How the Naga Accord Will Affect Politics in the Rest of the North-East

The accord, whatever its substance, has further burnished the perception that the BJP-led NDA government is a government that gets things done, particularly in the northeast

Prime Minister Narendra Modi witnessing the exchange of the peace accord text by the Government of India interlocutor RN Ravi and  NSCN(I-M) leader Th. Muivah in New Delhi on August 3, 2015. Credit: PTI Photo

Prime Minister Narendra Modi witnessing the exchange of the peace accord text by the Government of India interlocutor RN Ravi and NSCN(I-M) leader Th. Muivah in New Delhi on August 3, 2015. Credit: PTI Photo

These are exciting, if anxious, times for anyone interested in the history and politics of India’s northeast region.

Last week, the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) announced they had come to an ‘historic’ agreement on the Naga issue. We were even treated to a televised accord signing ceremony.

But what exactly have the two sides agreed to? More than a week has passed and we are none the wiser. What we know now, through selected leaks, is that the most contentious and crucial demand of the NSCN (I-M), i.e. political integration of Naga-dominated areas in the northeast, is not a part of the accord. The sovereignty issue was discarded a long time ago. As for what’s in the accord, we may have to wait till the agreement is placed before Parliament, as the government has promised to do. However, the fact that the NSCN(I-M) has agreed to formally end its armed insurgency and come to a compromise agreement with the government is itself very significant.

Advantage BJP

The accord, whatever its substance, has further burnished the perception that the BJP-led NDA government is a government that gets things done: while the BJP is a party of action, the Indian National Congress (INC) is a party of the status quo, at least in matters concerning the northeast.

This perception is not without basis. On matters concerning the northeast – which is usually seen through the prism of ‘national security’ – the INC has always seemed undecided, always second-guessing every option. Take the case of the Armed Forces (Special Powers)Act. The BJP’s position in support of AFSPA is well known, and nobody expected it to do anything about the Act. However, the ambivalence of the Congress-led UPA government on the issue is telling. It was convinced that AFSPA needed to be either repealed or amended. Toward this end, the Justice Jeevan Reddy Committee was set up. The committee recommended the Act be repealed but the government didn’t have the stomach for this. P. Chidambaram, who was home minister in the UPA government, has since confirmed that while he was in favour of repeal and pushed for it, the government ultimately dared not overrule the objections of the army.

For some people, this is yet another sign of the centralising nature of Modi. May be it is. But it is also marks the welcome reassertion of the civilian executive vis-a-vis the national security establishment in matters of the northeast.

On the Naga issue, it was, indeed, the Congress-led government under PV Narasimha Rao that first decided to search for a political solution through talks. There soon emerged a consensus amongst all the major parties on this. But, it was the BJP-led Vajpayee government that was willing to recognised, in a written declaration, the ‘uniqueness’ of Naga history and situation.  Of course, it was also this government that took the decision – which proved untenable and politically costly in the wider region – to extend the ceasefire ‘without territorial limits’. Throughout UPA-I and UPA-II, NSCN(I-M) leaders fretted and fumed about the lack of leadership in the government, and how they wished a ‘statesman’ like Vajpayee come back to power. Now the Modi government, in a little more than a year, has produced an accord. Even if it is just a ‘framework’, with a lot of details still to be filled in, the BJP certainly has some bragging rights.

The dramatic manner in which the accord came about is also telling. News reports say that only four people – the Prime Minister, the National Security Advisor, the official interlocutor R.N. Ravi, and the Home Minister – had advance knowledge of the accord. The home ministry bureaucrats and the army were apparently kept in the dark. Modi himself said that his office directly oversaw the final stretch of the talks process. For some people, this is yet another sign of the centralising nature of Modi. May be it is. But it is also marks the welcome reassertion of the civilian executive vis-a-vis the national security establishment in matters of the northeast. In any case, the issues and the compromises necessary have long been well known, so it is disingenuous to say that more consultations are necessary.

