TODAY -

'Autonomous Naga territorial council' could be major hurdle to final Naga political solution

Thongam Sunil Singh *



Giving 'autonomous Naga territorial council' for Manipur within any Naga 'specified geographical or political area' in the state could turn into a serious conflict. Major social organisations in the Valley have demanded clarification from both the central and state governments and the BJP as well in that regard, showing stiff opposition to it.

Those in power may try to ignore people who are showing strong protest against any particular political move, but if there are enough protesters then the government will feel the need to come up with reasons why all of these people are wrong and that will make it possible for the debate and argument.

Manipur is inhabited by three major ethnic groups—the Meiteis, the Nagas, and the Kuki-Chin-Mizo. Uncertainty could arise from several factors over granting any kind of autonomy to any of the ethnic communities in the state. The government of India has apparently made the case that giving some kind of autonomy to the Nagas is the yardstick by which to show respect for them with a solution which honours their political rights in the given long-drawn problem and conflict. Any sort of autonomy given to any particular group in Manipur has long been considered a 'threat' to its unity and integrity by many in the state.

The Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) envisions a "greater Nagalim" comprising the contiguous Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and also a large tract of Myanmar.

Nagas are found in Nagaland, four districts in Manipur, one district in Assam and two districts in Arunachal Pradesh, besides there are Nagas inhabiting in western parts of Myanmar. But now, the boundaries of these states are not going to change in the much-awaited final accord to be signed between the Centre and the Naga armed group.

Many have questioned the reported move of the Centre to grant autonomous Naga territorial councils for Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh by leaving out Assam. Besides NSCN (IM), the Centre is also in talks with six other Naga nationalist political groups (NNPGs) which have joined the dialogue last year.

Most importantly, the Khaplang faction of NSCN which operates from the Myanmar border is yet to be officially roped in to negotiations. The truth in a nutshell is that a "half-cooked" solution may not be able to bring the country's oldest insurgency to a close, though an early resolution of peace talks between the Government of India and NSCN (IM) is desirable in the interest of the entire Northeast region.

Complicated by many factors such as determination of exact Naga areas in Manipur and strong opposition from the Valley against attempt to 'harm' the state's integrity, the hope to set up an autonomous Naga territorial council in the state could be a major "stumbling block" at the final solution.

It has been said the government is also apprehensive about a violent reaction in the Manipur Valley to the signing of the final accord. The Centre should not make ethnic groups more and more conscious of what divides them. It should not encourage ethnic groups in becoming more important to be a Meitei, a Naga and a Kuki in Manipur.

As per media reports, the Central government and Naga armed groups are said to have finalised the substantive portions of the peace accord which is likely to be signed before the monsoon session of Parliament. The accord does not change the boundary of states; provides autonomous Naga territorial councils for Arunachal and Manipur; a common cultural body for Nagas across states; specific institutions for state's development, integration and rehabilitation of non-state Naga militia and the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Showing commitment to the Naga peace process, a Framework Agreement, which may be seen as the first actualisation of the peace process, was signed between the Centre and the NSCN (IM) on August 3, 2015. The NSCN-IM has been in parleys with the government of India for last two decades ever since it had entered into a ceasefire agreement in 1997. The Naga Accord has been a bone of contention for different quarters in Manipur, Assam as well as Arunachal Pradesh who think their respective territorial integrities could be hurt in signing the much-hyped final Naga settlement by the two sides.

Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju got condemned recently over his sovereignty remark. He was telling that the Naga outfit had dropped the sovereignty issue, the key ingredient in the ongoing peace talks.

NSCN-IM strongly condemned Rijiju for allegedly vitiating the atmosphere of negotiations by saying the issue of sovereignty has been dropped from the talks agenda, as per media reports. The outfit said that when the dialogue is progressing at the level of the Prime Minister, Rijiju has no business to talk on political issues he is ignorant about. It advised Rijiju to refrain from making "irresponsible statements" at this juncture.

The fact is, the outfit's serious demand of sovereignty for Nagaland is a call already rejected by the Centre as not workable. India's emphasis has shifted to its sovereignty and territorial integrity. In this context it may be pertinent to note that Manipur needs to maintain a single political community.

As observed by experts, all identities contain potential new identities and if the process of separateness of ethnic identities becomes endless, there may come thousands of nationalities in the world to claim their own states. Because of geographical, cultural and other reason, some regions acquire self-consciousness to claim separate identity within a nation. It is said that neither sovereignty nor self-determination is an absolute right.

The NSCN-IM, one of the largest groups representing Nagas, is appeared to have agreed to live in peace with India especially as a matter of policy.

Last year, the outfit stated that as of now the Nagas have agreed to co-exist with India under "shared sovereignty." That being the case, the demand for an autonomous Naga council has been shaped up. To be more appropriate and precise, the NSCN (IM) demands that there should be autonomy for the Nagas since the Centre has resisted the sovereignty demand.


* Thongam Sunil Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a senior journalist
This article was posted on May 11, 2018.


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