Naga pact will bring prosperity

Manipur is gateway to the Look East policy which would affect India's domestic and external policy aspects.

The recent “framework” agreement signed in early August between the central government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) is a welcome step in the right direction. It takes forward the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to bring peace, stability, progress and development to the troubled region. Seen from a strategic perspective, the agreement will reduce the opportunity for external interference in India’s internal affairs. Importantly, it pushes the “Look East” objective, which is a pillar of Modi’s foreign policy.

The prime minister promised that the agreement would lay the future for a new Nagaland. “You will not only build a bright future for Nagaland,” he said, “but your talents, traditions and efforts will also contribute to ma-king the nation stronger, more secure, more inclusive and more prosperous. You are also the gu-ardians of our eastern frontiers and our gateway to the world beyond. It is one of the tragedies of Independent India that we have lived with this legacy.”

The framework agreement is obviously a major step towards a comprehensive settlement of the decades-long ethnic demands of the Naga people to create a separate state. This framework is only a political document which requires Constitutional push to translate it into action.

Now that the NSCN (IM) has agreed to “drop” the sovereignty clause, it remains to be seen as to how it articulates the dream for “Nagalim”. Meanwhile, other stakeholders watching the next steps from the sidelines are Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh which have huge stakes in this settlement.

Why was there not a single representative from Manipur, Assam, and Arunachal Prad-esh – the three important militancy affected states in the Naga Accord? The fact that the Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has filed an RTI application to obtain details about the Naga accord speaks volumes about the opacity of the manner in which New Delhi has gone about the matter.

What kind of new Nagaland is going to take shape? How would it affect the other stakeholder states? Today, the situation in the North-East is a result of over anxiety to preserve ethnic identities of inhabitants of this region.

For New Delhi, the North-East has become synonymous with Nagaland due to the fact that they are the most vocal group. The time is ripe to review the situation and make it more contemporary in sense and substance. It is a minefield that the central government and the stakeholders will need to negotiate carefully. A wrong step will have serious consequences, especially in Manipur.

One can only draw lessons from the 2001 Manipur riots, when the government extended the ceasefire with NSCN (IM) “beyond Nagaland”. The lack of sensitivity led to the 2001 ethnic tensions between different groups in Manipur. The problem arises because New Delhi is not familiar with the domestic politics and do not know their margin of manoeuvre.

Uncertainty lurks
Moreover, the Centre does not rely on the information conveyed from a state and there is uncertainty over what concessions, demands and compromises are acceptable. Given the nature and degree of ethnic diversity of Manipur, the plurality of its population and the shared geographical and cultural spaces, it is virtually impossible to come up with an acceptable division of territory.

For instance, the situation took a violent turn on June 18,  2001, when thousands of people took to the streets in Imphal and protesters targeted politicians of all hues and set ablaze the Manipur Legislative Assembly, legislator’s residences/offices of several political parties.

In the violence, 18 protestors were killed when the security forces opened fire to control an irate mob. In response to this violence in Manipur, the Centre ordered to limit the scope of the ceasefire within the boundary of Nagaland. This led to further polarisation of society and polity in the state.

Today, none of the non-state armed groups can claim to represent the whole of Manipur. The Kuki-Naga clashes started in 1992, followed by those between Meiteis and Meitei-Muslims in May 1993. Again, 1997-1998 witnessed Kuki-Paite violence. Similarly, the potential for Naga-Meitei tension should not be ruled out.

On June 14, 2001, after the ceasefire was extended without territorial limits, Manipur experienced violent agitations because four of its districts namely: Chandel, Senapati, Tamen-glong and Ukhrul are included in ‘Nagalim’. The Manipuris believe the Nagas seek to destroy their state and it was virtual step of south Nagaland which New Delhi attempts to ignore.

Manipur is the gateway of India’s Look East policy which would affect both domestic and external aspects of India’s policy. Therefore, New Delhi should get Myanmar to deport over 400 militants who have taken shelter and sanctuary in that country. Earlier, Bangladesh and Bhutan had helped, and now it is the turn of Myanmar to help India break the back of insurgency in Manipur. 

(Heblikar is former Special Secretary, Government of India, Koiremba is an Assistant Professor, School of Law, Christ University, Bengaluru)

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