By: Rajkumar Bobichand
Imphal, Jan 15:
As usual, whenever elections to either Nagaland Legislative Assembly or Indian parliament besides Christmas or New Year come, the Naga peace talk always take the centre stage after the peace talk between the Government of India (GOI) and the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – NSCN (IM) started since August 1, 1997.
This year is also not exception. The civil society organisations (CSOs) and bodies of the tribes of Nagaland together is pressing the GOI for the settlement of “Indo-Naga political issue” before the State Legislative Assembly election to be held in February end.
The Nagaland People’s Action Committee (NPAC), an apex body of Nagaland’s tribes and CSOs, has called for a six hour shutdown in the State on January 14 to press for the settlement of the “Indo-Naga political issue”.
The Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), a conglomeration of seven insurgent groups of Nagaland most of which began coming overground since 2001 after entering into ceasefire agreemnet with the GOI, has said the bandh is justified and reflected the disquiet among the Naga people because the Government of India’s apparent indifference to delivering a negotiated political solution.
Meanwhile, reports said the Angami Public Organisation (APO) has opposed the bandh saying the “NPAC is not the authority to issue any directive that concerns the apex tribal bodies”.
While the NNPGs has indicated for a negotiated “Indo-Naga political solution” the NSCN (IM) sticks to its sepearate Naga flag and constitution bringing all the Naga inhabited areas under one umbrella.
However, this time of Nagaland Legislative Assembly election, the demand for a separate state called the ‘Frontier Nagaland’, to be carved out of the present-day Nagaland has drawn much significant attention not only from the Government of India but also fron the observers of Naga politics and isurgencies. The “Frontier Nagaland” comprises of seven Naga tribes inhabiting the six districts of eastern Nagaland – Kiphire, Longleng, Mon, Noklak, Shamator and Tuensang – to be carved out of the present-day Nagaland.
The demand is spearheaded by the Eastern Naga People’s Organisation’s (ENPO), which was formed in 1997, after the Eastern Nagas walked out of Naga Hoho. Though the demand for Frontier Nagaland has started getting its momentum recently, ENPO’s demand for the ‘Frontier Nagaland’ dates back to 2010 with public rallies and meetings have been on for even longer.
It may be mentioned that the ENPO on August 26, 2022 adopted a resolution of “not to take part in any election process of the Central and state until and unless a separate statehood – (Frontier Nagaland) – is granted by the Government of India, as demanded by the people of Eastern Nagaland under the aegis of ENPO”.
Seven tribal bodies, including the Chang Khulei Setshang (CKS), Khiamniungan Tribal Council (KTC), Konyak Union (KU), Phom People’s Council (PPC), United Sangtam Likhum Pumji (USLP), Tikhir Tribal Council (TTC) and Yimkhiung Tribal Council (YTC), endorsed the resolution.
Though rallies for the demand of ‘Frontier Nagaland’ have been going on for over a decade, the banner, “We Demand Frontier Nagaland” in the mass public rally at Tuensang on August 9, 2022 gained significance because this is the first mass public rally organized in the state after the ENPO submitted a memorandum to the Indian Prime Minister on December 14, 2010 and gives a clear message of their want.
The mass public rally on August 9, 2022 concluded with adoption of important public resolutions:
“The public of ENPO of the erstwhile Tuensang Frontier Division of the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) i.e., the present Eastern Nagaland of Nagaland state shall continue to wholeheartedly pursue the demand for Separate State based on ENPO Memo vide No. ENPO/MEM0-02(Statehood)/PM/GOI/01 dated the 25th November 2010 at all cost unless and until it is attained.”
The demand is based on popular “Grass-root” “Resolution and Mandate” encompassing every Village Council (Gram Panchayats) and Tribal Councils of Eastern Nagaland.
“In the light of what have been stated by the ENPO during the last four rounds of bilateral meetings and a recent tripartite meeting of Govt. of India, Govt. of Nagaland and ENPO, the Govt. of India is now updated with ample knowledge about the untold difficulties of the people of ENPO.”
