The interlocutor in the Naga peace talks has revealed a possible solution. But there are concerns about the Centre’s concessions
By Pradip Phanjoubam | Source—The New Indian Express
The interview of R N Ravi, the interlocutor of the peace talks between the Government of India and Naga underground groups, the chief among them being NSCN (IM), by a national daily last fortnight in which the interlocutor reportedly revealed a model of the proposed solution to the vexed Naga problem, has been, as expected, a matter of much speculation and anxiety in most of the Northeast regions, in particular Manipur. The report also said the proposed solution is due for declaration in the very near future, adding to the sense of urgency.
The concern is not at all about an amicable resolution, but some of the concessions the Centre is supposedly contemplating. The most contentious of these is the hint that a Naga Territorial Council would be formed in Manipur and in Arunachal Pradesh. For some reasons, the report said Assam will not come under the purview of the agreement. This is not explained but nonetheless intriguing, for only in January two youth were killed in agitation at just the hint that Assam’s Dima Hasao district would be included in a Greater Nagaland or Nagalim, as part of the peace pact.
Whatever the reason for the supposed exclusion of Assam from the negotiations, the matter is sensitive and can cause violent ethnic unrests in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh too. The interlocutor was careful to mention no state boundary would be affected by the peace pact, and that Naga Territorial Councils formed in the two states would remain within their respective states. Would this be enough to ensure a trouble free sail to the peace accord? My answer is, this is unlikely and I will explain why.
Since sovereignty has been ruled out, what is that Nagas of Nagaland would get from the deal? One thing is clear, since Nagaland would remain an Indian state, a Greater Nagaland does not make any practical sense for in such a circumstance, Nagas of Nagaland may find themselves in a minority in Greater Nagaland. So after 70 years of trauma filled struggle for sovereignty would Nagaland be pleased with formation of two territorial councils, one in Manipur and another in Arunachal Pradesh as a solution? The reported pact plan does mention the introduction of a second house in the Nagaland Assembly, but can this be enough compensation?
Even if Nagaland reconciles to this fate, would Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur agree to such an arrangement? Manipur has been in the eye of the storm so anticipating its reaction should suffice to give a sense of the trouble ahead. Manipur, Assam and Arunachal have in the past repeatedly and vehemently objected to any suggestion at a dismembering of their territories. The proposed pact however emphasises no state boundaries would be altered so would there be still any reason for objection?
One needs to only look back to the 1990s to get a sense of where the possible trouble may be. This was the time a demand for the implementation of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in the hills of Manipur was on the verge of being conceded. The chief minister then, Rishang Keishing, had managed to somewhat pacify protests against the demand in the unreserved Imphal valley. This small valley, surrounded on all sides by hills reserved for Scheduled Tribes where the non-tribal valley dwellers were forbidden to settle, though the settlement traffic the other way was free, was apprehensive the siege they felt would tighten.
The hurdle which remained was in deciding the number of Autonomous District Councils, ADCs, to be formed. There were two models proposed. One was to have six ADCs constituting the then five hill districts and Sadar hills. The other was to have just two ADCs. One of these was to be formed of four of the five hill districts which the Nagas considered their domain. Churachandpur, dominated by Kukis aligned tribes, was to be the second ADC.
The two-ADC model was a non-starter as the then Sadar hills as well as Chandel districts, with a large population of Kukis, objected to being termed Naga territories. The government then finally decided to go for the six ADCs model, but this was vehemently opposed by the United Naga Council, proclaiming the Nagas were not ready to sacrifice even an inch of their ancestral land and would not allow Sadar hills to be treated as a separate entity. Indeed, the Sixth Schedule implementation failed more because of this contradiction than opposition from the valley. The main hurdle even then was on deciding what exactly constituted Naga territory.
R N Ravi’s reported proposal of the Naga Territorial Council in Manipur, appears uncannily like the failed second model of the Sixth Schedule in Manipur in the 1990s. The plan seems to be to rearrange the hills of Manipur into two autonomous territorial groupings. One will be consist of all that the NSCN(IM) claims are ancestral Naga homeland, and this will roughly coincide with the original four districts of Senapati, Ukhrul, Tamenglong and Chandel districts. The other will be the old Churachandpur district.
The trouble is, Sadar hills, now Kangpokpi district, seems not to have been taken into cognisance, and is proposed to be treated as part of this Naga Territorial Council. This, anybody who knows the ethnic composition of the Manipur hills, will vouch, is asking for disaster. Then there is Chandel, now split into Chandel and Tengnoupal districts, cannot in any realistic sense be called exclusive Naga homeland. Here too, any attempt to treat it as such will predictably lead to another explosion of ethnic strife. My own guess is, the much hyped Naga solution is destined to remain as another case of “Waiting for Godot” for a long time to come, or at least until some minds are willing to come out of a long redundant past.
Pradip Phanjoubam is a Senior journalist and author of The Northeast Question: Conflicts and Frontiers/Email: firstname.lastname@example.org