NSCN status sparks row in India’s northeast

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS,

Guwahati : Governments of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh have urged New Delhi to clarify plans to offer a ‘supra-state body’ to the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN Isak-Muivah faction) to enable Nagas outside Nagaland to preserve their identity.

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Reports in the local media about plans by the central government to grant Nagaland a special federal status by creating a ‘supra-state mechanism’ for the Nagas to preserve, protect and promote their cultural, social and customary practices has led to angry reactions in the three states.

“The question of allowing governing Nagas settled in Manipur simply does not arise. We don’t know about any such plans by the central government,” Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh said.

Similar views were echoed by the governments in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, the two other states that have Naga tribals residing for decades.

The NSCN-IM and New Delhi entered into a ceasefire in August 1997. They have held more than 50 rounds of peace talks to end one of South Asia’s longest-running insurgencies.

The NSCN-IM, led by guerrilla leaders Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, had proposed ‘a special federal arrangement’ which enables the Nagas to govern themselves.

The NSCN-IM wants a special federal relationship with India, with a separate Naga Constitution, and would like the Naga guerrillas to jointly guard the international borders alongside Indian security forces.

The NSCN-IM has been struggling for nearly six decades to have a ‘Greater Nagaland’ by getting parts of three neighbouring states sliced off to unite 1.2 million Nagas. The demand is strongly opposed by the states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.

Conceding their demands would be a tough proposition as any move to merge Naga-inhabited areas in the northeast or grant special status allowing Nagas settled outside Nagaland to be governed by a separate administrative structure could lead to a rebellion in the neighbouring states.

“There is no question of allowing people residing in our state to be governed by a separate council or structure. There can be no compromise on this,” Assam government spokesperson and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma told IANS.

The NSCN-IM is on a sticky wicket, Having climbed down from its demand for an independent Naga state outside the Indian union, the rebel leadership now harps on a Greater Nagaland and a special federal relationship.

“It seems the central government is now trying to re-phrase the concept of Greater Nagaland and talking of something called the ‘supra-state’ mechanism to please the NSCN. Under no circumstances will the people of Arunachal accept such a proposal,” said a senior state minister who didn’t want to be named.

Media reports said New Delhi was contemplating granting a special federal status to the NSCN-IM on the eve of Christmas – in an attempt to seal an accord with the rebel leadership.

“If a state government, in whose territory the Nagas live, loses control and a neighbouring state government interferes and governs their lives, it would surely lead to chaos and disorder,” said Sarma.

(Syed Zarir Hussain can be contacted at [email protected])