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Delhi unsure about special status to Naga areas

Th. Muivah

he nearing of state elections scheduled for February 2012 in Manipur is adding to pressure on the Centre, eager for a settlement to 14 years of Naga-Delhi talks that could win it some brownie points in the polls. However, recent media reports and discussions on a possible special status for Naga-dominated areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam were described as premature by senior officials close to the negotiations between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim.

The controversy about this special status, described as a "supra State body", has emerged in a note whose origin is unclear and which some journalists insist is part of a Government discussion paper. It has been published extensively in media in the Northeast and cites the need to discuss "a supra State Body for the Nagas for their cultural, social and customary practices".

It does not at any point say that such a "body" would be a political one with territorial arrangements. Indeed, the same note declares emphatically that the state governments of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Assam are totally opposed to parting with any territory sought by the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, headed by Th. Muivah and Isak Chis Swu. Indeed, the legislatures of all three states have passed resolutions stating this position, cutting across party lines. The NSCN has not to date reacted to the reports.

The issue about possibly providing a "Supreme Council for the Nagas" where Nagas in three states could elect traditional and cultural leaders without changing state boundaries is not new: it was discussed in various conversations between Naga and Indian civil society groups a decade back. Then, as now, the Nagas found such a concept difficult to accept, saying it would not go far enough to meet the demands of the NSCN for more territory as Mr Muivah, the principal negotiator of the group, wanted the Nagas of Manipur, especially his tribe, the Tangkhuls, to be out of Manipuri control.

"I haven't seen the paper which has been published but know of something similar," said one official close to the discussions. Another said that — as in the past — a "few" substantial sticking points remained to be ironed out if a resolution of the issue was to be clinched.

"It is not one part of the discussions that matters, it is the composite whole — without that it won't work; it can take a short while but again it could also take some more time," said one discussant.

The primary sticking point remains to be — as it has been over the long years of negotiations — the question of a larger Naga homeland that would envisage redrawing the borders of the three states, something that neither the Government of India nor the state governments are prepared to do. The NSCN has been adamant on this point and there appears to be little chance of a settlement until both sides accept some moderation in their positions. New Delhi is unlikely to step forward into this political quicksand in an already fragmented and hyper-sensitive issue and region. The Centre is clear that the states must be on the same page if this is to go through at all.

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