Time to change the Naga questionThe unexpected turn of events in Nagaland on the eve of the state Legislative Assembly election scheduled on February 27 is yet another indication how intractable the problem of peace in the state is. Responding to a call for “No Election Before Solution” by a newly formed Core Committee of Nagaland Tribal Hohos and Civil Organization, CCNTHCS, all political parties which were expected to be in the fray, have now signed an agreement that they will not be fielding any candidates. There are indications that some of the national parties, in particular the BJP, are not happy with the decision of their local units, but it remains to be seen if they will disown the decisions of the latter and go along with the election process. Whatever their decisions may turn out to be, the air or uncertainty suddenly introduced is palpable and now the field is now wide open for speculations and punditry on what scenario might emerge in the next few weeks.
This startling development comes even as election fever is heating up, besides Nagaland in two other Northeastern states of Meghalaya and Tripura where Assembly elections are also due next month, the terms of their current Assembly expiring at about the time. While it seems it will be business as usual for Meghalaya and Tripura, with their battles of the ballots fought as they are normally meant to be fought, it is Nagaland which has now seemingly changed the rule of the game. What then could be the likely outcome in this beleaguered state?
Given that all parties have ostensibly agreed not to participate in the election, if even a single party, say the BJP, takes the bold step of deciding to field candidates, it is a foregone conclusion that most or all of them would win uncontested, a scenario not altogether new in Nagaland, as such a situation did emerged in 1998, about two years after the Naga ceasefire fire came into effect. The then ruling Congress decided to go against a similar boycott and as reward, ended up as the uncontested victors in 53 of the total of 60 seats, with seven seats going to independent candidates.
Would the BJP or any other major party in the state now dare to do an encore is a question every election watcher in the state would now be desperate to find a clue. Again, if one party decides to enter the fray, would the dam burst and all other parties also decide to jump into the contest? If on the other hand, what would be the scenario if all parties do decide to stay firm on not contesting? Apart from the commentaries on the prudence or the lack of it, in such an eventuality one thing is certain – there would be a constitutional crisis as the state would be without a new Legislative Assembly to replace its outgoing one. The provisions of Article 356 then will have to be invoked to meet the emergency, and a spell of Central Rule through the office of the Governor of the state will have to take over the administration until another Assembly can be resurrected through popular mandate.
Would this be the resort? And if this does come about, would the Naga solution become suddenly possible so that the deferred Assembly election can be held at a later date? What if the solution is still not forthcoming at the end of the first spell of Central Rule? Would President’s Rule be extended by its constitutional leashes of six month at a time till such a solution comes about? What if the solution continues to elude for years and decades, as it has been all this while? Nagaland is indeed headed for very interesting times, and we hope as good neighbours that it is spared of unwarranted trauma.
The excruciating Nagaland dilemma will not be just for the people of Nagaland, but also for those who are in the peace negotiations, which incidentally has been going on since 1997, but with an added sense of urgency since August 3, 2015, when a Framework Agreement was signed rather hurriedly between the Government of India and the most powerful of the Naga underground groups, the NSCN(IM). However, after more than two decades, it is difficult to imagine not only what exactly could have been agreed upon so far, but also what exactly can possibly be agreed upon without upsetting too many apple carts, and dangerously too. This is given the fact that certain intractable questions have come to mark the Naga question, and these still hopelessly unanswered, if not unanswerable.
Under the circumstance, it is difficult not to recall the familiar timeless piece of wisdom that if a certain question does not seem to have an answer at all, the courageous and prudent thing to consider is changing the question instead. We wonder then if it is not time for those searching for an answer to the Naga question to also not consider this proposition. Naga sovereignty is now more or less redundant, and so probably is Greater Nagaland or Nagalim. They probably have no answers, so should not the effort be to find alternate ways?
As we see it, there is no other way out. Only recently we have seen how even a hint in a section of the online media that an RSS sympathizer suggested that the final solution to the Naga problem must involve creation of a Greater Nagaland by incorporating certain districts from neighbouring Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, resulted in mayhem in the Dima Hasao area of Assam’s formerly North Cachar Hills district, resulting in the death of two young agitators. Assam Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal has thereafter reaffirmed no territory of Assam will be sacrificed under any circumstance. Reactions in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh are hardly likely to be any different or any less violent if this proposition is pushed any farther. It is clear then what needs to be realized and accepted by all stakeholders is that no ethnic exclusive homelands can be carved out of what are essentially shared homes of multi-ethnicities. This is one of the characteristic features of the entire Northeast.
On the other hand, if sovereignty and Greater Nagaland are out of the question, what would the Naga solution be like? After more than six decades of struggle for sovereignty, and all the sufferings that came with it, would the Nagaland be happy with a settlement that has chiefly to do with refashioned autonomous councils for Naga areas in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Indeed, at this moment, no solution to the Naga problem, we are certain is in anybody’s sight. The election boycott proposal in Nagaland in this sense is also an expression of this deep frustration. On the other hand, the slogan “No Election Before Solution” is also reminiscent of one of the logics forwarded for the Crusades of medieval Europe, in which rulers invoked lofty ideas of external aggressions and missions to divert attention from mounting irresoluble domestic problems. The turncoat political class in Nagaland may be trying to divert attention and thus salvage themselves from a complete loss of public faith, particularly in the wake of the unprecedented and fickle floor-crossing drama amongst the ruling Naga People’s Front, NPF, legislators, toppling and resurrecting chief ministers several time in the span of a few months.
(First published in Assam Tribune)
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