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Further clarity needed

Further clarity needed
Prime Minister Narendra Modi reassured the people of Manipur that no provision of the Naga Peace Accord—signed by the Centre with the National Socialist Council of Nagalaim (Isak-Muivah) in 2015—goes against the interest of the state. Modi's comments follow Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh's statement, asking why the agreement has been kept "secret" by the Centre. A Framework Agreement was signed on August 3, 2015, by NSCN-IM general secretary T Muivah and the Central government's interlocutor, R N Ravi. Certain reports indicate that the NSCN-IM is willing to alter goals from complete sovereignty and Greater Nagalim to acceptance of the constitutional framework, albeit with a provision for the grant of greater autonomy to the Naga inhabited areas outside of Nagaland through the establishment of autonomous district councils.

However, since the signing of the agreement, NSCN (IM) General Secretary T Muivah has rejected "rumours" that the outfit was backtracking on integration and sovereignty, saying they were the "core issues" and there could be "no solution whatsoever" without fulfilling the two subjects. The NSCN (IM)'s primary demand has been for the creation of a "Greater Nagalim", comprising of "all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas" including those located in Manipur, Assam, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh. It is the question of integration, which may prove to be a major stumbling block in the negotiation process. There is seemingly no meeting point between the demand for Naga integration and keeping the territorial integrity of the neighbouring States intact. Muivah's stated position does assume a serious proportion in Manipur, where four Naga-dominated districts have been demanded to be included in the proposed Greater Nagalim. With the Singh government's decision to create seven new districts, altering the demographic dynamics of erstwhile Naga-dominated districts, the situation has possibly entered unstable waters.

During his tenure, the Congress Chief Minister has borrowed from the playbook often used by the BJP—ethnic assertion of the majority community. In this case, the majority community is the Meiteis, who reside in the Valley, as against the hill-inhabiting Nagas. The inner line permit (ILP) movement, the demand for scheduled tribe status for the Meiteis and opposition to the Naga Peace Accord are elements of this strategy. With Assembly elections on the horizon, the incumbent government led by Ibobi Singh also gave way to long-pending demands for a new Kuki-majority district to be carved out of the larger and once Naga-dominated Senapati hill district. A similar motive is in motion to break up other old Naga-dominated districts such as Ukhrul, Tamenglong, and Chandel, as part of his government's decision to create seven new districts.

Supporters of the government's recent move point out that the latest notification seeks to facilitate better administration of far-flung areas from the district headquarters. Many observers, however, have pinned the decision as a desperate measure to bring a significant section of the hill populace on-side. News reports suggest that Congress is struggling to maintain its hold in the hills after the NSCN (I-M) unofficially directed the Naga people to vote for the Naga People's Front (NPF) in the upcoming elections. Despite these concerns, Prime Minister Modi assured the people "there is not a word in that agreement that can be construed as harmful to Manipuri interests". "I want to reassure all of you here that the Central government and the BJP will never compromise with the territorial integrity of Manipur," said Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on February 19. "In the framework agreement, even the name of Manipur is not there." In a state marred by ethnic violence over territorial concerns between the Meiteis of the Valley, Nagas and the Kukis of the hill districts, a lack of clarity on the provisions of the Naga Peace Accord could further inflame passions. Further, the peace process must be extended to include all Naga rebel groups, including the NSCN's Khaplang faction, not principally the NSCN (I-M), as it is the case now. If they are not brought back on board, there will be no real Naga peace deal.

Prime Minister Modi also hit out at the Singh government for failing to maintain the supply of essential services following the United Naga Council (UNC)-led economic blockade. "We will not let the blockade continue once our government comes to power in the State," the Prime Minister said. The widespread perception now is that Singh's government is beholden to Valley voters while ignoring the concerns of the hill populace, especially the Nagas. Apart from gaining a share of the Kuki vote, the Congress government is perceived to have forsaken the hills and consolidate its Meitei vote base. As a consequence, the Nagas have grown increasingly alienated. The Bharatiya Janata Party and other rival parties have sought to take advantage and make further electoral inroads into Naga-dominated areas. Despite the ongoing peace talks, the NSCN (I-M), which controls the UNC by proxy, pushed for a blockade of arterial roads through Naga territory since last November against the Singh government's decision to create seven new districts, choking the economy and movement of people. One can blame the Singh government for their inability to counter these blockades and build the requisite institutional capacity in taking on such challenges. However, it was the UNC, aided and abetted by the NSCN (I-M), which pushed for the blockade in the first place. How will a BJP government in Manipur fulfil Modi's promises if it is seemingly in cahoots with organisations that have facilitated crippling economic embargoes in the past? This dynamic, meanwhile, is also playing out in the backdrop of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which gives the army and paramilitary forces immunity from prosecution.

The Bharatiya Janata Party and other rival parties have sought to take advantage and make further electoral inroads into Naga-dominated areas. Despite the ongoing peace talks, the NSCN (I-M), which controls the UNC by proxy, pushed for a blockade of arterial roads through Naga territory since last November against the Singh government's decision to create seven new districts, choking the economy and movement of people. One can blame the Singh government for their inability to counter these blockades and build the requisite institutional capacity in taking on such challenges. However, it was the UNC, aided and abetted by the NSCN (I-M), which pushed for the blockade in the first place. How will a BJP government in Manipur fulfil Modi's promises if it is seemingly in cahoots with organisations that have facilitated crippling economic embargoes in the past? This dynamic, meanwhile, is also playing out in the backdrop of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which gives the army and paramilitary forces immunity from prosecution.
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