We expect an early solution to Naga issue: TR Zeliang

PRERNA KATIYAR, ET BUREAU NEWDELHI, 30th Oct: Early this week RN Ravi, the Centre’s interlocutor for the Naga peace talks, expressed urgency to six political groups to find an early solution to the longstanding issue of Naga identity. Days before that, Prerna Katiyar had caught up with Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang, leader of the Naga People’s Front, who spoke on the crucial Naga peace accord, and Article 371A that makes special provisions for Nagaland, among other issues.

Excerpts What do you think of the tenets of the framework agreement signed in 2015 between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and the Central government?

The framework agreement of August 2015 is only for working out a formula on how a solution can be reached for the Naga political problem. A detailed agreement will come only at the time of the accord. There is no specific timeframe but we are expecting an early solution. The negotiations have been going on for already 20 years. And the Naga problem is 70 years old.

It’s high time. Now a positive sign is that all the Naga factions have come together. In the past, there were talks only between the Government of India and the NSCN (IM) but now all the six groups have come together and are in the process of dialogue. So we are hopeful that the matter will come to a conclusion.

Has the NSCN (Khaplang) also agreed to participate in talks?

No, all six groups other than the Khaplang faction are part of the negotiations.

How much of a role should the Naga Hoho (the apex organisation of several tribes) and the gaon buras (village elders) have in government functioning?

The Hoho acts according to the decisions of the village council or tribes. They do not have a specific power to play in the government but they coordinate among the tribes and within villages. In every village they have a unit that elects a Hoho. They are allowed to be represented in certain decision-making bodies like district planning boards but in no way are they a parallel body (to the government).

‘Leaked’ but unconfirmed excerpts of a framework agreement point to the incorporation of a ‘Naga constitution’ or ‘Yezhabo’ into the Constitution. ‘Yezhabo’ speaks of a ‘one-party-one-government system’. Will it mean end of true multi-party democracy in Nagaland?

You can’t say that. You do not know what kind of an agreement will be arrived it. It depends on the outcome of the agreement. The thing is that we are happy to see that the GoI has understood the Naga problem. They have recognised that the Naga issue is a political problem and not a simple law and order problem. Similarly, Naga political groups too have understood the difficulties before the GoI: what is possible at their end, what is not; what can be expected; what can’t be.

Now it will be easier to reach an amicable solution. That’s what we believe in.

What are your views on Article 371A. The BJP —which is in alliance with your party — opposes Article 370 in Kashmir.

371A is a special provision for Nagaland. Within that provision, the GoI also has to allow certain independence like on customary practices. Other Central laws can’t interfere with customary practices. They have independent functioning. Land and other resources belong to the people of Nagaland, according to 371A, so the Centre can’t interfere. These are areas where we have special provisions. As of date, the BJP is supporting 371A.

Naga women continue to be discriminated under tribal customary laws. When will women get reservation in municipal bodies despite a Constitutional guarantee?

We need women in elected bodies. We have constituted a committee recently that will examine the issue. They will include all the Naga Hoho, including the Naga Mothers Association. They will have interactions to decide the way women’s reservation should be implemented. The pros and cons will be discussed. They will come up with a report and submit to the government. Accordingly, we will take this forward.

Why hasn’t a single woman been elected to the assembly?

Nobody has stopped them. They should have participated. They should file nominations. Municipal elections are different. Municipal Act provides for 33% reservation but in assembly and parliamentary elections they are free to seek tickets and enter the houses. They are free to fight.

Why are they not fighting?

It is the mindset. The mindset has to change first. There should not be a feeling of inferiority. But the reality is that the gender feeling is very strong in our Nagaland. Women are not supposed to do certain things. A lot of stigma is still there, like they can’t own property. They can’t talk openly in public. This is the reality. But the government is open to them. We welcome them. They must come out, seek tickets, participate in elections and be part of the government.

And polygamy. Tribes such as Semas still practise polygamy?

Yes, it is practised by specific tribes. Like Konyaks allow any number of wives. They have this customary system. In my community (Zeliang), we are not allowed to marry more than one woman.

Nagaland has earned a bad name for poor roads. Why is that? Why are no big road projects being planned, like in Arunachal Pradesh?

We have to accept that the roads are deteriorating. GoI provides fund for construction but not for maintenance. But the state government does not have resources for maintenance. So, maintaining these roads has become a big problem. Slowly the GoI has understood the problem on the ground and has stated that it has changed its funding pattern for a contract. So now the contractor appointed for a project will not only complete the road but also maintain it for four-five years.

Has this change come about since the BJP became an ally?

Yes, this is true. The change has happened in the last two-three years.

Is the RSS making inroads in the state?

People make such claims but we do not see such type of activity on the ground. Nagaland is a Christian state (90% of the population is Christian). We are not disturbed by any such organisation.

Can a Uniform Civil Code be implemented in Nagaland?

We need to have a lot of debate not just for Nagaland but for the Northeast. The North East Democratic Alliance, BJP, Naga People’s Front, Mizo National Front all need to work this out. We need wide consultation.


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