The likelihood of severe disillusionment cannot be ruled out if Nagaland elections are held without a peace accord. People are already losing faith after two and half decades of talks and Nagaland elections without a peaceful settlement would result in all political parties and Government of India losing all credibility.
By Ngaranmi Shimray
The English language defines dilemma as a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially ones that are equally undesirable. Hence the question; is the Naga peace talk in a dilemma?
The constellation of events have pushed the negotiators and the decision makers in the Naga talk to a corner. More than a generation of talks have yielded many agreeable points sans two; the naga constitution and the flag. These two issues have threatened to split the Naga side vertically and derail the peace process. The pressure for conclusion of peace talks is felt acutely by all stakeholders as the general elections to the Nagaland assembly draws closer.
The general elections in Nagaland is required to be announced by the last week of January 2023. The Nagas of Nagaland were promised in the last elections that the Naga talks would be peacefully settled before the elections in 2023. On account of this assurance and expectation all political parties and stakeholders are reluctant to go for elections in 2023 without clinging a peace settlement.
The likelihood of severe disillusionment cannot be ruled out if Nagaland elections are held without a peace accord. People are already gradually losing faith after two and half decades of talks and Nagaland elections without a peaceful settlement would result in all political parties and Government of India losing all credibility.
In the constellation of players is a group constituted by militant groups borne of Nagaland who are desirous of an immediate peaceful settlement before the announcement of elections and are ready to sign on the dotted lines. This group is willing to agree that the issues of a Naga constitution and Naga flag can be considered at a later stage post Naga peace settlement. While the main group which started the ball rolling for negotiated peaceful settlement want that the two issues of Naga constitution and flag should form part of the composite Naga settlement.
Recent consultations over the issue of a Naga constitution and flag in the Naga talks have indicated a positive realisation that Naga constitution and flags are important and peace settlement should not be delayed. But the million dollar question is whether the Naga peace settlement will be concluded before the last week of January 2023 when the announcement of general elections to the Nagaland assembly would be due.
The pressure felt by Nagaland is also being felt in Manipur where the complexity of engagement between the Schedule Tribes(ST) and the Meiteis is increasing. Groups purportedly representing Meiteis are demanding for inclusion in the ST category to get the benefits of reservation in education seats and Government employment. Prompted by the ST demand group, some elected representatives from the Meitei community have started to voice their thoughts openly that the demand of ST status is supported by them and the Meiteis should be allowed to own land in the hill areas and should not be confined in 10% of the land in the state. Such opinions are expressed in the backdrop of the fact that the state Government is controlled by them. The STs of Manipur appears to be dumbfounded by the aggressiveness of the Meiteis and are careful of not precipitating the issue by keeping mum for fear of provoking communal feelings. Latent tension already existed and can build up quickly on both sides to overt actions. The fears that unrestrained provocation will not lead to confrontation on communal lines is not unfounded.
The hegemonic attitude of some groups representing Meiteis who are engaged in an undisguised objective to kill two birds with one stone by becoming STs and have the right to buy land in the hill areas of Manipur is disconcerting. The aggressive move could result in undesirable confrontation between the Meiteis and the STs of Manipur. It goes without elaboration that giving ST status to Meiteis will deprive the existing STs of Manipur from education seats and employment as the Meiteis are better educated, enjoy greater social, economic and political power, and will corner all ST reserved seats and posts. They are also economically and politically stronger and this will be in a position to compel the poor ST to sell their lands in the hill areas.
The dilemma of taking a decision on honourable conclusion of the Naga peace talks before the announcement of elections in Nagaland exists. It is also not wrong to state that the stakes for Manipur is equally high since clarity on decentralisation of power and functions on local self governments for hill areas of Manipur is likely to be part of the Naga settlement. It is the expectation of the hill people of Manipur that granting autonomous district councils/regional territorial councils will firmly settle the issue of safeguards from alienation of ST lands in the hill areas of Manipur. For the sake of communal harmony in Manipur, it would be desirable that the Naga peace talk is concluded immediately before the announcement of elections in Nagaland as it would have the positive effect of defusing communal tensions in Manipur.
(Ngaranmi Shimray is a Delhi based activist. He can be contacted at :[email protected])