Nagaland became a virtually Opposition-mukt state on Monday after the ruling People’s Democratic Alliance that includes the BJP, and the chief Opposition party, the Naga People’s Front (NPF), signed on a resolution to form a Nagaland United Government (NUG). The NUG constituents say they have set aside their rivalry to form a united government “to achieve a peaceful solution to the Naga Political Issue”. The NPF, which insists that it has joined the alliance only for the sake of the peace deal, had lost office in 2018 though it won 26 seats in a House of 60 MLAs.
The intent behind the NUG is laudable, but it seems a tall and problematic claim. Two questions arise in this context. One, the Naga peace deal, referred to as NPI by political parties, has always been negotiated by the Centre with the insurgent groups, mainly the NSCN (I-M). The state government has hardly any role. This is understandable since the main issue of contention concerns national sovereignty: The NSCN (I-M) seeks to establish an independent Nagalim, with territory carved out from Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and even Myanmar, where Naga tribes reside. The Centre announced a framework agreement with the NSCN(I-M) in 2015 but a closure has eluded the agreement since the rebels have refused to eschew their demand for a separate flag and Constitution. There is no evidence to suggest that the NUG constituents have the heft to influence the NSCN(I-M); on the contrary, many legislators are dependent on the rebels to win elections. The second question is the role of the legislative assembly in the absence of an Opposition. The assembly is also a platform to scrutinise legislation, public policy and delivery of public goods. The Opposition is mandated to hold the government to account on behalf of the people. Until this June, the NPF legislators were seen to be punching holes in the claims of the administration regarding Covid management and posing tough questions to the PDA government. However, as preparations began for the realignment of parties, reportedly after a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the Opposition withdrew into silence.
Peace is a non-negotiable goal, but so should be enforcing accountability of government. In any case, political parties in Nagaland have a patchy record on this matter. Coalitions of convenience, often dictated by the ruling party/alliance at the Centre, have been the norm, and few of them have governed with distinction. The onus is firmly on the NUG to prove the sceptics wrong — it has time till 2023 when assembly polls are due next.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 18, 2021 under the title ‘Unity in adversity’.