Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah have both reportedly assured Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal that the interests of the State would be kept in mind when the BJP-led government at the Centre sits down for a final settlement of peace talks with the NSCN(IM). This is indeed a very welcome stand by the Centre, especially in view of the NSCN(IM)’s demand for creation of a ‘Nagalim’ comprising of large tracts of land belonging to Assam, as well as that of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Though New Delhi had already made it clear a few days ago that the Centre would consult the three States while making a final settlement with the NSCN(IM), the fact remains that there is no need for any such consultation whatsoever with Assam at all.
Instead, the reality is that the entire plains area under Dimapur district, as also the adjoining plains areas which Nagaland has named as ‘Niuland’ are historically part of Assam. Though the respective stands of the NSCN(IM) and that of the Government of Nagaland are different on various counts, there is a clear similarity to a certain extent of the two laying claim over Assam’s territory. What Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal should have done during his important meetings with the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister in the national capital on Thursday is to get a clear assurance from the two top leaders on getting the inter-State border dispute between Assam and Nagaland settled out of court. This needs to be done before, if not simultaneously, with the closing of the peace talks. Otherwise, it will remain an unending issue.
The Supreme Court of India, where the border dispute between the two States has been lying sub judice, can also probably examine the scope of settling the vexed issue once and for all at this crucial juncture. But then, what Sonowal failed to place before Modi and Shah is the genuine fears of the Assamese and other indigenous communities of the State about the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which the Centre is bent on implementing. Sonowal should remember every moment that he and his party had come to power in 2016 primarily on the promise of protecting the ‘jaati, maati and bheti’ (identity, land and homesteads) of the Assamese and other indigenous communities. Nothing else can be termed as betrayal but Sonowal’s failure to remind the issue of ‘jaati-maati-bheti’ to the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister.
What prevents the Assam Chief Minister from placing before the Central leadership the genuine apprehensions of the Assamese and other indigenous communities of Assam over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill? The Asom Gana Parishad and BPF – the two regional parties which are partners of Sonowal’s BJP-led government – should also rise to the occasion and tell Sonowal in clear terms that Assam should be kept outside the purview of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. All the three parties should also keep in mind the fact that there cannot be protection of only some areas of Assam’s interest. Protecting Assam’s territorial integrity in the backdrop of the NSCN(IM) peace settlement is as important as protecting the linguistic identity of the Assamese and other indigenous communities of the State.