The much-hyped October 31 talks between the NSCN(IM) and the BJP-led government at the Centre have not only failed to excite the Nagas, but have rather added to apprehension and curiosity among the people in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and even in Nagaland.
Although a statement issued by the NSCN (IM) on October 31 said god has answered “your (Naga people’s) prayers” and they are now able to take positive steps towards a solution, the reality seemed to be different on the ground. The grassroots people are yet to know what exactly was agreed upon by both parties.
While the talks have failed to excite the Nagas, who have been waiting for more than six decades for a lasting solution to the Indo-Naga political conflict, the negotiations have led to widespread apprehension and protests in Manipur, which has substantial Naga population.
People from cross-sections of the society have hit the streets in Manipur demanding that the central government ensure territorial integrity of the state. With the NSCN (IM) stressing on an ‘inclusive package for the Nagas’, people in Manipur are worried that the outcome of the talks will affect the territorial integrity of the state.
The recent declaration of Manipur ‘independence’ in London by two separatist leaders is also cause for worry for the people of the state vis-à-vis the talks with NSCN (IM), which continued for past 22 years.
“There is a vacuum at present. People in Nagaland have waited too long and now that the formal talks are over, they are keen and curious to know what the talks have in store for them. However, nothing is in public domain. It is not wise to keep the people waiting for too long, particularly on an issue which is very close to their heart,” said Nagaland-based journalist and activist Bano Haralu.
While the lack of clarity on talks has led to anxiety among the Meitis in Manipur, it has also aggrieved the Nagas in the state. Any package, like autonomy for Nagas in Manipur, might make the Meities unhappy, and at the same time a raw deal to the Nagas might trigger unrest in Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur.
Political parties in Manipur have demanded that Union Home Minister Amit Shah make good on his assurance that a lasting solution to the Naga political issue will not be inked without consulting the parties of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh has also reiterated that Shah categorically told him that no decision will be taken without consulting the stakeholder states, particularly Manipur.
Singh had recently led a delegation of all political parties to Delhi to meet Shah. The delegation discussed at length the Naga talks and its impact in Manipur.
Although there have not been much protests in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam over the Naga talks, tension has gripped some areas, particularly the Naga-dominated areas. While there is sizable Naga population in Assam’s Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao district, Arunachal Pradesh’s Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts also have sizable Naga population.
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had earlier stated that the government would not compromise with the state’s territorial integrity and that the state would not part with “even an inch” of its land.
The All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union had also warned the central government against the impact of the talks on the territorial integrity of the state.
The Arunachal Pradesh Pradesh Congress Committee (APPCC) has written to Chief Minister Pema Khandu seeking an all-party meeting to discuss the ongoing Naga peace talks and the framework agreement signed between the NSCN (IM) and government of India in 2015. The opposition party had also asked the CM to make the government’s stand clear on the Naga talks before a final decision is taken over the issue by the Centre.
All this has forced the Centre to issue an urgent communication stating: “It has come to notice of the Government that lots of rumours and misinformation is being spread in media, including social media that final Naga settlement has been arrived at and will be announced soon. This is creating anxiety and concern in some parts of the country. It is clarified that before any settlement is arrived at with Naga groups, all stakeholders including States of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh will be duly consulted and their concerns will be taken into consideration.”
It’s noteworthy that the Naga insurgency movement is one of the longest political conflicts in Asia and a success of the Naga peace talks is a prerequisite to establishing lasting peace in the whole of the region, particularly at a time when the BJP, which rules at the Centre, is looking east through the northeast.
The NSCN (IM), which signed a ceasefire agreement with the government of India in 1997, had taken part in over 100 rounds of talks — some held abroad and some in India — in the last 22 years. Integration of all Naga-inhabited areas in the region is one of the main demands of the outfit, which calls the region ‘greater Nagalim’, a demand which has threatened the territorial integrity of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
(The writer is a freelance journalist. Views are personal)