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Nagaland political parties boycott polls as Centre unable to work out peace deal

Speaking on the occasion of Republic Day in Kohima, Nagaland governor PB Acharya said the border state was on the "cusp of history", indicating high hopes of a peace deal being signed, and about the people’s growing aspiration of a resolution of the long standing issues. But little did he realise that undercurrents of anxiety and doubt were also mounting among different sections of the Nagas on the peace process that has dragged for two decades.

Incidentally, BJP and Congress have both supported the other political parties over the issue of 'Solution Before Election' and have agreed not to issue tickets to candidates for the Assembly elections, scheduled to be held on 27 February in the state.

"We firmly believe that it is expedient for all political parties, both national and regional, to come together in the greater interests of the state and in solidarity with the 'Solution Before Election' call, and defer the Assembly elections in order to allow the Naga political process to reach its logical conclusion…," the declaration, issued in Kohima on 29 January, in the presence of tribal and and civil society organisations, read.

 Nagaland political parties boycott polls as Centre unable to work out peace deal

Headquarters of the NSCN(IM) near Dimapur, Nagaland. Firstpost/Rajeev Bhattacharyya

The situation in Nagaland had been churning since 15 December when the legislative Assembly passed a resolution urging the Centre to arrive at a solution to resolve the Naga political issue, which had been hanging fire for several decades. The Assembly also appealed to all political parties to cooperate with the groups negotiating with the government.

Hopes soared after six more rebel groups in Nagaland were included within the ambit of the peace process some months ago, and the "framework agreement" concluded in 2015 between the Centre and the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM), fuelling speculation that a final agreement would be signed soon.

"The story began and ended at that," said an academic in Kohima who did not wish to be named. "There was no movement forward except statements from government functionaries at regular intervals. This served to create a consensus that the peace process must have a deadline and taken to a logical conclusion at the earliest."

The peace process began in 1995 after the NSCN(IM), once considered the mother of all insurgent groups in the North East, decided to explore the possibility of talks with the government. Several rounds of talks were held in foreign capitals with government officials for a ceasefire agreement which was inked two years later.

In 2003, the NDA regime began formal talks with NSCN(IM) after the arrival of its chairman Isak Chisi Swu and general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah in the capital. Several rounds of discussions have since been held on the NSCN(IM)'s 'Charter of Demands', with as many as five interlocutors being appointed thus far by the government for the talks.

Stalemate in the peace process

According to a section of government officials, talks with the NSCN(IM) are stuck over demands that the rebel group is unwilling to compromise.

The demands in the charter include a wide array of subjects, ranging from the political and economic to the cultural safeguards of the Naga inhabited region in the North East. It has been envisaged that a final solution would entail transfer of some subjects from the central and concurrent lists to the state list that's under the administrative control of the state government.

The Centre had already ruled out accepting Greater Nagalim, which would have led to the division of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh to bring all Naga inhabited regions in the Northeast under a single administrative banner. There are some other demands as well — like separate representation in the United Nations and a separate currency for the state — which have also been rejected.

According to an official, NSCN(IM) has been "unwavering" in demanding a separate flag and Constitution for the state which the government has been unable to decide on. In an interview to Hindustan Times two years ago, VS Atem, special emissary of NSCN(IM) to the leadership of the group, indicated as much, saying, "If Kashmir can have a separate flag, why not Nagas? China also has separate flags for Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan."

The NSCN(IM)'s argument for more concessions is based also on the special status of the state enshrined in Article 371 (A). In 2002, the government had accepted the "unique history and situation" of the Nagas in the Amsterdam communiqué, six months ahead of the rebel leaders' arrival in New Delhi.

It is reliably learnt that the NSCN(IM) has been bargaining hard for concessions in return for accepting the government's rejection of Greater Nagalim. Earlier, two interlocutors were known to have made a fervent case before the government for a quick decision on the demands, which included one placed before the previous UPA government as well.

The Election Commission is expected to announce its decision soon on Nagaland. With political parties determined not to budge until a solution is found, the ball is clearly in the Centre's court on the long drawn peace process with the Nagas, and whether it would be willing to go the extra mile for resolving the issues that have remained unsettled for almost seven decades.

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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2018 17:05:03 IST