By Madhumita Das
The six-and-a-half decade old Indo-Naga conflict appears to be finally petering out. Talks between the Government of India and the main insurgent group the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN I-M) have reportedly entered its most decisive phase. The mood on the ground among the Nagas, however, is enthusiastic, cautious and cynical in equal measure. Phrases like shared sovereignty, non-territorial autonomy, and interim arrangement, are increasingly finding acceptance. On the other hand, charges of the current deal being a sell-out are also going strong.
Where are the talks heading towards? What about the explosive question of Naga integration involving the territorial integrity of the neighboring states of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh?
Demand for Early Resolution
Among the certainties of the interim arrangement, is a proposed amendment to the Indian Constitution, either through a change to Article 371A or through the introduction of a new Article. Under this provision, the Nagas would have a separate flag, and the Nagaland Legislative Assembly would be renamed as the Tatar Hoho. The contentious issue of decommissioning of weapons is also being tackled with a proposal of regularizing NSCN IM cadres for guarding Naga areas alongside the Indian Army.
The deliberations have received widespread support from almost every significant actor in the Naga theatre; the NSCN IM rank and file, the current Naga Hoho, the Dobashi Association, Naga Civil Society and Church bodies, and even the Naga People’s Forum (NPF) led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) State Government and its umbrella body of the Joint Legislators Forum. The latter have offered to step down, to pave the way for any interim arrangement, and are insistent on a solution being announced before the next general elections, due in March 2013.
Continuing Ambiguity over the Territorial Question
However, the real bone of contention lies in the proposal of a pan-Naga Hoho, comprising 200 members, to oversee the socio-cultural rights of Nagas living in all states of the Northeast. While this resembles a non-territorial measure, current statements by the NSCN IM leadership, as well as Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphu Rio, insisting that integration of the Naga areas is still very much on the table, has kept the neighboring States on their toes. Even though the Home Minister, Sushil Kr Shinde, has reportedly been mandated by the Prime Minister to initiate dialogue with all three Congress Chief Ministers of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, the possibility of a consensus appears remote.
In Manipur the United Committee of Manipur (UCM) has threatened raising the demand of the pre-merger status if its territorial boundaries are tampered with. Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, along with a group of MLA’s cutting across party lines, have being doing the rounds of New Delhi, voicing their displeasure over the most decisive deliberations being conducted behind their backs. All this, while three-way talks between the Central Government, the Manipur State Government and the United Naga Council (UNC) are underway for thrashing out an Alternative Administrative Arrangement for the Manipur Hills. The Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) has, on its part, been enforcing highway blockades over the demand for the creation of a separate Kuki State.
In Assam, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has supported an early resolution, and even favoured the project of ‘emotional integration’ of all Nagas, as long as it does not alter the territorial status quo of the State. On the other hand, Nabam Tuki, the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, has been insistent that the welfare of the Nagas in the Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts should be the prerogative solely of Arunachal, and no other entity.
Consolidation of Political Will
On the other hand, the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR), that had in the preceding years, worked hard to bring all warring insurgent factions on a common table, has stepped into the background. That its efforts have reaped political benefits can be discerned from the fact that, in the interest of a broad-based solution, the NSCN IM has at last consented to the Government of India engaging the NSCN Khaplang faction (NSCN K) for peace talks. The latter, however, are still insistent on maintaining sovereignty, and not integration as the basis for their negotiations.
In spite of such fundamental roadblocks, the political will gathered by the Center after 15 years of deliberations is commendable. The Opposition and most other parties in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition have been apprised of the developments, hinting at an early introduction of the Naga issue in the Parliament.
Given the fact that, in Northeast India, political and insurgent forces have long been in cohorts, with orchestrated brinkmanship in public and tacit understanding in private, it is difficult to assess the real extent of opposition from the various quarters, towards the currently proposed deal. There is discerned however, an extremely fragile, but significant consensus among the Naga populace, in favour of an early resolution.
But as suggested by the actual proceedings, the delicate nature of the complexities involved dictate a phase-by-phase implementation, rather than a one-time solution. On the whole, the success of this Indo-Naga interim measure transitioning into a lasting and sustainable arrangement holds the key for redefining India’s engagement with federalism, and is likely to have positive spin-offs for all its remaining ethno-national challenges.
Research Scholar, JNU
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