Electoral picture

Will the Naga accord  help the BJP in terms of electoral politics? It is important to note that the BJP has been seen as a Hindu party in the hill states of the northeast, some of which are predominantly Christian. In the 2014 general elections, while the Modi-led BJP wave swept through mainland India, the northeast remained an outlier to this national trend. Out of the eight northeastern states, including Sikkim, the BJP managed to make its presence felt only in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. In Assam, which has 14 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP won seven seats while the INC got only three. In 2009, it was the INC that won seven and the BJP four. In Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP wrested one seat (out of two) from the INC, which had won both seats in 2009. In Nagaland, the Naga Peoples Front (NPF), which has an alliance with the BJP, retained the only seat. The party failed to make its mark in the other five states.

There are many reasons for this. The BJP’s Hindu character is certainly one. To the tribal Christians of northeast India, the BJP’s pet themes like ban on cow slaughter, its emphasis on Hindi, uniform civil code, etc. are anathema. The recent attacks on minority religious institutions and the general ascendancy of Hindu right groups make them worry about religious freedom. Also, the BJP has never had committed cadres and grassroot organisations in the region to match that of the Congress. The northeast has never been the BJP’s priority.

In places like Manipur valley, the Indo-Naga talks have cast a dark shadow. It is significant that in the summer of 2001, when Manipur valley was in turmoil over the Central government’s ill-fated decision to extend its ceasefire agreement with the NSCN(I-M) without territorial limits, the BJP had 26 MLAs in a 60-seat assembly. In the assembly election held the next year, 2002, the BJP’s tally came down to four seats and in the last two assembly elections, in 2007 and 2012, the party drew a blank even as the Congress further consolidated its gains, both in the valley and hills.

The latest Naga accord will further cement the Manipur valley’s hostility towards the BJP. But in the hill areas, things may change. The hill-valley divide is deep. While the valley is consumed by fear of the nameless outsider which presently expresses itself through the agitation for the Inner Line Permit system, the hills are in fear of being overwhelmed by the valley Meiteis. As the INC-led government in the state and the party itself come to be seen as representing Meitei interests, the hill tribals are on the lookout for a party sympathetic to their concerns.

Sixth Schedule as way forward

While the politics of the Naga dominated districts is generally aligned with the greater Naga movement, politics in the Zomi-Kuki areas is controlled by two underground groupings, i.e. the United Peoples Front (UPF) and Kuki National Organization (KNO), both of which have had a Suspension of Operations  arrangement with the Indian army since around 2005. They are demanding an ‘Autonomous Hill State’ and a full-fledged Kuki state respectively and anxiously waiting for political talks with the Indian government. With no talks on the horizon, they have become increasingly frustrated with the state government and the INC generally. Their anxiety is heightened by the present accord which will likely contain something about the Naga areas in Manipur. What will become of the Zomi-Kuki areas, they ask.

Under the circumstances, the longstanding demand for the provisions of the Constitution’s Sixth Schedule be implemented in the tribal areas of Manipur is expected to escalate in the coming days. The Sixth Schedule is titled ‘Provisions as to the Administration of Tribal Areas in the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram’ and envisions the creations of districts and regions within these states that can enjoy a measure of administrative autonomy on certain subjects.

File photo of Langkhanpau Guite. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

File photo of Langkhanpau Guite. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Between the Meitei stand against dilution of Manipur’s territorial unity and the hill tribals’ insecurity, the Sixth Schedule seems to offer the best compromise for both sides. The demand for the Sixth Schedule for Manipur Hills has a long history. As recently as September 2014, members of the six Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in the Manipur Hills held demonstrations in Delhi’s Jantar Mantar demanding upgradation of the existing ADCs to Sixth Schedule areas. Indeed, it was on this issue that a crack opened up between the state government and the ADCs, both of which are controlled by the Congress, during the ADC elections in May-June this year.

