Naga peace ball in Muivah’s court

THE Assembly elections in Nagaland are all set for February 27, with the Core Committee of Nagaland Tribes Hoho and Civil Organisations (CCNTHCO) on February 6 having decided to dissolve itself as the political parties that had declared to boycott the elections on January 29 have now decided to participate in the elections.

Naga peace ball in Muivah’s court

Suhas Chakma

Suhas Chakma
President, Rights & Risks Analysis Group     

THE Assembly elections in Nagaland are all set for February 27, with the Core Committee of Nagaland Tribes Hoho and Civil Organisations (CCNTHCO) on February 6 having decided to dissolve itself as the political parties that had declared to boycott the elections on January 29 have now decided to participate in the elections. The ruling Nagaland Peoples Front (NPF) has announced candidates for 58 seats, followed by 58 candidates of the BJP and its ally Nagaland Democratic Progressive Party, 23 candidates of the National People's Party, 23 candidates of the Congress, 14  candidates of the JD(U) and six candidates of the NCP. The candidates filed their nominations on February 7. 

The CCNTHCO had earlier announced that it would not allow the Assembly elections without a solution to the Naga problem first. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland, led by Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), and six other Naga armed groups also reiterated the same. On January 11, Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to press for the postponement of the elections, but the Home Minister reiterated that election is a constitutional process decided by the Election Commission and the Government of India (GoI) has no role in it.

Over two decades after the announcement of ceasefire agreements between the GoI and the NSCN-IM on July 25, 1997, peace remains elusive. NSCN-IM supremo Thuingaleng Muivah knows it too well that it was the wish of Chairman Isak Chishi Swu from the deathbed at Fortis Hospital, New Delhi, that led to the signing of the Framework of Agreement (FoA) on August 4, 2015, the basic contours of which no one, including Muivah, can explain in public. While both the MHA and the Ministry of Defence were unaware of the contents of the FoA, it was denied even under the RTI Act on grounds of national security. After the death of SS Khaplang, the NSCN (Khaplang) group recently joined the Union Peace Conference-21st Century Panglong of Myanmar. Octogenarian Muivah knows that he is the only surviving leader who along with the late Isak Chishi Swu and late SS Khaplang opposed the 1975 Shillong Accord signed by the Naga National Council with the GoI and went on to form the NSCN to wage a war for independence. Muivah knows it too well that time is literally running out for him.

By raising the bogey of solution before election and not being able to enforce it, the NSCN (IM) and other Naga nationalist groups have blinked first. It appears that they had taken the pronouncements of the political leaders literally. In November 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that he wants a solution of the Naga issue within 18 months and the FoA was signed in his presence. In September 2017, Nagaland Governor PB Acharya stated that the vexed Naga issue would be resolved within one or two months. Even President Ram Nath Kovind, while inaugurating the Hornbill festival on December 6, 2017, stated that Nagaland was at the threshold of making history as the final agreement would soon be signed. But peace remained elusive because of the impossibility to reverse the pitfalls of nation state building with the divide and rule policy, ie the division of Naga-inhabited areas in independent India. 

The most critical demand of the NSCN (IM) has been Naga “sovereignty” or at least Greater Nagaland or Nagalim. From the time the NSCN (IM) entered into the talks, “sovereignty” has become only an issue of semantics.

The demand for Nagalim consistently evoked violent reactions from most non-Naga communities. In protest against the extension of ceasefire with the NSCN (IM) to Manipur, which was construed as acceptance of Nagalim, ethnic Meitei mobs burnt down Manipur's State Assembly, Chief Minister's Secretariat and many government buildings on June 18, 2001. Thirteen people were killed and over 50 wounded in police firing. It was a case of déjà vu when a protest by Dimasa tribesmen against rumoured inclusion of their areas into Nagalim resulted in the death of two persons in police firing in the Dima Hasao district of Assam on January 25, 2018. In the forthcoming elections, Nagalim too has been reduced to only an issue of semantics.

There has been little progress despite the talks of so much progress since the signing of the FoA. BJP leader Ram Madhav a couple of days ago described the FoA as a “one-page document without any details.”

If Muivah does not develop alternatives to the semantics, it is unlikely that he would ink the Peace Agreement in his lifetime. No GoI can divide Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur to resolve the Naga issue. Many officials hold the view that with the natural death of Muivah, who hails from Manipur, the demand for greater Nagaland would have a natural death and it would be able to find local solutions with other Naga leaders. 

The ball is, therefore, in Muivah's court. The final Naga peace agreement will require more prudence than playing a vital role in the government formation in Nagaland.

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