nagaland Tribal Hohos and Civil Society Organizations (CCNTHCO) and this culminated in the signing of the “Joint Declaration”. This platform was set up for them to voice their views and pressurise the Centre to resolve the Naga political issue before the elections to the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly.

But the whole process and strategy to force the Centre to take the issue to an unprecedented height crumbled within hours when the BJP backed out of the “Joint Declaration”. It surprised the whole state, CCNTHCO and other political parties with whom they signed the “Joint Declaration”. The BJP suspended its representative for being a signatory to it. The party said it had assigned representatives to attend the meeting called by CCNTHCO on 29 January at Hotel Japfu and not for signing any document.

The “Joint Declaration”, signed by representatives of 11 political parties in Nagaland, says that the political parties in the state will not issue tickets to their respective candidates for the ensuing Assembly elections in Nagaland as a form of unprecedented pressure tactic on the Centre to resolve the Naga political issue before the polls.

It said, “We the undersigned on behalf of all the political parties and the intending candidates have, in compliance with the wishes of the people, decided not to go ahead with the issuance of party tickets or filing of nominations.” It declared that they “firmly believe that it is expedient for all the political parties, both national and regional, to come together in the greater interest of the state in solidarity with the call ‘Solution before Election’ and defer the elections to the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly and allow political process to reach its logical conclusion by giving space and time to the negotiating groups to bring out an early solution.”

Minutes after announcing the “Joint Declaration”, the CCNTHCO leadership addressed a press conference at Hotel Japfu. When asked whether they would not simply be inviting constitutional breakdown if all political parties stayed away from the electoral fray, leading to President’s Rule that would not be desirable by anybody, Theja Therie, convener of CCNTHCO, realised what the consequences would be. But with such a rare move, the Government of India would surely be forced to find a solution.

Stating “Enough is enough,” CCNTHCO even asserted that if the “negotiating parties” felt that they could not bring a solution, they should hand over the issue to the people. The government should have a “mechanism” to bring a solution and political parties should take a call, it added. But with the BJP backing out of the “Joint Declaration”, the floodgates opened for the rest of the political parties to start filing their nomination papers for the Assembly elections.

It may be mentioned that one week ahead of the “January 29 Joint Declaration,” National BJP secretary in-charge of North-east, Ram Madhav had said at Dimapur that holding elections when due was a Constitutional obligation and unavoidable. Therefore, the slogan in Nagaland should be “Election for Solution” and not “Solution before Election”, he said. As elected members, they could play vital roles in pushing the peace process to reach a settlement. This, he further explained, could happen only when the election was held.

Undoubtedly, the elected representatives could play positive roles during the Naga peace process. They could initiate a Special Session of the Assembly to discuss the issue and pass resolutions, inter alia, urging the Government of India to expedite the process while appealing to other Naga political groups to join the peace process.

In fact, during the TR Zeliang regime, the ninth Session of the 12th NLA had earmarked two days — 23 and 24 July 2015 —for discussion on the Naga political issue. They adopted a Five-Point Resolution. One of the resolutions urges the Government of India and NSCN (K) to resume the ceasefire agreement.

The last Session of the 12th NLA in December 2017 also adopted a resolution, inter alia, urging the Government of India to “take emergent and extraordinary steps to usher in an honourable and acceptable solution to the Naga political issue well before the Assembly elections” in the state. It even urged the Election Commission of India not to announce the Assembly elections to the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly until the “Government of India arrives at an honourable and acceptable solution to the Naga political issue in order to enable all Nagas to enjoy their due democratic and other rights and function as a more empowered electorate during the elections.”

Today, the Naga people, civil societies and other political parties are expecting that there should be a settlement at least before the next parliamentary election, due in 2019.

Journalists asked Madhav on 16 September 2018, at Kohima heliport, whether the Government of India would be seriously and honestly working to resolve the issue before the next parliamentary election. He said there were stakeholders and other Naga political groups and added that they would be taking them along while trying to find the solution. “There cannot be any timeframe for resolving the issue,” he said adding the Government of India had been working seriously to find a permanent solution that would be “acceptable to all”.

It is encouraging to see that many states — Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur — are ruled by the BJP and it is even the second largest party in the People’s Democratic Alliance government in Nagaland. In fact, this is the best moment for the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre to expedite the process for settlement.

Regrettably, the Centre is not quite clear about its approach to the issue. The Assemblies of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland have been discussing the accord and the peace process from time to time not because of the signing of the “Framework Agreement” but because of the Centre’s failure to disclose the contents of the accord and its lack of transparency.

Interestingly, many Union Ministers and others including Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Kiren Rijiju and even Madhav have been making statements from time to time that the talks are in an “advanced stage” and the matter would be resolved soon. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi while speaking at an election rally at Tuensang, Nagaland, announced an early resolution of the issue.

There is no doubt that the signing of the “Framework Agreement” with NSCN (IM) was historic. But their inability to make the contents of the accord public even after two and half years only creates confusion in the minds of people.

Surprisingly, the Parliamentary Standing Committee had tabled the report on the Naga peace process in Parliament about two months ago. One wonders how they could table it when they were saying that consultations with various stakeholders were still going on and even explaining there were other Naga political groups to be taken along. And how could you have consultative meetings when participants did not know what the contents of the accord were? Asking the Centre to expedite the process, instead of asking it to disclose the contents of the accord, only adds to the confusion.

It is good that the 13th Nagaland Legislative Assembly has reconstituted the Joint Legislators’ Forum on the Naga political issue. They have to change the role that they have been playing as “facilitator”. Of course, the previous 15-year Democratic Alliance of Nagaland government had been playing the role of a “facilitator” to the Naga peace process. Now, the PDA Government headed by Neiphiu Rio is only six months old but he Rio ruled the previous DAN government for 11 years. Zeliang ruled for almost three and half years while Dr Shuhozelie ran affairs for five months.

Now if the present Assembly again says that it is not aware of the contents of the “Framework Agreement” or the “Charter of Demands”, or is still kept in the dark about talks between the Centre and NSCN (IM) or the Working Committee of six Naga National Political Groups, then something is terribly wrong somewhere.

Time has come for the Government of Nagaland to play a more proactive role and for the Government of India to be sincere on the issue and make a one-size-fits-all settlement.

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