By Pradip Phanjoubam
Worries about the Framework Agreement, FA, signed in August 2015 between the Government of India representatives and the NSCN(IM), is once again at its periodic crest in states that neighbour Nagaland – Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. The matter has acquired a sense of urgency given the fact the Nagaland Assembly elections are due barely two months ahead in February 2018, and the possibility that the ruling BJP may be under pressure to announce a peace accord that the FA anticipated to get electoral advantages. As of now, nothing much is known of the content of the FA, and it does seem what was agreed upon was literally an empty framework to be filled later with negotiated agreements.
Even if this is what it was, it is reasonable to presume that after more than two years of negotiations, there would have been a broad nebulous contour of an accord already evolved between the negotiating parties, though it is doubtful this would be a comprehensive one yet because of the many contradictions visibly embedded within this problematic issue. Probably this is also the reason why the contents of the FA have been kept undisclosed in all of the two years and more now.
Still and the public anxiety in states neighbouring Nagaland remains that the anticipated accord may likely work against their interests, considering one of the main demands of the NSCN(IM) is for a Greater Nagaland or Nagalim, a map that physically includes large chunks of what are claimed as traditional Naga domains but currently within the territorial bounds of the three neighbours. Manipur in particular stand to lose most if such a concession is made, therefore the state has been in the forefront opposing even the hint of any such move. The worries are understandable, even though the Centre has repeatedly assured that no concession on redrawing of state boundaries will ever be made, for when sensitive negotiations are held in secret for an extended period, rumours and speculations are bound to begin filling the information vacuum. Fuelling this fear further now is the anticipation, rightly or wrongly, that an accord may come to be announced for electoral gains in Nagaland.
In Manipur, there has been an ongoing demonstration by Congress leaders, led by former chief minister, Okram Ibobi and his erstwhile deputy chief minister, Gaikhangam, demanding the contents of the framework agreement be made known so as to allay the apprehension in the minds of the people. Already the signs are the BJP government headed by N. Biren Singh is nervous, as demonstrated an ugly incident last fortnight when some miscreants, quite obviously BJP workers, made an assault and disrupted one of the Congress protest sites in the home constituency of the chief minister.
It would be unreasonable to expect a running commentary of every meeting that takes place in the peace negotiation process for this can derail the negotiation process easily given the media’s notoriety for misrepresentation or else of blowing things out of proportion. We have seen this in the case of 3-member interlocutor panel headed by the late Dileep Padgaonkar and constituting of MM Ansari and Radha Kumar, on Kashmir, and ultimately the peace process itself had to be abandoned with mission far from accomplished. But for a peace negotiation that has been going on for two decades, and a framework agreement that has existed for more than two years now, perhaps a periodic updates on the progress would have been in place to control speculations and thereby allay unreasonable public apprehensions which can easily go out of control. For whatever its wisdom, the negotiators are still not doing this.
Our guess is, the broad contours of the Naga accord being work on, may be very close to what have been speculated by many for years. It probably will have a Pan-Naga cultural body in lieu of Greater Nagaland, modelled on the Sami Parliament or for a more immediate analogy, the Siromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee to which all Sikhs wherever they are, are spiritually affiliated to, though politically they are domiciles of, and are affiliated to the states they live in. On the political front, what probably is being envision are creation of autonomous councils for Nagas in states other than Nagaland. For Nagas in Nagaland, who already have a state with uniquely unmatched autonomy features guaranteed by Article 371-A of the constitution, an upper house of the Assembly could be the reward.
Even if this guess is anywhere close to the blueprint of the Naga truce being worked out, there are plenty more problems ahead in giving it a tangible political articulation. For one, the question as to who will be at the helm of the imagined Pan-Naga cultural body will have no easy answer. If this issue is to be decided by democratic norms, then Nagas of Nagaland would be left in a minority. The state has 15 Naga tribes excluding the Kukis. This number will be exceeded by Manipur alone. Together with those in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, Nagas of Nagaland, who understandably consider themselves as the core of the Naga question, will be left fighting for a respectable handle in the power structure of this body, quite like the manner in which Nagas of Nagaland are today marginalised in the NSCN(IM). Indeed, if Greater Nagaland were to be conceded to, this problem would have probably manifested in a much bigger way.
There is yet one more anticipated problem which is even more fundamental than this one. There was another truce reached between the Naga underground and the Government of India with the signing of the Shillong Accord in 1975. This accord which forsook the demand for Naga sovereignty and agreed for a settlement within the Constitution of India was violently rejected by sections of the Naga underground leadership who later formed the NSCN to continue the Naga struggle. Much water has flowed down the river Doyang in the 43 years that elapsed since, and together with it, much Naga blood and tears as well. And now another accord is being worked out. The question in every Naga’s mind would be, is this new accord going to give them anything more substantial than the Shillong Accord. If in the end, this accord reduces to autonomous district councils for Nagas in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, would the Nagas in Nagaland see justification for having been made to go through an additional 43 years of turmoil. So far people have been anticipating that the FA would face hurdles in Nagaland’s neighbouring states. But nobody has considered the possibility that depending on the final shape of the Naga truce, the bigger hurdle could be coming from Nagaland itself.
The BJP is indeed in an unenviable position at the moment. It would have to probably show that the FA has made good progress before the February election in Nagaland, lest it comes to be seen as ineffective. But announcing the progress, if any, may have backlashes of the nature sketched above. Moreover, all three Nagaland neighbours, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur are now BJP ruled states, and the BJP central leadership may not be too keen to alienate them by forcing terms on them. This is especially in the wake of the BJP’s marginal victory in the Gujarat Assembly elections. The party may not now be confident to play the Naga card as it would have liked to. What probably can be expected is for only a part of the concessions that would come with the final truce to be announced. Say for instance, a promise for an upper house of the Nagaland Assembly, but nothing yet on the non-Nagaland Nagas.
(First published in Assam Tribune)
Source: Imphal Free Press