Nagaland polls: Despite BJP claims, not everyone satisfied with peace talks process, says Lotha Ho Ho leader

As the BJP attempts to make further inroads into the North East by making the ongoing peace talks with Naga cessationist groups its main poll plank in Nagaland, Mhao Humtsoe, leader of the Lotha tribe, says not everyone is satisfied with the way the peace talks are being carried out.

He says that many people are not happy with the peace talks as the territorial boundary of Nagaland is not yet demarcated and the peace talks do not include the demand for integration of the Naga territories.

Lotha is a major Naga tribe residing in the hilly terrain of Wokha district. Known as a hunter tribe earlier, Lotha now has a population of more than five lakh and plays a decisive role in four of the 60 Assembly constituencies in Nagaland.

File image of Mhao Humtsoe. Source: Screengrab of video interview

File image of Mhao Humtsoe, leader of the Lotha tribe. Source: Screengrab of video interview

Humtsoe leads the civil society organisation Lotha Ho Ho. Naga civil society organisations are mostly apolitical in nature and they keep a safe distance from electoral politics.

Humtsoe spoke to Firstpost on the condition that no issue related to electoral politics would be addressed in the conversation.

Speaking on the Naga peace talks, he said, "Though people welcome the talks, they are not satisfied with the way it has been taken ahead. One important reason is that Nagaland’s territorial boundaries are not yet demarcated. So, the question arises about which territory the peace talks are being carried out? And whether the peace talk is about the Nagas or about some other people?"

Significantly, Nagaland has a long-standing border dispute with neighbouring state Assam. The Nagaland State Act of 1962 defines the borders of Nagaland. Nagas did not accept the borders defined by it and demanded that Nagaland should comprise of the erstwhile Naga Hills and all Naga-dominated areas of North Cachar and Nagaon district of Assam, which a notification issued in the year 1866 had defined as Naga territory.

The disputed areas are now densely inhabited by non-Nagas as well.

Humtsoe's voice is unlikely to be representative of all Lothas, but it can be predictive of the resistance the BJP may face in few pockets in the constituencies where the former Congressman's views strike a chord.

He further asserted that the talks should be about the Naga people living in a clearly demarcated Nagaland and not a vague area. "The geographical territory of Nagaland can be extended to the Naga areas falling in political boundaries other than Nagaland if the Government of India wants," said the former Congress MLA.

Integration of the Naga areas has all along been one of the most contentious issues in the Naga peace talks. The insurgent outfit NSCN (IM) has been demanding the formation of a greater Nagalim by integrating Naga-inhabited areas in Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar. The Centre has repeatedly ruled out any possibility of integration of Naga territories in the final agreement.

The ongoing Naga peace talks even without the possibility of integration of Naga territories have been seen as a silver lining by many in the insurgency-ridden state of Nagaland. In fact, all the political parties in Nagaland are claiming their share of credit for it.

Significantly, former chief minister of Nagaland Neiphiu Rio, who had earlier been seen as a flag bearer of the demand for integration of Naga territories told Firspost in an exclusive interview: "Though physical integration of Naga territories is said to be not possible by the Government of India, but cultural, political and social integration is required and both sides seem to have agreed with it." Rio is the chief ministerial candidate of the NDPP-BJP alliance.

But Humtsoe suggests that integration of Naga areas should also be a part of the talks. "The peace process should not only result in people's integration but also in geographical integration," he said.

He also said that though many political parties are claiming credit for the peace talks, people are yet to be sure as to which claim to trust upon because the contents of the agreement are yet to be known.

Lotha dominated areas in Nagaland are seen by the BJP as its stronghold. It has fielded candidates in three constituencies, including former home minister Y Patton in the state government who has recently joined the saffron party switching his political affiliation from Naga People’s Front.

Though the BJP sees the Lotha populated area as it’s stronghold, party insiders also say that there is still some resistance in some pockets. The saffron party’s success would depend on the overcoming these challenges.

Published Date: Feb 23, 2018 18:11 PM | Updated Date: Mar 01, 2018 16:07 PM

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