Guwahati: The Narendra Modi government will soon be holding a consultative meeting with Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh to understand the state’s position regarding the Naga peace talks.
The chief minister has been invited to Delhi to discuss various issues before any agreement is reached between the Government of India, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) and the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG), which is an umbrella body of seven Naga insurgent groups.
Confirming the invitation, S. Rajen, personal secretary to the CM, told ThePrint that the visit was scheduled for this week but was postponed due to byelections in the state. While the results of the polls were announced Tuesday, no new dates have been announced for the meeting yet.
Negotiations between the Modi government and the NSCN(I-M) have intensified over the past few months, but remain inconclusive with both sides maintaining their respective stands over the I-M’s demand for a separate Naga flag and constitution.
Amid the risk of the negotiations failing, however, a solution seems to be in sight with the Centre keenly pursuing all aspects before inking the final peace deal.
It has been over 23 years since talks between the NSCN(I-M) and the government officially began in 1997. In August 2015, the Union government signed a Framework Agreement with the NSCN (I-M) to seek a final solution. The NNPGs joined the talks later by signing a ‘Deed of Commitment’ with the government in 2017.
Manipur civil society hopeful on Centre’s assurances
After the supposed ‘conclusion’ of the peace talks on 31 October last year, the government had issued a statement dispelling rumours of a breakthrough in talks. It said any settlement with the Naga groups would be reached only after consultations with all stakeholders including Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
In Manipur, where the Nagas are a sizeable population, there are worries about the state’s territorial integrity. The Meiteis (Manipuris) say that the final Naga accord should not hurt Manipur’s interests. The state had witnessed massive protests in November last year after the 31 October deal was announced.
The Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), the apex body of seven civil society organisations, demanded the disclosure of the Naga Framework Agreement signed in August 2015. Then on 25 November last year, an 18-member delegation met Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
“The Home Minister assured us that before the final agreement, we will be consulted and that there will be no integration of Naga-inhabited areas, no separate regional Naga territorial council in Manipur,” said Khuraijam Athouba, a COCOMI member, told ThePrint. “We will not concede to them if our interests are not fulfilled. You can’t say different things to the Nagas, Meiteis and Kukis. We want a transparent process.”
The Meitei, Kuki and Naga communities in Manipur used to live in peaceful coexistence after India’s Independence, but a difference in perception of territorial lands and overlapping boundaries has over time gradually disrupted ties.
Kuki rebel groups on alert
The Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM), the apex community organisation in the state endorsing the demand for a separate Kukiland territorial council, submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Modi Monday requesting the government to not include Kuki ancestral land in five districts of Manipur in the Framework Agreement. They include the Chandel, Tengnoupal, Kangpokpi, Churachandpur and Pherzawl districts.
Meanwhile, the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), one of the two umbrella bodies comprising 17 Kuki rebel outfits with more than 2,000 approved cadre, said that “any settlement with NSCN (I-M) that disregards Kuki rights will not be tolerated”.
“The Naga talks have been obstructed by the anti-India stance of NSCN (I-M). The Kukis need to be consulted because we have legitimate and constitutional aspirations for a territorial council along the lines of Bodo Territorial Council, and NSCN (I-M) claims on traditional Kuki territories cannot be conceded,” Stephen Kuki, under-secretary, KNO, told ThePrint.