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The stars have aligned: BJP's poll wins set the stage for settling India's oldest ethnic insurrection in Nagaland

Subir Bhaumik *



BJP's spectacular win in the recent assembly polls has cleared the road for a final settlement of India's oldest ethnic insurrection. The framework agreement that the Modi government signed with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M) nearly two years ago has already created the basis for the long expected solution to the Naga problem.

But an immediate settlement after the 2015 framework agreement was not seen as immediately possible for three reasons. One, the NSCN was still not willing to drop their demand for a merger of Naga-dominated areas of three neighbouring states with Nagaland. Two, the governments in these three states Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur were run by Congress, not expected to favourably respond if Nagas got much. Manipur's chief minister Ibobi Singh, who championed the Meitei cause strongly, was seen as a great stumbling block.

Three, after BJP defeats in Delhi and Bihar, the Modi government was uncertain in pushing through a crucial deal that might be interpreted as giving 'too much' to the separatists. So Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his chief strategist on national security issues, NSA Ajit Doval, decided not only to wait but also keep the 2015 framework agreement under wraps and wait for state polls.

BJP won Assam with a landslide last summer and installed its own government in Arunachal Pradesh soon after, albeit under controversial circumstances. Now it has formed, for the first time, its government in Manipur. With BJP governments in all three states Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur the stage is set.

Moreover BJP is also a junior partner in the Nagaland government, allied to the Naga Peoples Front which, in turn, has helped it form the government in Manipur. The BJP-NPF alliance can emerge as a bridge between Nagas and Meiteis, if Modi's Northeast 'Man Friday' Ram Madhav plays his cards well.

There are indications that Modi and BJP leaders were determined to form a government in Manipur to set the stage for the Naga settlement. Modi promised during the campaign that there is nothing in the 2015 framework agreement that will impact adversely on Manipur's territorial integrity. Six years ago, a regional daily i edited at the time had scooped out the proposal for a 'supra state' that had been put across to NSCN by government negotiators.

The proposal aimed at 'creatively linking' Nagas in these three neighbouring states to Nagaland through autonomous institutions in fields like education and culture, but without any territorial reorganisation. So a 'greater Nagalim' that NSCN supremo Th Muivah wants is out. But BJP, like the Congress government before it, has agreed to provide much greater autonomy to Nagaland in the form of a 'special federal relationship'.

That would help Muivah get a reasonable deal to justify his long struggle after the 1975 Shillong Accord. The framework agreement and the final settlement based on it is meant to provide Nagaland quite a bit in 'shared sovereignty' to facilitate greater control over its natural resources and much greater powers than enjoyed by any Indian state in local administration. NSCN fighters are likely to be absorbed in a state paramilitary force that will provide the second line of defence behind the Indian army. So far, surrendered Naga rebels have been absorbed in Indian paramilitary forces including BSF.

For an ageing Muivah, having lost his long-time comrade Isak Chisi Swu recently, the settlement based on the framework agreement is a take-it-or-leave-it situation. He has again insisted on a territorial reorganisation to merge Naga areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur with Nagaland, but Modi cannot oblige him on that.

Modi is now uniquely placed to sell the Naga accord, both in these three states and the Indian heartland, if it does not involve territorial reorganisation. BJP can tell its voters in these three states, including Manipur, that it has protected their territorial integrity and a Naga settlement will bring back peace and avoid crippling blockades on highways that Manipuris are fed up with. Naga autonomy can be seen as a reasonable price to pay and Ibobi's aggressive creation of new districts to stump that may now seem 'needless votebank politics' that BJP regularly accuses Congress of pursuing.

Peace in this area is crucial for the success of Modi's 'Act East' policy. The great salesman that he is, Modi will surely project the Naga accord not just as justice delivered to Nagas but as a bridge for Naga-Meitei-Kuki unity. BJP gains as much by blurring ethnic affiliations in Northeast as by undermining caste divisions in UP.

For the rest of India, the Naga accord may be a future model for handling the conflict in Kashmir. With UP in the bag, Modi has no real reason to go for 'surgical strikes' or a tough line on Kashmir, now that Pakistan also seems to be mellowing. Conflict resolution may work better for the saffron cause and it might be worth picking up the threads of the Manmohan-Musharraf negotiations for a final resolution on Kashmir.

Manmohan had the intent, Modi also has the capacity to deliver and a sense of timing. That may finally make the difference between a bleeding conflict and its possible resolution.


* Subir Bhaumik wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on April 01, 2017.


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