By Oken Jeet Sandham
When Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang with his Cabinet colleagues pitching the longstanding Naga issue settled before the Christmas or at least before the next State Polls due early next year, Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh’s coming to Nagaland and gracing the fifth-day of the 10-Day Hornbill Festival as Chief Guest on December 5, 2017 at Kisama assumed significance. Along with him, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu was gracing the event as Guest of Honor. In a rare show of unison, the Chief Ministers of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland shared the dais and graced the event.
While writing this, I only remember the wonderful road which was shown by Dr. Shurhozelie by going to Imphal and meeting his counterpart, Singh, early this year on 9 March 2017. When asked on February 23, 2017, one day after taking over the Chief Ministership of Nagaland, whether he was going to Manipur, he said, “Meiteis are our big brothers and more advanced,” “We have to live together as neighbors. There is no other way. Yes, I am going to Manipur for communal harmony.” Within three weeks, he proved by going to Imphal and met his counterpart, Singh.
If one looks at the natures of dealing with the Naga issue by the two Chief Ministers of Manipur and Nagaland, it is quite the opposite. Nagaland Chief Minister has been consistently making its stand clear that solution to the protracted Naga issue should be honorable and acceptable to the Naga people, whereas his counterpart, Manipur Chief Minister has been rather more vocal that the territory of his State could not be compromised while finding a settlement to the Naga issue.
The timing of Singh’s visit to Nagaland during the Hornbill Festival happened at a time when the Opposition Congress in Manipur has been staging “Sit-in-protest” demanding the BJP-led NDA Government at the Center to disclose the contents of the “Framework Agreement” signed with NSCN (IM) on 3 August 2015 at Delhi. Interestingly, even not a single legislator in Nagaland is also aware of the contents of the “Framework Agreement” till date in spite of demanding that it should be made public. Such demands were also made by several Naga civil societies.
However, there is upbeat mood of the general public when Interlocutor to Naga Talks, RN Ravi formally invited six Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) – GPRN/NSCN, NSCN(Reformation), Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN), Naga National Council (NNC) Parent Body, NPGN /NNC (Non Accordist) and GDRN/NNC/(Non Accordist) – to Delhi for holding first ever political talks. They held their first ever political talks on 27 September. Less than a month, Ravi came down to Nagaland and held their second round of political talks on 23 October at Chumoukedima Police Complex, Dimapur. NSCN (IM), which held over a hundred rounds of political talks with Delhi ever since their ceasefire with them on July 25, 1997, did not utter a single word on Ravi’s engaging in political talks with other six NNPGs. This is a hugely positive development as far as a settlement to the Naga issue is concerned.
Although Ravi or any Union Ministers had not uttered any timeframe for settling the Naga issue, they kept saying as usual that they were very close to the settlement.
It may be mentioned that, four years ago, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi gracing the Grand Opening Ceremony of the Hornbill Festival on December 1, 2014, at Kisama, he did not utter a single word relating to the ongoing Naga peace process. His silence on the Naga issue while attending the Hornbill Festival stunned the Naga people as well as the people of the Northeast who thought he would at least say something in respect of the settlement of the Naga issue. Because, as soon as he became Prime Minister, he announced that the Naga issue would be resolved within eighteen months.
Surprisingly, India’s new President Ram Nath Kovind while delivering his speech at the inaugural function of Hornbill Festival on December 1, 2017, said Nagaland was on the verge of making history after years of insurgency for which, he congratulated all groups for coming to a common platform for an early and honorable solution.
While the scenario of the Naga peace process entering into a crucial phase, Singh’s gracing the Hornbill Festival on December 5, 2017, would generate positive development more of the relationship between the two neighboring States. In fact, many in Nagaland were surprised as to what he would say on the Naga issue while attending the Hornbill Festival. Wisely, Singh like Modi did not utter a single word on the Naga issue. He had focused more on the developmental aspects and neighborly relationships of the two States. Similarly, Kandu also focused on the developmental aspects of the region.
How does the Naga solution come to a reality is something everyone keeps asking? You can’t blame the Congress if no solution is happening before Christmas or at least next Nagaland Polls because the States – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur – are ruled by BJP and BJP is a major ally in the DAN Government in Nagaland since 2003. At the same time, the BJP under the dynamic Prime Minister Modi has been ruling at the Center.
But if no solution comes before Christmas or at least next Nagaland Polls, it is sure that Prime Minister Modi and hordes of his same Ministerial colleagues will dash off Delhi for poll-bound Nagaland and display another melodrama with so many promises. In last electioneering in Manipur, Modi confidently informed the people of Manipur at Imphal that the “Framework Agreement” did not contain any Clause that would pose a threat to the territorial integrity of their State He even vowed that Manipur’s territory would be protected at all cost. Rajnath Singh, Union Home Minister, conveniently and proudly declared that no force in the world could disintegrate Manipur’s territorial integrity.
It is very sad that the political leaderships of this country who have been engaging in political talks with NSCN (IM) and now with six NNPGs have been playing with the “Naga issue” for their vote banks. This clearly shows that they have not been serious in resolving the issue once and for all. Instead of focusing on the mechanism of finding a solution that is acceptable to all concerned, they would only try to whip up sentiments of the people by playing with the Naga issue for their narrow political mileage.
The people of Nagaland should wake up and tell to all the political parties not to use the name of the Naga political issue any longer during electioneering. Any central political leaders including Modi should not be allowed to use the Naga peace process while campaigning for their respective candidates in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Nagaland. The Naga people should not allow the Naga political issue to be used as vote banks anymore. Any politicians belonging to any political parties can help expedite the process of finding a solution in any given situation and time and not during electioneering.
If Modi comes to Nagaland for seeking votes during the upcoming Nagaland elections, the people should rather ask him to give more hospitals, more Medical Colleges, more Engineering Colleges, more Technical Colleges, more industries, more electricity, finish the construction of sanctioned and approved National Highway roads, free medicines, more employment, more airports. The same should be asked to other central political leaders whoever comes to Nagaland for electioneering.
However, Chief Ministers of neighboring States attending each other’s festivals by sharing dais, meeting and mingling with the people would pave way in resolving many issues – be it social or political, besides strengthening the harmonious relationship of the region’s people.
On hearing Manipur CM’s attending the Hornbill Festival, former Minister and senior NPF MLA, Yitachu who accompanied Dr. Shurhozelie while visiting Imphal to meet Singh, expressed his profound happiness saying, “I am so happy that Manipur CM came for the Hornbill Festival. This is how the neighborhood should be. It’s a small world. The entire North East put together is also a small place to prove our significance in this world.”
GK Pillai, when he was Union Home Secretary, once told this writer that it is not Delhi that is going to live with you but your neighbors. You all have to involve in finding a solution by creating a peaceful environment, he said.