In 2010, when ADC elections in the hills were held after a gap of 21 years, it was dominated entirely by the INC. In the last election held in June, the picture became fragmented. In Churachandpur district, which is the biggest district in Manipur dominated by the Zomi-Kuki group, most of the incumbent candidates, who were already awarded INC tickets, spurned the Congress party and contested as independents. 18 independent candidates were elected (out of a total of 24 elected seats) and 17 of them later formed the Hill Peoples Alliance (HPA). The INC managed to win only five seats while the BJP opened its account by winning one seat. In fact, while the INC was in power in all the six ADCs during the last term, the party managed to retain a majority only in the Sadar Hills ADC this time round. While HPA leader Langkhanpau Guite, who was re-elected Chairman of the Churachandpur ADC, says he endorses the demand for an Autonomous Hill State for Manipur Hills, he also recognises that the Sixth Schedule remains the most feasible way forward under the present circumstances.

Thangkhanlal Ngaihte is an independent researcher based in New Delhi

  • Vissionary

    Can TCS, IBM, Accenture, Infosys be set up in AGARTALA which will provide job and ray of hope to many ?

    Is there any ray of hope for TRIPURA ?

    Lakhs of Educated Youths (and their families) of TRIPURA (2nd highest populous state in NORTHEAST) have been languishing in complete frustration for over a decade now (recent news on TRIPURA can be referred for details) due to lack of –> Progressive Economic policies, Meaningful development, Best of the industries and quality professional employment opportunities, Best of the class healthcare, Proactiveness in being nationally and globally competitive.

    Does anyone know why capital AGARTALA is not yet even an inch near to a tier-2 city like PUNE ?

    Does anyone know what TRIPURA have achieved (in terms of giving its educated youth much needed professional career opportunities at par with other progressive states) till date by focusing only on natural resource (rubber, bamboo, plastic) based industry, which in progressive states (e.g. Karnataka, Maharashtra) is considered as intermediary industry, while IT and High Tech industry (in Software Export) are the prime economy drivers !! Does any one know WHEN BRAIN DRAIN would be REVERSED in TRIPURA ?

    Does anyone know WHY poor and lesser educated people are still not able to live a life with self dignity – at par with those in other progressive states (e.g. An Healthcare firm or IT MNC firm not only employs Doctors, Engineers, Managers and other graduates – alongwith them there are many other supporting and maintanance staffs who get due trainigs, well paid and can make their own career as well !!).

    Does any one know HOW LONG (and WHY) people of TRIPURA (Youths especially) have to languish in backwardness when rest of the progressive states are vying for attention from top IT MNCs and High Tech firms to set up their base ??

    If tier 2 cities like PUNE, GURGAON – (with top talents from India making careers in these cities) – can achieve same through right mix of people, policies, push and willingness to embrace technology and competition – why can’t AGARTALA ?? Does anyone know what is (national and global) COMPETITIVE INDEX of AGARTALA CITY ?

    Hope much needed ECONOMIC VIBRANCY (like Bangalore, Mumbai, Gurgaon, Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad) is created in AGARTALA (to emerge as new SMART CYBER CITY of India!) with best of the policies and setting up of World Class Infrastructures.

    Really hope leadership in CENTER, TRIPURA Govt and Other Concerned DIGNITARIES takes a FUTURISTIC and PROGRESSIVE approach and goes BIG to put TRIPURA into national & international scheme of things and strives hard in making AGARTALA into an world class city signifying uprising India’s growing prowess!

    We really need to move forward by developing TRIPURA with world class infrastructures and bring it at par with best of the other Indian states in the shortest possible time!

    Yes – we do have logistical issues in terms of connectivity,tough terrains – which slowly but surely being overcomed with multiple links opening up through Bangladesh,Myanmar!

    Appreciating TRIPURA Govt and Center on the development works so far,would request to set higher goals and aim to make TRIPURA the new face of emerging India!

