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Upping the ante

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  1 Feb 2018 12:00 AM GMT

The simmering discontent in galand demanding ‘Solution, Not Election’ has filly come to a head. With 11 political parties, including the ruling galand People’s Front (NPF), heeding the call by galand Tribal Hoho and Civil Organisations (CCNTHCO) not to issue party tickets or file nomitions, the Centre is well and truly on a sticky wicket. galand is scheduled to go to polls on February 27 and the new Assembly will have to take over by March 13. Else, the State will come under President’s Rule, and there is no knowing when that would end. The BJP meanwhile finds itself the odd man out, speaking in two voices over the poll boycott. The saffron party’s representative who signed the joint declaration on Monday to defer the election, has been suspended for doing so ‘without authorisation’. Union Minister Kiren Rijiju, the BJP’s in-charge of galand polls, has said the elections will be held as per schedule because the government is “bound by the Constitution”. The galand BJP has stated it will “abide by the directives of the party high command”. But that is easier said than done, considering how much political parties in galand are dependent on the underground militant groups. Two decades back in 1998, the NSCN(IM) and ga Hoho had called for a poll boycott. But the ruling Congress decided to contest at the last moment and swept the elections. This time, the CCNTHCO seems determined to ensure that no party breaks ranks again, and has already threatened a shutdown if the Election Commission goes ahead with its poll notification. Election at this juncture would trigger competitive politics and create divisions, so the ga Hoho, civil society and militant groups are anxious to put up a united front and force the rendra Modi government to commit itself to the Framework Agreement.

But what are the contents of this hush-hush pact signed by the Government of India and the NSCN(IM) in August 2015? At the NSCN(IM)’s headquarters Camp Hebron in March last year, the outfit’s general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah stated that the Framework Agreement “recognizes the legitimate right of the gas to integration of all ga territories”. However, with the BJP in power in the three States neighbouring galand — Assam, Manipur and Aruchal Pradesh — the saffron party’s top leadership has been at pains to assure that there will be no redrawing of State borders. Prime Minister Modi gave a firm assurance about keeping Manipur’s territorial integrity intact during the assembly election campaign in that State last year. This has to be taken seriously, because Manipur stands to lose nearly four-fifth of its territory if the Centre accedes to the NSCN(IM) demands. In the past month, Union Home Minister Rajth Singh has made similar assurances to the Assam government, which has been under pressure over ga encroachment in bordering districts like Golaghat. The NSCN(IM) has been fighting turf battles with the NSCN(K) at Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts in Aruchal, but will the saffron hued government in Itagar take it lying down if these three districts go to galim? If the territorial demands of the NSCN(IM) are not agreed to, what will the Centre give in lieu of it? This in turn has set off more speculations about the NSCN(IM)’s demands like separate flag and constitution, a huge special package for development of ga inhabited areas and concessions based on special status. Such demands for greater autonomy bear watching, considering the complications in Jammu and Kashmir that have grown intractable over its special status under the Constitution.

If Pakistan and Chi have joined hands to make Kashmir a thorn in India’s flesh since Independence, what is the guarantee Chi won’t repeat that strategy with galim? Due to Beijing’s prodding, the Myanmar government has a pact on ground with the NSCN(K) which has largely reorganised itself after SS Khaplang’s death. There are some 23 ga tribes inhabiting Myanmar — largely confined to the ga self-administered zone in Sagaing Division — with the domint Kachin State in the north, Shan State in the east and Chin State in the south. While the NSCN(IM) and some other ga rebel groups claim to speak for all gas, their writ hardly extends beyond the Indian side into areas which the anti-talk NSCN(K) controls. The Central government last year did succeed in bringing on board six more ga rebel groups after the NSCN(IM) into the peace process. It generated widespread optimism in galand that a fil agreement would be reached before Christmas. The galand Assembly pitched in by passing a resolution urging the Centre to arrive at such a solution. Once things got stuck thereafter, the BJP leadership could make little headway by assuring forward momentum post assembly polls. The CCNTHCO now wants a deadline of sorts to wrest a fil solution from the Centre. By upping the ante, hopefully the ga groups will help bring into light the contents of the Framework Agreement. It is the secrecy invested in this pact that has caused all the mischief, the latest instance being the violent protests in Dima Hasao district in Assam with the Dimasas fearing inclusion of their land in galim. Unless all stakeholders know what bargaining chips are being negotiated to seal a lasting peace deal, there will be anything but peace in the murky atmosphere of suspicion and distrust in the region.

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