By: RK Bobichand
Imphal, Jan 22:
While the civil society organisations and bodies of Naga tribes of Nagaland have been pressing for Naga political solution before election, the Election Commission of India on January 18 in New Delhi has announced that the Nagaland State Legislative Assembly Election will be held on February 27, 2023 and vote will be counted on March 2, 2023.
Though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had coined the slogan “Election for Solution” during campaigning for the 2018 Nagaland State Assembly Election, no solution to Naga political issue is in sight before another election on February 27, 2023.
Civil society organisations and a section of political parties in Nagaland are disappointed with the announcement of the date for State Assembly election with no solution to the protracted Naga political issue in sight.
The Government of India has been holding separate peace talks with NSCN (IM) since August 1, 1997 and the Working Committee of Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), comprising at least seven Naga insurgent groups, since 2017. The Government of India has signed the Framework Agreement with NSCN (IM) on August 3, 2015 and Agreed Position with NNPGs on November 17, 2017. While NNPGs have agreed to accept a negotiated solution and continue negotiating further demands, the final settlement is yet to be attained with NSCN (IM) sticking to its gun on its demand for a separate flag and constitution for the Nagas, besides integration of all the Nagas under one umbrella.
According to reports, civil society organisations said the Government of India should prove its sincerity in solving the Naga political issue while the Congress and the Naga People’s Party (NPF), though unhappy, will contest the election.
The NPF said the top priority of the party is an honourable solution to the Naga political issue. “We will contest the election with our manifesto on good and corruption-free governance, besides working for an honourable and acceptable solution to the Naga political problem,” NPF Secretary General Achumbemo Kikon said.
Congress said the EC could have deferred the election in Nagaland but it went ahead in announcing the poll which “betrayed the aspiration of the people”. “The party is not happy with the announcement of election,” state Congress President K Therie said.
Meanwhile, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) which has the largest number of MLAs in the all-party government in Nagaland and the BJP are silent over the issue.
It may be mentioned that in the 60-member assembly, the NDPP has 41 members, BJP has 12, and NPF has four. There are two Independents while one seat is vacant.
Moreover, the civil society organisations have been urging the Government of India to take steps for finding a solution to the issue.
Reports said the Nagaland Peoples’ Action Committee (NPAC) on Naga Political Issue Convener Theja Therieh expressed that despite the announcement of the election date, Government of India still has the power to take a decision on bringing about the Naga solution as the notification is not out yet.
Naga Mothers’ Association advisor Rosemary Dzuvichu is quoted as saying that the Government of India will have to prove its sincerity in bringing about an accord respecting Naga rights and history.
“The slogan, election for solution, has become a rhetorical statement. They have forgotten to listen to the voice of the people,” said Naga Hoho (organisation) General Secretary K Elu Ndang.
The Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organisation comprising seven tribes from six eastern districts earlier declared not to participate in the poll to put pressure on the government to fulfil its demand for a separate ‘Frontier Nagaland’ state.
Meanwhile, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said on January 17 that the solution to the protracted Naga Political Issue (NPI) depends on the negotiating parties and the legislators and general people can only put pressure for an early outcome.
“Everybody wants a solution. But that will depend on the negotiating parties and not the general public … The general public can put pressure. The 60 legislators who are acting as facilitators are putting pressure too and are reasoning with everybody. But the outcome will depend on the negotiating parties.”
On the state government’s appeal to Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation to reconsider its decision to boycott the state election to press for its ‘Frontier Nagaland’ state demand, Rio hoped that they would respond in a “positive manner”.
Reports quoted Neiphiu Rio as saying that the state government cannot allow any constitutional crisis in the event of civil societies remaining firm on not participating in the coming state assembly election if there is no solution to the Naga issue.
Meanwhile, a consultative meeting of eight tribal bodies (Hohos) on January 17 at the Angami People Organization (APO) Hall, Kohima, has resolved to form a common “apex body” for the Nagas soon.
According to a joint press statement issued by Vezuhu Keyho, Sessional Chairman of Chakhesang Public Organization (CPO), and Vihuto Assumi, General Secretary of Sumi Hoho; in the meeting, a four point resolution was also adopted. The house resolved to demand that all the “Naga Political Groups” both “over-ground and underground” to come together for an amicable solution at the earliest.
The joint press statement stated that in the consultative meeting it was decided that any organization claiming to represent and stand for the interest of the Nagas should be mandated through the tribal apex bodies (Hohos).
