‘Modi’s Naga peace deal a death knell for BJP in northeast’ 

A former interlocutor and BJP leaders believe the ‘historic’ Naga framework agreement with NSCN(I-M) hasn’t been made public due to the repercussions it could have for the party in the northeast

Getty images
Getty images

Dhairya Maheshwari

August 3, 2015, was meant to be a historic day for India’s northeast and the country, as the government signed a framework agreement with the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah) faction. Billed as a historic peace deal that would bring to end India’s oldest insurgency, the Naga Peace Accord was sold off as a major achievement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a feat no PM could accomplish in the past.

Closely kept under the wraps by the government until this year, the outlines of the supposed deal only emerged in July this year in the 213th report on the security situation in the northeast, tabled by the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report on Home Affairs before both the houses in July this year. RN Ravi, Centre’s current interlocutor, told the Parliamentary committee that the NSCN (I-M) had agreed to “special status” within India, as compared to its earlier stand of “with India, not within India.”

Ravi went on to tell the Parliamentary committee, as noted in the report, that a special status would mean affording special rights to Nagas in Nagaland, as well as to those in the neighbouring states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, under Article 371(A) of the Constitution. While Centre has explicitly assured that the boundary of the three states won’t be altered as part of the settlement, it appears that stakeholders in the three states haven’t been taken on board.

In the first week of August, civil society groups in Manipur stormed into the house of state BJP President K Bhabhananda Singh in reaction to the Centre agreeing to the demand of bringing all Naga-inhabited areas under Article 371(A). Earlier this month, the government also called off a meeting with NSCN(I-M), due to take place in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tirap district, after certain local groups claimed that the Naga Framework Agreement could have compromised the territorial integrity of Arunachal Pradesh. Three districts of the border state, Tirap, Changlang and Longding, feature on the map of Greater Nagalim and have a strong NSCN(I-M) presence.

For the BJP and Modi, the announcement of the framework agreement and the subsequent secrecy is already backfiring, as evidenced by the restlessness of the many MPs and various stakeholders in the three states.

Highly placed sources in BJP’s Nagaland unit have confirmed to NH that out of seven Naga insurgent groups, NSCN(Khaplang) was still averse to signing the peace accord. “But, we are trying to get them on board. They now have a new president which is encouraging.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs, at the time of tabling its report, urged the government to seal the Naga peace deal at the earliest, noting that there already had been a lapse of three years since it was announced in 2015.

A former interlocutor for the Indian government told National Herald that the government “didn’t have the guts to make the Naga peace deal public.”

“The CMs of three states, all ruled by the BJP, were in Delhi recently and expressed grave concerns over possible backlash for the party and implications for the security situation in general if territorial integrity of any of these states was compromised because of the Naga Peace Deal. It would deal a death knell to the BJP in the entire northeast,” the interlocutor said on condition of anonymity. The interlocutor disputed Ravi’s claim that civil society organisations in neighbouring states had been taken on board on the framework agreement. “Why are we seeing these protests, then?” he asked.

The former government representative reckoned that the repercussions would be particularly severe in Manipur, which has seven Naga-inhabited districts, Senapati, Tamenglong, Ukhrul, Chandel, Noney, Kamjong and Tengnoupal, all part of NSCN (I-M)’s plan for ‘Greater Nagaland’. “Meiteis, which are a majority in Manipur, won’t agree to ceding any part of Manipur, to Nagaland. Even granting autonomy to these districts won’t be acceptable. How will the BJP government in Manipur answer Meiteis,” the interlocutor asked. “The Nagas in Manipur are mostly confined to the hill districts, while Meiteis majorly live in the Valley,” the former official explained.

“I am pretty sure that the signing of the framework agreement with the NSCN(I-M) was just a gimmick. The devil lies in the details. Let them come out with the framework agreement,” said the interlocutor.

Highly placed sources in BJP’s Nagaland unit have confirmed to NH that out of seven Naga insurgent groups, NSCN(Khaplang) was still averse to signing the peace accord. “But, we are trying to get them on board. They now have a new president which is encouraging. We couldn’t reach an agreement with the earlier president, SS Khaplang, since he was from Myanmar. The new leader is from Nagaland,” said sources. NSCN(K) reportedly carried out a massive attack on the Army in Manipur in June 2015, resulting in deaths of at least 18 soldiers. The group is believed to have nearly 300 trained fighters.

Insiders in BJP’s Assam unit confided that the general public in Assam didn’t want an inch of the state’s territory ceded to Nagaland. “I think the sentiment is shared among people of all three states. There can’t be any more cartographic divisions in the northeast. The secrecy around the agreement must end,” the sources said. In Assam, the Dima Hasao district has found its way on the map of Greater Nagaland. “The sentiment is, however, not as strong as in Manipur,” sources said. “It is not easy taking every Naga faction on board. I don’t understand why the PM was in a hurry to announce a framework agreement,” said the former interlocutor.

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