In a major development 11 parties in Nagaland, including the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) and its ally BJP’s state unit, have come together and decided not to field any candidate in the upcoming assembly polls next month.
VS Atem the Special Emissary to the Collective Leadership of NSCN (IM) has said that, “for Naga tribes elections are not important but resolution of long standing conflict is important.” The move appears to be choreographed to put pressure on the Centre Government to come clean on the Naga Framework Agreement. The dichotomy is that Arunachal, Manipur and Assam are against the agreement without their consent on the provisions of the accord. The accord is shrouded in secrecy and neither the people are aware nor the affected states are aware of the provisions of the accord.
The boycott by 11 parties including state BJP unit has put the Centre in a bind. If the elections are postponed or boycotted there are chances that the efforts of brining NSCN (IM) to the negotiating table will come to naught. Naga tribes of the North East had high aspirations from the Framework Agreement and if the talks breakdown on election issue it will be a set back to the entire peace and development process in the North East. Danger is that it will also have adverse impact on future negotiations and conflict resolution efforts of the government with other parties to the conflict.
States have categorially intimated their concerns to the Centre that territorial boundaries of the states are non-negotiable. Shared sovereignty can only be extended for cultural practices but tempering with the federal functioning is not acceptable in any manner.
Will the political autonomy to Nagaland without incorporating the Naga tribes of other three states meet the aspirations of entire community or will the Naga tribes from Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam feel betrayed? NSCN (IM) military wing and top leadership is from Manipur and excluding Naga inhabited areas of Manipur out of the accord will not be acceptable to the NSCN (IM.
What is the way ahead? It is a tightrope walk for the Centre Government first to meet the aspirations of the Naga community, affected states (Nagaland, Manipur, Assam & Arunachal Pradesh) and other tribes/communities of these states. One may debate the pros and cons of keeping the provisions of Framework Agreement shrouded in secrecy and logic of keeping the states out of the ambit of the Framework Agreement, but the importance of engaging with the parties to the conflict cannot be ignored.
The best bet for the government is to engage with the parties to the conflict irrespective of their ulterior motives. However, in retrospect one may suggest that such Framework Agreement should only be proceeded with after due consultation with all the stakeholders. As a matter of principle such complex agreements should not be done in a hurry because otherwise it is likely to be perceived as appeasement of one community and against many other stakeholders. Where government has faltered is that the party to peace accord should be people (various ethnic tribes) and local governments because if it is not acceptable to all the stakeholders, the accord itself is dead on arrival. The stand taken by 11 Naga political parties is to pressurise centre government to accept their demand and centre government should not enter into an agreement under pressure without safeguarding the aspirations of other states and non Naga tribes. To break the stalemate, Government of India could offer the status of ‘Hill Councils’ to Naga inhabited areas of Manipur, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh with cultural sovereignty without compromising state and national sovereignty.