Nagaland polls: Parties promise settlement on Naga issue, voters unconvinced
Union home minister Amit Shah on Monday asserted that the initiative taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bring lasting peace in Nagaland will bear fruit
With Nagaland heading for assembly polls on February 27, political parties are banking on promises of an acceptable settlement and support for the ongoing Naga peace process to woo voters though the people of the northeastern state appear to be unconvinced about their promises.
The voters are no longer buying the promise of an early settlement of the Naga political issue as it has become an easy excuse for parties to woo votes in every election, Rosemary Dzuvichu, a professor of English at the Nagaland University and advisor to the influential Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA) told HT.
“A majority of the rural people want peace and are loyalists to the Naga cause because much has been sacrificed and lost but at the end of the day, they will assess candidates and not promises of political parties, and the trustworthy one will win their votes,” she said.
Naga People’s Front (NPF) chief and former chief minister Shürhozelie Liezietsu says elections and the Indo-Naga issue are deeply related.
Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) president Kegwayhun Tep said one of the core slogans of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state during the last assembly polls in 2018 was “Election for Solution”, but the issue has remained to date.
However, Union home minister Amit Shah, campaigning in Mon district on Monday for the BJP and chief minister Neiphiu Rio’s Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), assured that the two pre-poll allies will form the government again in the state and asserted that the initiative taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bring lasting peace in the northeastern state will bear fruit.
“There was an insurgency in Nagaland before 2014... We started the peace process. I am hopeful that the initiative of Prime Minister Narendra Modi will bear fruit in bringing lasting peace in the state with the preservation of Naga culture, language and tradition,” he said.
“I promise you all that after the elections, the agreement (reached between the Union home ministry and the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO), the apex tribal body in the region) will be implemented through which all issues of eastern Nagaland will be addressed. There will be massive development in the region and you will get your rights,” he said.
“I wonder if the state unit and he (Shah) are on the same page. The Union home minister has a major role to play in bringing peace through an early settlement. Time is of the essence and maybe they think all Nagas are gullible. Some of us are not,” said Dzuvichu.
“The BJP leaders should show utmost sincerity and sheer commitment if any solution is to be brought about to the Indo Naga political issue which is long overdue,” said Kegwayhun Tep.
Peace activist from the region Niketu Iralu echoed a similar line and said the ball is now in the Centre’s court.
Liezietsu said everything is changing with time but the Naga issue has not changed, nor has the NPF party except for its nomenclature over the years.
When Nagaland first faced elections in 1964 during the peak of the Naga nationalist movement, the regional party was formed under the nomenclature, the Democratic Party of Nagaland by likeminded Naga leaders with the objective to facilitate a peace treaty between the Centre and the Naga nationalist workers under the Naga National Council (NNC).
Over the years, the AZ Phizo-led parent body of the NNC broke into splinter groups. While they all aspire for Naga sovereignty, they developed different ideologies and approaches.
In 2015, the Centre signed the Framework Agreement with the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) after 18 years of truce between them. The Centre also went on to sign “Agreed Position” with a conglomeration of seven other Naga national political groups (NNPGs) in 2017.
But the talks came to a halt in October 2019 over certain issues pertaining to the Framework Agreement, and the NSCN (IM) stood firm on its demand for a separate Naga flag and constitution, which is largely stated to be the main reason for the delay in inking a deal to settle the protracted issue.
Political negotiations resumed in September 2021 after the Centre assigned former Intelligence Bureau (IB) special director AK Mishra as its emissary to revive the stalled peace process but a settlement is yet to be arrived.
In the 60-seat Nagaland Legislative Assembly, the MLAs have over the years been playing the role of a go-between with the negotiating parties and pressing for an “inclusive, honourable and acceptable” solution.
“While acting as facilitators between the government of India and Naga groups, there are times our intentions are looked upon with suspicion by both sides. But our stand is clear. We all want a settlement at the earliest, as do the Naga people,” said chief minister Neiphiu Rio.
Liezietsu said, “You may ask how come 60 years on and still nothing happened. Elected representatives of the people play a facilitator role and they are not directly involved in the peace talks.”
In the ensuing polls, with nine national parties fielding candidates, both Rio and Liezietsu, who are from regional parties, have asked the electorates to know the intentions and ideologies vis-a-vis the Naga issue, of whichever party the candidates they are supporting.
Iralu was less subtle in his remark about the presence of national parties and the relevance of the Naga political issue in the forthcoming election.
“The raw message of the saffron party is that Nagas will be developed beyond recognition if its candidates are elected. There is no doubt that the party has a policy for a settlement where our own understanding of our history for which we have paid such a heavy price will cease to matter for Delhi. Our dividedness has bankrupted and disabled us in every way. This is how I believe we, who are at the receiving end, are seeing what is happening and feeling it. The point is we must learn the lessons from our failures,” said the activist.
However, state BJP chief spokesperson Kuputo Shohe said the issue remains a top priority for the party whether it is mentioned in the manifesto or not. “The early settlement of the Naga issue remains at the top of the party’s priority and the state unit has a standing resolution regarding this matter,” he said.