Further, the joint statement appealed to all the Churches in Nagaland and beyond to pray for the “unification and solution” of the protracted Naga political issue.
Notably, on the other hand, the NSCN (IM) on January 18 said that it stood by the “Naga National Decision” of the May 31, 2022, to uphold and protect Naga’s unique history and “national principle” at any cost.
The NSCN (IM) in a press statement issued through its Ministry of Information and Publicity (MIP) stated that while upholding the “sanctity” of the “Framework Agreement” that was signed on the “foundation of respect” for and recognition of the sovereignty of the two entities – NSCN (IM) and the Government of India.
Re-affirming that the letter and spirit of the framework agreement of the collective leadership issued on December 16, 2022 whereby sovereignty of the “Naga Nation” was upheld and the Naga “National Flag and Constitution” were declared as “integral” to Naga sovereignty, the NSCN has also stood by the resolution of the collective leadership and the NSCN members of July 23, 2019, to uphold the August 3, 2015, Framework Agreement and strive to conclude the ongoing “Indo-Naga” negotiation honourably.
“Nagas shall unwaveringly stand on the declared Naga national decision come what may”, the NSCN (IM) said while also adding that an honourable and acceptable political solution between the Government of India and the Nagas has been “mutually agreed” to be based on the “Framework Agreement” of August 3, 2015, wherein the sovereignty of the Nagas was acknowledged in “conjunction” with the Naga National Flag and the Constitution.
Further, the NSCN (IM) said that the Nagas do not acknowledge “any agreement” signed under the Indian Constitution.
In a significant development in the Naga political process, the NNPGs and NSCN (IM) on January 14 in a joint meeting have agreed and decided to form the “Council of Naga Relationships and Cooperation” to be led by the Convener of NNPGs and Chairman of NSCN (IM). The meeting of the NNPGs and the NSCN (IM) was facilitated by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) on January 14, 2023.
Notably, the agreement to form a common platform to move forward on Naga’s rights was arrived at the meeting of the NNPGs and NSCN (IM) representatives under the initiative of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) in Kolkata from October 17-18, 2022.
According to a statement under the title, “KOLKATA MEETING” signed by N Kitovi Zhimomi, Convenor of NNPGs and Tongmeth Wangnao, Vice President of the NSCN (IM) issued on October 18, 2022 stated that the meeting was held in Kolkata on October 17 and 18 “with a renewed spirit of commitment” in “response to the Naga people’s yearning for reconciliation and unity in purpose.”
“Taking forward the September Joint Accordant’s resolve ‘to chart a path forward,’ we have agreed to form the Council of Naga Relationships and Cooperation led by the Convenor of NNPGs and Chairman of NSCN to explore, at the earliest, realistic ways for Nagas to move forward on the basis of Naga historical and political rights,” said the statement issued after the Kolkata Meeting.
Again, in a press statement jointly issued by NNPGs Convener, N Kitovi Zhimomi, and NSCN (IM) Chairman Qhehezu Tuccu on January 14, 2023 stated that in times of crises in the “Naga movement”, Nagas have always survived and that today the “loud chorus” of the day from different directions “converge us” the shared future of the Nagas.
Further, the joint statement said that since the September 14, 2022, “Joint Accordant”, the NNPGs and the NSCN (IM) have agreed to form the “Council of Naga Relationships and Cooperation” led by the Convener of the NNPGs and the Chairman of NSCN (IM) in order to explore at the earliest, realistic ways for the Nagas to move forward on the basis of Naga historical and political rights.
Both the signatories in the press statement have stated that in affirmation to this position, the NNPGs and the NSCN have declared its commitment to collaborate on the basis of respective agreements with immediate effect for the “resolution of the Naga historical and political rights” with the Government of India.
Later, the joint statement also appealed the Nagas to stand with them to prevent any further division to its “shared belongings” for which it has also made it known that the statement is a “political speech” of the “undeniable Naga soul”.
Although the BJP’s 2018 election slogan, “Election for Solution” cannot bring final solution to the Naga peace talks before the February 27 election of Nagaland Assembly in 2023, a significant development in Naga political process is evident by forming Council of Naga Relationships and Cooperation as a common platform of NNPGs and NSCN (IM) under the initiative of Forum for Naga Reconciliation.
(The author is the Senior Editor of Imphal Review of Arts and Politics)