Worries about the Framework Agreement signed in 2015 between the Government of India representatives and the NSCN(IM), is once again at its periodic crest. This is so on account of the approaching election to the Nagaland Assembly due in February 2018, and the possibility that the BJP government at the Centre may be under pressure to announce a final version of the agreement before it to get electoral advantages. As of now, nothing much is known of the content of the FA, and it does seem now that when it was signed it was just an empty framework to be filled later with negotiated agreements. Even if this is what it was, it is reasonable to presume that after more than two years of negotiations, there would be some points of agreements between the negotiating parties, and the public anxiety now is, these can possibly be what are likely to be announced before the elections, if at all. The worries are justified if not for anything else, then because all along these negotiations had been kept a secret, and nobody, including larger sections of the stake holding public in Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and indeed Nagaland, have an inkling of what have been agreed upon so far. Surely, nobody would want a surprise sprung upon them on matters that are vitally important to their life and wellbeing. Surely again, nobody would want to be left helplessly out of control of what may determine the shape of their future. As expected, the Congress, now in the opposition in Manipur, has been leading a protest demanding the revelation of the entire content of whatever agreement has been reached, and an ugly incident on Sunday, when some miscreants in the home constituency of the Chief Minister, N. Biren, quite obviously supporters of the BJP, created a scene at one of the Congress protest sites, is a demonstration of how nervous the BJP is about these developments.
All these notwithstanding, those who are fearful of the content of the FA may have to wait some more. In all likelihood, the agreement may still not be ready for public pronouncement for a number of reasons, and here are some of our guesses. One, this is a complex issue, and can have no easy answer. The general perception is, it is Manipur where the biggest hurdles would be, but this may not be the entire truth. Assam and Arunachal too have now expressed serious objections on a solution to the Naga problem that may affect their territorial integrity. Two, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur are now BJP ruled states, and the BJP central leadership may not be too keen to alienate them by forcing terms on them. This is especially so in the wake of what seems to be the waning influence of the central BJP and their charismatic leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The veracity of this latter observation will be seen later this month when the results of the Gujarat Assembly elections are out, the first phase of which was just over, and indications are the BJP may not live up to its image of invincibility even in Modi’s home turf. Indeed, the conviction and confidence with which the BJP is able to play the Naga card ahead of the Nagaland Assembly election will depend vitally on how it performs in Gujarat. If it ends up mauled by a resurgent Congress, it is unlikely the BJP will be in a position to play its Naga gambit at all for the time being, and the FA will likely remain under tight wraps as it always has been. But the BJP may still be in an unenviable position for if it does nothing to finalise the agreement, it may lose the foothold it had hoped it would gain in Nagaland.
There is yet another angle to the problem. There is a generally presumption that Nagaland is solidly behind the FA, and this is a fallacy. People in this state are as anxious and suspicious of the FA, of which they too are in the dark, and just as in Manipur there are demands in Nagaland for the FA contents to be made public so that the people would know what new situation they are likely to be thrown into, or whether there would be any substantial gains they would have from it. There would certainly be outrage if the new agreement is no better than the truce in 1975 brought by the Shillong Accord which the NSCN then denounced as a sell-out and therefore refused to accept. If 43 years down the line, the new accord brings nothing better than the fact of an end to violence, obviously there would be cynicism. Again, if the new accord is about autonomy for Naga districts in Manipur, Nagaland is sure to ask if this was what they have had to pay with 43 years more of the trauma of bush war they were dragged along. Surely this will be a tough question for the BJP to answer.
Source: Imphal Free Press