January 31, 2018 1:16:13 am
The Nagaland assembly elections, scheduled to be held on February 27, could be a tricky affair if political parties in the state hold on to their “no-election” joint declaration released on Monday. Representatives of 11 parties, including the ruling Naga People’s Front, ally BJP and the main Opposition, the Congress, signed the declaration following an appeal by the Core Committee of Naga Tribal Hohos and Civil Society Organisations that they abstain from the election if the Centre goes ahead with it without concluding the Naga peace agreement. The Nagaland assembly had adopted a resolution on December 14 last year asking the Centre to take steps for “an honourable and acceptable solution” to the Naga political issue before starting the election process in the state. Indications are the Centre will go ahead with the elections as scheduled. On Monday, the BJP suspended the two state leaders who signed the poll-boycott declaration and Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju announced that the Centre and the BJP will ensure that polls are held on schedule.
The demand for a peace deal before the holding of elections follows from the expectations triggered by the framework agreement signed by the NSCN (I-M) and the Centre in August 2015. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had then said that “we mark not merely the end of a problem but the beginning of a new future”. More than two years later, however, the details of the agreement are still not in the public domain. Few seem to know what has been agreed upon between the rebels and the central government. This lack of transparency about an agreement with far-reaching implications for the region has led to widespread speculation, including on Naga sovereignty and the making of Nagalim or Greater Nagaland. The Centre needs to clear the air about the framework agreement. In the absence of details, there is fear and suspicion in Nagaland’s neigbouring states, including Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, that areas populated by Naga tribes will be transferred to Kohima under the peace deal. A statement to this effect, attributed to an RSS fu nctionary, had led to protests and police firing in Dima Hasao district in Assam last week causing the death of two persons. Any conclusive, peaceful settlement of the Naga issue, particularly if it involves redrawing state boundaries, will need the concurrence of not just the state governments, but also of local communities. A sustained dialogue among a larger pool of stakeholders in a climate of transparency and mutual trust is necessary to make it happen.
Going ahead, the Centre must tread carefully. If it goes ahead with the elections, there is hard work waiting to be done to prevent a situation like Assam 1983, when elections held despite a boycott call by the All Assam Students Union and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad, triggered violence across the state. The onus is, equally, on the political parties. They must desist from any move that will unsettle the peace in Nagaland.
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