Interlocutor’s letter ended Nagaland poll impasse

A letter written by the Centre’s interlocutor RN Ravi to the Naga groups, including the NSCN (Isak-Muivah), on February 3 helped to end the impasse over the Nagaland Assembly elections. Civil society groups and the NSCN (I-M) had called a boycott of the elections till a political solution was reached.

In the letter seen by The Hindu, Ravi assured the groups that the new Assembly would not come in the way of the final agreement. Following this, they withdrew the call.

The Election Commission announced the poll schedule on January 19.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, who is also the BJP’s in charge for the Nagaland elections, said the election process could be set in motion by “extensive lobbying and manoeuvring.”

“Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Mr. Ravi played a key role in bringing the parties concerned on board,” he said.

A top source told The Hindu that the Union government and the NSCN (I-M) had almost sealed the final agreement a day before the Election Commission announced the schedule, but the outfit pulled out at the last moment. “Since a compromise on the territorial integrity is out of the question, the outfit was offered a socio-political body like the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee. After agreeing to the terms, the outfit refused to sign the final agreement, leading to the impasse,” a senior official said.

The Centre has assured the groups that the Assembly will be dissolved as and when the agreement is signed. “They had apprehensions that the elections would delay the final peace agreement because a newly elected Assembly cannot be dissolved. We assured them that if a deal was signed in the next two-three months, the elections would be held afresh,” the official said.

The NSCN (IM) has been fighting for creation of ‘Greater Nagaland’ or Nagalim by extending the state’s borders to cover the Naga-dominated areas in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, uniting 1.2 million Nagas. Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, all under the BJP, have refused to part with any land. The Centre is yet to spell out the details of the agreement.

An official said the talks were delayed by the death last year of Isak Swu, one of the leaders of the NSCN (IM). The other leader, T Muivah, has been carrying on the negotiations on behalf of the group.

The official said the final accord was ready and the Centre proposed an auxiliary battalion for the NSCN (IM) cadre living in a camp at Hebron. They would also be asked to lay down their weapons.

Meanwhile, the Indian Express reported that the Centre, in its bid to ensure elections in Nagaland, assured Naga groups, political parties and armed organisations that all options are open, including re-elections in Nagaland, whenever an accord is finalised with NSCN (IM) and other Naga groups to pave the way for new leadership.

In recent discussions with armed groups, the Centre, it is learnt, also gave assurances that armed cadres may be absorbed after arriving at a solution.

“This is still under discussion. There are a few options that we are looking at and we have sought an opinion from the rebel groups. One of them is to raise an All Naga Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) at the disposal of the state but the Centre can help fund and train them,” said an official.

Talks were necessitated after Naga groups and political parties announced they would boycott polls and called for a “solution before elections”. Sources said back-channel dialogues to break the impasse were on for over a month, and that the filing of over 250 nominations for the polls were a result of these dialogues.

The Core Committee of Nagaland Tribal Hohos and Civil Organisations (CCNTHCO) and 11 political parties, including state BJP leaders (later suspended from the party), on January 29 signed a joint declaration calling for the assembly elections to be “deferred”. While a framework agreement was signed between NSCN (IM) and the Central government in 2015, three years later, Naga groups, political parties and NSCN (IM) demanded the Centre should first finalise the accord and then hold polls.

When contacted, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju refused to elaborate on the talks or the Naga accord. He said: “There has been extensive lobbying and maneuvering to get the election process on track.”

Rijiju is the minister in-charge of Nagaland and, along with Naga interlocutor R N Ravi, is said to have played a pivotal role to end the stalemate with armed rebels while BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav held discussions with political parties, said officials.

Government sources also said that while the NSCN (IM) and armed groups issued a call to boycott elections, the Centre expects the NSCN (IM) not to disrupt the election on February 27 using violence. Security agencies have already chalked out a plan and in consultation with Central forces are planning to extend security cover to candidates who have defied the boycott and filed nominations.

“Till elections, NSCN (IM) cadres and leaders have been instructed not to carry their weapons outside their designated camps even if they are carrying red cards,” said an official.
According to NSCN (IM), a red card allows any cadre to move freely with weapons and was one of the terms the Centre agreed to in the cease-fire agreement.

While the demand for Greater Nagalim is still the most contentious issue, the Centre conveyed during talks with Naga leaders that they are working on a solution and needed to hold “broader consultations” with all stake holders, including other armed groups.

“The demand has been opposed by adjoining states. We are consulting the leadership and political parties in these states (Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh) to find a solution,” said an official. The map of Greater Nagalim on the NSCN (IM) website comprising “all Naga-inhabited areas” shows 1,20,000 sq km across the Northeast and Myanmar.

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