And thus, resolved to request the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India for taking up the issue based on Shri Nitin Gadkari, the then BJP National President’s assurance “BJP would carve out a separate state of Frontier Nagaland if BJP comes to power in Lok Sabha Election in 2014 (Dated: 14th Dec. 2012)”.
“The Govt. of India would be requested once again to respond to ENPO’s Public Representation VIDE NO.ENPO/PM/STATE DEMAND/53, DATED, the 13TH OCTOBER, 2021 addressed to the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, in which letter the ENPO had requested that, in the event of much anticipated Naga political solution, or the event of any unexpected prolonged delay in the talks, Hon’ble Prime Minister of India is requested for creation of separate Statehood for the people of Eastern Nagaland. Copy had also been endorsed to all concerned including NSCN (IM) Chief Negotiator, and NNPGs (WC) Convenor for kind information and necessary action.”
Notably, the leading cause of a separate state demand is said to be the lack of socioeconomic development in the area. Lack of schools, good roads, electricity, proper supply of water, hospitals, to list a few, are said to be the main points of interest in the argument for a separate state.
Moreover, the ENPO argues that they feel like their Fundamental Rights of equality with the ‘Advanced’ Nagas have been denied.
Significantly, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah on December 6, 2022 in Delhi held the much-awaited crucial meeting with the ENPO leaders in the presence of Nagaland’s BJP MP S Phangnon Konyak and two former MPs – Asungba Sangtam and Wangyuh Konyak.
A statement of the ENPO said, “It is to be stated that the Union Home Minister had appreciated the Eastern Nagaland people for being a part of the nation-building thus far, which, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also aware. The Union Home Minister said that the grievances and request for a separate entity is understood.”
“The Union Home Minister highlighted a clear Roadmap for an amicable, legislative and sustainable solution for Eastern Nagaland, which will include consultation with the people of Eastern Nagaland and the Nagaland State Government. Shah also assured to visit Eastern Nagaland personally by January 2023; for which, the ENPO eagerly awaits his visit,” the ENPO statement said.
Following the December 6 meeting in Delhi, a team of three-member committee from the Union Home Ministry (MHA) constituted by the Government of India to study Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organisation (ENPO) statehood demand issue visited Eastern Nagaland from December 16 to 18, 2022 on a three-day visit.
The MHA committee members are AK Mishra (retired) IPS, Advisor, Northeast MHA as leader; Dr Mandeep Singh Tuli, IPS joint director, Intelligence Bureau (IB) and AK Dhayani director Northeast division MHA.
Further, the ENPO leaders met MHA Committee members led by AK Mishra on January 5, 2023. Reports said the President of ENPO R. TsapikiuSangtam had firmly stated the team that they will abstain from any parliamentary or state elections until their demand for a separate state is met. He also stated that the eastern Nagaland’s six districts will not accept special economic packages or other proposals.
As the ENPO’s pressure to boycott the Nagaland Assembly election to be held in February end until their demand for a separate state of Frontier Nagaland is met, the MHA Committee is reportedly said to hold another round of meeting with the ENPO leaders from January 12. But, details of the meeting are not available till January 13, 2023.
Now, two pertinent questions arise in the context of peace talk between the GOI and NSCN (IM). Will the ENPO’s demand for a separate state of Frontier Nagaland shatter the agenda of the NSCN (IM) for integration of all Naga inhabited areas under one umbrella? Will the demand for a separate state of Frontier Nagaland bifurcating present-day Nagaland hinder GOI’s peace process for Naga insurgents?
It can be said that the demand for a separate State of Frontier Nagaland will not perturb the NSCN (IM)’s agenda of integration of Naga inhabited areas as Frontier Nagaland may remain as a federal unit of “Nagalim” as envisioned by the NSCN (IM).
Moreover, the demand for a separate state for the Eastern Nagas of Nagaland will not affect the peace porcess of the GOI with the Naga insurgents as long as Fronties Nagaland remains a state of India as any indication of opposition to the Frontier Nagaland from the NNPGs is also not yet evident.
In case the Eastern Nagas have achieved their demand for a separate State of Frontier Nagaland, neither the GOI nor the NSCN (IM) loses.
(Rajkumar Bobichand is a Senior Editor of Imphal Review of Arts and Politics)