Last week, a statement by NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah that the Centre had “recognised” the right of Nagas to the integration of all Naga territories, triggered massive protests in Assam and Manipur. A map of the NSCN(IM)’s Greater Nagalim includes large portions of the three states — Assam, Manipur and Arunachal — that share a boundary with Nagaland.
What exactly did Muivah say?
During a speech at the NSCN(IM) Council meeting at its headquarters in Hebron near Dimapur on March 22, Muivah said, “The historic Framework Agreement recognises the unique history, the identity, the sovereignty, the territories of the Nagas. It also recognises the legitimate right of the Nagas to integration of all Naga territories.” The statement was seen as confirmation that the Centre had agreed to slice off those portions of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh that the NSCN(IM) claims are “Naga territory”.
Why did this anger people in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh?
NSCN(IM) has been demanding the creation of a Greater Nagalim that includes large areas of Assam adjoining Nagaland, most of Manipur’s hill districts, Tirap, Longding and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and parts of Myanmar. (See map) Political parties, student bodies and other organisations in these 3 states have, however, refused to give up even an inch of their land. In June 2001, when the Government of India extended its “ceasefire agreement” (first signed in 1997) with the NSCN(IM) beyond the state of Nagaland, there were massive protests in the 3 states because the agreement technically meant the ceasefire also extended to these states. In Manipur, protesters set the Assembly on fire.
The NSCN(IM)’s Greater Nagalim map of “all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas” covers an area of about 1,20,000 sq km — more than 7 times Nagaland’s 16,527 sq km area. Interestingly, the Nagaland Assembly too has endorsed the Greater Nagalim demand — “Integration of all Naga-inhabited contiguous areas under one administrative umbrella” — as many as five times: in December 1964, August 1970, September 1994, December 2003 and on July 27, 2015.
Why have Assam and Nagaland had a history of border tensions?
Nagaland was created in 1963 out of the then Naga Hills district of Assam and Tuensang Division of the then Northeast Frontier Agency NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh). Since the late 1960s, Assam has complained of encroachment by Nagaland — it says Nagaland is squatting on more than 66,000 hectares in the Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts. Over 80% of this land is reserved forest. Assam says Nagaland has set up 3 civil subdivisions on Assamese territory. Friction over the boundary has led to several rounds of major violence — in January 1979, 54 Assam villagers were killed in a series of attacks by armed miscreants from Nagaland; in June 1985, 41 persons, including 28 Assam Police personnel, were killed. Both incidents took place in Golaghat district.
Nagaland insists that more land “historically” belonging to it remains under Assam’s “occupation”. The government in Kohima has insisted since 1963 that the 16-point agreement of 1960 that led to its creation also included the “restoration” of all Naga territories transferred out of the Naga Hills after the British annexed Assam in 1826.
Assam, on the other hand, wants to maintain the boundary “constitutionally” as on December 1, 1963, when the hill state was created. Has there been any move at settlement?
The states have held a series of meetings at various levels including that of the Chief Ministers. In August 1971, the Centre appointed KVK Sundaram, then chairman of the Law Commission, as adviser in the MHA in respect of Assam-Nagaland. Nagaland rejected Sundaram’s suggestion of a joint survey of the border, but the states signed 4 interim agreements in 1972 to maintain status quo. On January 25, 1979, then Prime Minister Morarji Desai asked Nagaland Chief Minister Vizol Angami to take firm action against miscreants on the Nagaland side of the boundary. In March 1981, then Home Minister Giani Zail Singh asked the two states to resolve the issue through discussions while strictly adhering to the Constitution. In 1988, the Assam government filed a title suit in the Supreme Court to determine and delineate the constitutional boundary. In September 2006, the apex court set up a 3-member Local Commission headed by a retired SC judge to identify the boundary. The Commission has submitted its report to the court. A final decision is awaited.
Where does Manipur come in?
Manipur has about 8 Naga tribes including the Tangkhul community to which Muivah belongs. While the NSCN(IM) wants the Naga-inhabited hill districts of Manipur included in its Greater Nagalim, Manipur is against it. On Monday, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh declared that “the territorial integrity of Manipur is dearer than my life”.
What is the Centre’s stand on Muivah’s claim?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had told an election rally in Imphal on February 25 that there was “nothing”, “not a word”, in the Naga Accord “that amounts to betraying the interests of Manipur”. Three days after Muivah’s speech, on March 25, the union Home Ministry said in a statement: “Some media reports have appeared recently to the effect that the Government of India has agreed to carve out a larger Nagaland state by taking away the territories of the states contiguous to Nagaland. Such reports are erroneous. It is clarified that there is no such agreement or decision of the Government of India.”
Will this help end the problem?
No. Opposition parties and all those opposed to the inclusion of land belonging to Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh in Greater Nagalim, want the contents of the government’s August 2015 Framework Agreement with the NSCN(IM) to be made public. In the case of Assam, putting an end to the border dispute and encroachment is more important.