    Some of the very important issues plauging TRIPURA badly:

    1.INDUSTRY – Not a single High Tech corporate, Big MNCs – especially economy driving Service Sector (from IT, High Tech – source of higher disposable income – source of thriving economy) have a presence in TRIPURA – Need of the hour (with major connectivity projects on and due for completion in next 1-2 years) is to have many of these companies (e.g. IBM,Accenture,TCS, Infosys, Wipro,Cognizant, Tech Mahindra,HCL) set up Delivery & Consultancy centers (by facilitating them with setting up of necessary IT zones / parks – in the line of ITPL Bangalore, Electronics City Bangalore, HITEC Hyderabad, Rajiv Gandhi Infotech Park Hinjawadi Pune, DLF IT Park Chennai – with due URGENCY) – Which is a must to open up window of professional opportunities (and mass employment) for bright (More than 6 lakhs UNEMPLOYED !!) youths of the state. TRIPURA is also home to massive talent pool with combination of huge number of working professionals (working in other Metros and abroad currently), local educated youths, youths (and working professionals) from other parts of INDIA, neighboring NORTHEAST states and legal working professionals from Bangladesh and Neighboring countries! At the same time geographical proximity of AGARTALA to important BANGLADESH cities (and subsequently to other SE Asian countries) gives ample business opportunities for IT Majors to expand their client base across industrial domains (e.g. Digital Bangladesh project being envisaged by Bangladesh Govt). Does anyone know when a QUICK and DECISIVE step will be taken to make AGARTALA an epitome of IT opportunities where it would solve MOST SEVERE UNEMPLOYMENT ISSUE for lakhs of educated youths from TRIPURA ?

    2.LIFESTYLE – Not a single world class 5 star hotel (Taj, Leela, Oberoi, ITC), World class shopping mall (Phoenix Market city Mumbai, LuLu International Shopping Mall Kochi, Mantri Square mall Bangalore), multiplexes (PVR, Big Cinemas, INOX) , World class Retail chains (Walmart, IKEA, Pantaloons,Shoppers Stop, Croma, Reliance Retail etc) exists in TRIPURA – Need of the hour is to have many and which is a must for a better and modern lifestyle for both people of State as well as thousands of (domestic and international) tourists arriving in the state.

    3.EDUCATION – Not a single higher education institute of national importance (IIM, IIT, IISc, AIIMS, Symbiosis management institutes, Xavier management institutes etc …) exists in TRIPURA – Need of the hour is to have many (given the fact that a huge number of students from TRIPURA migrates to other states for pursuing Engineering, Medical and Management from best of the institutes) which is a must to bring youths at par to the ones in other part of India !! This will also help best of the brains from other parts of INDIA to know NORTHEAST (TRIPURA in particular) better!

    4.HEALTHCARE – Not a single HOSPITAL of national importance (in terms of professionalism , proven quality and trusted brand) exists in TRIPURA which is a must for those helpless people of state who has to run around and rush to Chennai and other cities for treatment even during those critical hours of life! – Need of the hour is to go PROACTIVE and INVITE best of the brands available (e.g AIIMS, FORTIS, APPOLO, MANIPAL Hospitals) to set up their HOSPITAL CHAINS at AGARTALA, at the same time highlighting enormous business opportunities they can derive from Medical Tourism Market comprising of Tourists coming from other Northeast states, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and other Neighboring countries. Does anyone know HOW LONG people would continue to suffer (Latest was Maleria epidemic) due to lack of best of the class healthcare in TRIPURA ?

    5.RAIL – Really hope TRIPURA gets connected to Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) Network with individual lines to MYANMAR and BANGLADESH – in the earliest possible time. Given the huge prospect of being a important Rail hub (catering to domestic and international traffic) connecting NORTHEAST to SE Asia and further to Europe, Hope AGARTALA rail station gets transformed into a world class Rail station (with best of the technologies, equipments, infrastructure and amenities) in the line of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Maharashtra) and Chennai Central station (Tamil Nadu). Also, need of the hour is to have a seamless Rail connectivity between all the NE capitals (Mumbai-Chennai like network need to be put in place for people to move across NORTHEAST easily without any hassles/security issues). Does anyone know when first Bullet Train will arrive in TRIPURA ?

