Proceeding with caution

As leaders camp in Delhi, the home ministry is treading carefully on the Naga accord

PTI8_3_2015_000288B Watch your step: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval | PTI

AMU, 27, joined the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) at an age when his friends wanted to go to Delhi for studies and to get well-paying jobs. He left his home in Ukhrul, Manipur—the hometown of the NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah—to follow in the leader’s footsteps and fight for a Greater Nagalim, which would include the state of Nagaland and large areas in Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Myanmar.

The Nagas of Manipur, a sizeable population, mostly live on the hills surrounding the valley, which is inhabited by the state’s dominant community—the Meiteis. The NSCN(IM), as part of its Greater Nagalim map, stakes claim over Manipur’s Ukhrul, Senapati, Chandel and Tamenglong districts.

Muivah, a Tangkhul Naga from Somdal village in Ukhrul district, is an inspiration not only for Amu, but also for thousands of other Manipuri youth who have joined the Naga insurgency movement. The Tangkhul tribe dominates the NSCN(IM) leadership.

Muivah is also the chief negotiator of the peace talks with the NDA government, after he signed the historic framework agreement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 3, 2015, to bring a lasting solution to the longest-running insurgency in the country.

Said Amu: “I decided to join the NSCN(IM) when I finished school. In fact, my family supported my decision. I came to Delhi with my friends, who were going there to work and study. Soon, I started working in a call centre. But, within months, I felt I was wasting my time. I left that job to return to Hebron (headquarters of the NSCN(IM)). I feel happy dedicating my life for a cause.”

Many others like Amu are looking to Muivah and Modi to bring peace and prosperity to the people of not only Nagaland, but also to those of other states.

Every few months, Amu journeys from the jungles of Hebron to his village of Ukhrul, where his family lives. Though Manipur is a small state, with a population of about 28 lakh, it is home to about 40 different communities and tribes. Most of them have been living together for centuries, and they all speak Manipuri.

“Any solution to the vexed Naga problem must keep in mind the historical, geographical and cultural realities of the state,” said BJP MLA P. Brojen, who has been camping in Delhi since July 14, along with Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh and other legislators. Their demand—an assurance from the Centre that the Naga peace deal would not be finalised without the consent of their state assembly.

Their visit comes amid reports that the government was inching closer to a final deal with the NSCN(IM). Moreover, on July 1, the NSCN(IM) had said that integration of all Naga-inhabited areas was an important part of the ongoing talks with the Centre.

“The people of Manipur are not against a peaceful settlement between the NSCN(IM) and the government,” said Brojen. “But care should be taken not to disturb other states and communities. In Manipur, there is not a single district where only one community is settled. So, any supra state or an alternative administrative arrangement for the Naga-dominated areas is not only going to create chaos, but could also invite civil war. It will destroy the social and cultural fabric of the state.”

Senior officials in the home ministry said that while the Centre has the power to bring a constitutional amendment or tweak Article 371(A) to give more powers to Naga-inhabited regions, care is being taken to avoid such a move. The current Parliament session began on July 18, but a cautious home ministry has not yet listed any bill regarding this.

All the while, Biren Singh and his team of 30 legislators are watching closely. The security situation in Manipur has started improving and neither the home ministry nor the state government wants any violence between the ethnic groups owing to the pressure tactics of the Naga outfits.

“The citizenship issue is already plaguing Assam, where the government is trying to create a national register of citizens,” said a senior government official. “Manipur is also apprehensive about the demands of the Naga groups. We will keep everything in mind before we take a decision.”

The signing of a Naga peace accord, especially before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, will be a feather in Modi’s cap. He can claim credit for ending the long-running insurgency. Like in 1985, when prime minister Rajiv Gandhi got credit for signing the Assam Accord.

However, there are also lessons to be learnt from history. In June 2001, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had extended the ceasefire with the NSCN(IM) “without territorial limits”. Those three words set Manipur on fire, literally. The secretariat was torched and violent protests claimed 18 lives. This forced the government to revert to the original ceasefire rules.

So, if and when the Modi government inks a peace deal, each word will count.