The Central government has signed one agreement after another with Naga rebel organisations to broker peace but all such efforts have yielded no results. The Naga issue has once again become complicated amid boycott of elections and BJP’s decision to contest the ensuing State elections.
The BJP has pulled out of the 11-party joint declaration that none of them will contest the Assembly elections scheduled for February 27 if the much publicised-yet-wrapped Framework Agreement was not implemented before the polls.
Moreover, in a dramatic turn, the BJP, has ended its 15-year old alliance with the Naga Peoples Front (NPF) and joined hands with the newly-formed National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP). The BJP will contest 20 seats and the NDPP the remaining 40.
An Old Problem
Now, the other political parties have indicated that they would also follow suit if the BJP and NDPP contest the election. But the BJP pulling out of the election boycott declaration will adversely impact its electoral performance. The Naga Club, the first organised body of the Naga tribes, was formed in 1918. Thereafter, many other organisations, rebel outfits, civil society bodies and political parties were formed to highlight the Naga problems. Incidentally, this year marks the centenary of the Naga Club. Hundred years have passed by but no solution to the Naga issues is in sight.
In 1946, the Naga Club was renamed as the Naga Nationalist Council (NNC). A moderate faction of Naga organisations, which did not want their territory to be included in British-ruled India, signed a 9-point agreement on June 29, 1947, with then Governor of Assam, Sir Akbar Hyderi. The agreement, which they termed as temporary and experimental, enabled ten years of coexistence with India. This arrangement was rejected by NNC-led by Dr AZ Phizo and he declared independence on August 14, 1947.
Agreeing to Disagree
Growing difference among various Naga factions and their leaders has led to internal violence. On December 1, 1963, the State of Nagaland was formed, carving out from the territories of Naga Hill district of Assam. Thereafter, came the historical Shillong Accord between the Government of India and the NNC in 1975. The rebels accepted the Constitution of India unconditionally, surrendered arms and renounced the demand for sovereign Nagaland.
However, leaders of the NNC like Isac Chishi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and Khaplang rejected the agreement and formed the Nationalists Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and floated a Naga federal government with both civil and military wings. The outfit again split into NSCN (I-M) and NSCN (K). On August 1, 1997, a Ceasefire Agreement was negotiated between the Government of India and the NSCN (I-M). Later, the NSCN (K) also joined the agreement, only to withdraw on March 27, 2015. The NSCN (K) again split and the NSCN (Reformation) group was formed. The Ceasefire Agreement became a periodical extension exercise without any progress of peace process.
Amid such a stalemate, on August 3, 2015, another ‘historic’ agreement was signed with much fanfare between the Government of India and NSCM (I-M). This was termed as the Framework Agreement. However, the content of this agreement remains wrapped, paving the way for speculation among various stakeholders. Separate flag, shared sovereignty, creation of greater Nagaland or Nagalim from Naga-inhabited territories of Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and even Myanmar are among such speculations.
So, many organisations jumped into action accusing the BJP of overlooking the interest and territorial integrity of the neighbouring States. However, three BJP-ruled States — Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur – have categorically assured the people that there was nothing in the Framework Agreement that compromises their territorial integrity. Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal said in a meeting last October at Sonari, Dibrugarh, that the people of Assam should not be worried about the Framework Agreement. He assured them that the integrity of Assam would not be compromised at any cost. Amid apprehensions and assurances, the Framework Agreement has remained a debatable issue in the States concerned.
Jagadamba Mall, a veteran Rashtriya Sayamsevk Sangh (RSS) pracharak active in Nagaland for over four decades, revealed details of the Framework Agreement to the media and claimed that he had drafted the peace agreement. The draft copy sent to the media by Mall reveals that a union territory of Frontier Nagaland will be carved out from Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, including Dima Hasao, autonomous district of Assam.
The story enraged the natives of Dima Hasao. Some of them set the RSS office ablaze in Haflong, the capital of Dima Hasao. The protests against the RSS’ proposed draft plan for Nagaland snowballed. There were tensions between the police and the pubic in Maibong, a small town in Dima Hasao, and as a result, two people died and many injured. The Centre, which has kept the contents of the Framework Agreement secret should have immediately clarified Mall’s claim. However, it chose to remain silent.
Two-and-a-half years have gone by since the signing of the Framework Agreement. The much-publicised historic agreement signed by Prime Minister Modi is now on test. If the Centre finally agrees under pressure to implement the Framework Agreement, the content of the same will automatically be known to the public. If the content resembles the draft claimed to be prepared by Mall, peace could be in peril.
(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)