    6.CITY TRANSPORT – Not the best of the Road Infrastructure and City Transport System is in place in AGARTALA! Need of the hour is to have world class technology (e.g. GPRS enabled systems) and equipments embedded in ROADS (e.g. Digital Sign boards, CCTV cameras, Automatic Traffic Signal Control System etc.) and PUBLIC TRANSPORT VEHICLES (e.g. High Tech VOLVO AC and Non-AC Buses, Double-decker Buses) ; and install a organized process (e.g. Daily, Monthly and Yearly Passes, Dress code for Bus operators) in place – with something like Ahmedabad Bus Rapid Transit system, Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System! Even Lucknow, Meerut have set their eyes on Metro rail rolling shortly. Does anyone know when AGARTALA METRO will be flagged off ?

    7.AIRPORT – Really hope AAI comes up with an world class international terminal (in the line of Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore , Mumbai Airports) in AGARTALA with modern technology, infrastructure, equipments and best of the amenities! With growing economic linkage between INDIA and other ASEAN countries (latest being PM’s visit to Japan and Thailand) as part of INDIA’s ACT-EAST POLICY,it hardly leaves any room for imagination – the role AGARTALA going to play in near future being the hub of international trade. And SMOOTH and AROMATIC flow of INTERNATIONAL and DOMESTIC travelers (includes businessman, tourists, patients, students) will hold key to fully realize potential of ACT-EAST policy envisioned by INDIA’s leadership. Does anyone know WHEN International Airport would actually come up at AGARTALA ?

    8.WATER Ways – TRIPURA Rivers are connected to Rivers in Bangladesh. Need of the hour is to transform TRIPURA rivers into national waterways, set up World Class Inland ports (in the line of Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project) and connect them to Bangladesh River and Sea ports, which would ease TRIPURA’s landlockedness to a significant extent and improve Supply Chain and Logistical delivery of goods and services!

    9.HIGHWAY – Hope AGARTALA gets incorporated to have seamless access to SE Asia connectivity points (India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway and Kaladan Multi-modal Transit). Also Need of the hour is to have Multi-lane express highway (in the line of Mumbai-Pune expressway, Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway) connectivity among all NE capitals. Can there be a Express Highway (via DHAKA) connecting AGARTALA and KOLKATA ?

    10.BUSINESS MEET – Not a single Global Investor Meet organised yet in AGARTALA (whereas in Karnataka, Gujarat and even Chattisgarh these are almost frequent affairs – Recent one being PUNJAB getting thousands of crores of investment out of a Investor Summit !!). Need of the hour is organize such event which would surely put TRIPURA in global map and radar of world class corporates!

    11.SPORTS – Not a single International stadium exists in AGARTALA to hold national and international level football and cricket tournaments (ODI, T20, Test matches, IPL, ISL, Challengers League etc) !!! Need of the hour is to set up an World Class International stadium with latest technology, infrastructure, equipments and best of the amenities (to the level of Eden Gardens Stadium, M Chinnaswamy Stadium, M. A. Chidambaram Stadium) to facilitate football and cricket crazy fans of TRIPURA (2nd Populous NE state!!), fans from neighboring NE states and neighboring countries of Bangladesh & Myanmar, budding cricketers and footballers from NORTHEAST to watch their favorite STARS in action !! This would also be a huge boost to Tourism, Relationship build up with neighboring countries, Opening up of many other avenues in industry starved NORTHEAST TRIPURA! For an instance, even though INDIA will be hosting 2017 U-17 FIFA world cup, there seems to be no chance of having few matches played in TRIPURA – though that would be the nicest thing to bring WORLD much closer to NORTHEAST TRIPURA !! Does anyone know when first international cricket match will be played in AGARTALA ?

    12.ECONOMIC ZONE – Really hope AGARTALA gets incorporated in the proposed BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) corridor project and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) project. Having close geographical proximity with important cities like DHAKA and CHITTAGONG will surely help TRIPURA leverage it’s strategic location of being India’s Gateway to SOUTHEAST ASIA! Also there is a urgent need to build economic and industrial corridors connecting all NE capitals to leverage economic potential between Northeast India and Southeast Asia. Does anyone know when a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) will come up in AGARTALA? Can there be a ECONOMIC CORRIDOR set up between AGARTALA and DHAKA ?

    13.TOURISM – There seems to be no concerted approach in Branding and Marketing TRIPURA TOURISM with a wider internet reach through Social Media network, Top travel and hospitality web sites (in the line of Maharashta Tourism, Tamilnadu Tourism, Uttar Pradesh Tourism, Kerala Tourism, Goa Tourism) even though there is a huge scope for TRIPURA in both National and International Tourism Market. Also hilly terrains can be transformed into a major hub for Adventure Tourism (in the line of Ladakh) in addition to existing eco, cultural and religious Tourism.

    14.TECHNOLOGY – There seems to be no approach in promoting and using modern technologies e.g. Internet Of Things (Combination of Physical things, Sensors, Internet, Cloud, Big Data and Real time Analytics) – which allows to overcome day to day challenges and enhance quality of public life (e.g. Wireless sensors on Bridges and Buildings for precaution against earthquake and natural disaster; Smart farms to improve Agriculture productivity; Effective Monitoring of Healthcare for patients; Managing Rivers, lakes and flood situations; Managing Traffic Congestion; Managing Air Polution; Managing Forest Degradation; Maintaining Roads and Highways; Monitoring Goods Transportation; Monitoring vehicle speed and preventing Road Accidents).

    15.SMART CITY – Hope AGARTALA gets incorporated in the SMART CITY (with a Global imprint) project envisaged by NDA Govt. Can AGARTALA lead in implementing every aspect of Global SMART CITY and set an example ?

    16.ENTREPRENEURSHIP – Does anyone know why there is no notable start up (like RedBus, Snapdeal, Flipkart) yet from TRIPURA ?

    17.NRI – There seems to be no approach to involve NRIs from TRIPURA to come up with ideas, investment for rapid economic growth of TRIPURA – whereas Karnataka, Tamilnadu have seen major contributions from NRIs.

    18. TELECOM – Internet and Telecom services are still WAY BELOW PAR in AGARTALA (compared to cities like AHMEDABAD or BANGALORE)- while country have moved on with latest technologies like 4G !! Does anyone know HOW LONG people of TRIPURA have to be deprived from – seamless HIGH SPEED Internet and Best of the class Telecom services ? Does anyone know when AGARTALA would become a WIFI enabled city ?

    Also urgent need of the hour is to complete all the existing infrastructure projects as soon as possible and identification and sanctioning of all other infrastructure projects fulfilling above infrastructure gaps without any further delay!!

    Anything less than ‘WORLD CLASS’ would only defeat the very purpose behind infrastructure development of TRIPURA under ACT-EAST Policy!!

    IMPOSSIBLE – just means I AM POSSIBLE! If India need to catch up with developed part of the world,the most strategically placed Northeast (especially TRIPURA) need to be made into a developed region in the shortest possible time!

    I strongly believe TRIPURA govt (in close co-ordination with Center, other concerned dignitaries & all corporate vissionaries) can certainly achieve this sooner rather than late, which would definitely give its people a better employment opportunities, a better healthcare, a better access to quality education, a quality lifestyle, and last but not the least a confident and connected TRIPURA leading India’s charge towards contributing to a more stable and stronger global economy!!