S C Jamir, Former Chief Minister & Governor
The Opposition-less Nagaland United Government as propounded by 60 MLAs of Nagaland is a new concept totally alien to democratic system of governance. It looks rather outlandish nevertheless, the present experiment may not be as outlandish as it sounds. There is no harm to let the MLAs try to find the early solution of the Naga problem.
There are two fundamental issues related to the unity and Naga political issue so also there are two types of unity. When we put grains in a cup, they are united as long as they are inside the cup.But the moment you throw them on the floor all the grains will go in its own way. In this case we cannot say that they are really united because of semblance of unity was only when they were together inside the cup. But when we put water in the same cup they dissolve their separate identity and become one and the same. Even if we throw the water, it falls on the ground and there will be no separation from each other. This is the kind of unity that alone can redeem the Naga people from the present political quagmire. It is expected of the MLAs to be like water in the cup.
“No one can stop an idea whose time has come”, declared Voltaire. Setting aside distinctive Party identities, goals and objectives and laying to rest the useful roles of an Opposition in a thriving democracy in larger public interest, and forging an Opposition-less Nagaland United Government, in the name of a greater political objective for the long-term good of the Nagas and especially for Nagaland is, on the face of it, a new and worthy idea. The test of sincerity and force of conviction and commitment to this idea can of course be seen, known and proved only as the passing days unfold how this ‘idea’ is carried forward by the sixty MLAs of Nagaland. For senior citizens like me who have seen and gone through it all, it seems as if we have been through ages.
Today, Naga leaders, both over-ground and underground, appear to be thoroughly obsessed and enchanted with the word, “uniqueness”. All the time, we keep hearing about the “uniqueness” of the Naga political issue, and the concept or idea of an opposition-less or party-less Nagaland United Government in a democracy is also another unique arrangement in Nagaland polity, forged as they say, ‘only for the sake of the Naga political issue’. Of course only time will reveal whether this ‘unique scenario’ has been staged only for the political convenience of the concerned political Managers for, “I-scratch-your-back, you-scratch-my-back”, with their eyes focused on the 2023 general elections, or it has been done with a “do-or-die” undying conviction and total commitment to facilitating a final settlement to the over seven decades old festering Naga political imbroglio. As the saying goes, “Action speaks louder than words.”
Now, it is expedient that we should try to take a peek into this long protracted issue that has directly or indirectly caused such a heavy toll on Naga lives, liberties, socio-economic and overall development as a people, stretching into decades.
One very perplexing question before the Nagas is: “Is this very important political issue yet to be addressed with finality by the GOI and the UG negotiators, or was it already finalized and is in the pipeline somewhere, just awaiting final announcement?” Apparently, there are already two important agreements before us: first, “The Framework Agreement of 3rd August 2015”, finalized between the GOI and the NSCN (IM), and signed in the presence of the Prime Minister, Home Minister and a host of dignitaries from both sides. The Prime Minister stated during the signing of this ‘Agreement’ that it was a historic agreement because the leaders of the NSCN (IM) had decided to join the mainstream of national life. The second laudable ‘Agreement’ was signed between the GOI and the Naga National Political Groups on 17th November 2017. The two underground groups were again summoned to New Delhi on 31st October 2019 to officially and formally endorse their solemn commitments to the ‘Agreements’. All these documents are supposed to have been signed consciously, freely and with full knowledge of the contents of the said documents.
Several years have gone by since the signing of the two political agreements but the so-called final resolution of the Naga political problem remains as elusive as ever. Thus, in spite of open statements made by various Indian leaders including the Prime minister, praising the agreements as historic, a real final settlement for the Nagas is yet to see the light of the day. It continues to remain hidden and nobody knows for how long more! The kind of enthusiasm and optimism generated in the minds of the people at the initial stages has almost died down. As time passes, trust deficit towards the GOI appears to be gaining ground too. In these highly confusing and uncertain times, with the next round of State general elections less than one and a half years away, the 60 MLAs, recognizing the profound political implications appear to have decided to forge the Nagaland United Government to redeem the people and their future from the present political quagmire.
We may take a longer peek down memory lane and take a panoramic view of the Naga political development in brief. Over seven decades of Naga political struggle has witnessed some novice underground members turning into heroes of sorts, formation of more and more UG splinter groups, inevitably accompanied by multiplication of well organized extortion activities, allowed corruption to spread its dreaded tentacles into the very depths of Naga life and state governance, created scope for poor law and order situation, and very sadly, the common Nagas made to bear the brunt of languishing under the dark shadow of a host of problems. The stakeholders in this political quagmire are the Government of India, the Nagaland State Government of the day, the underground groups and the common people. However, the actual political negotiation as we know is between the GOI and the UG groups alone and they alone would be the signatories of the final settlement instruments.
Looking back at some specifics in the context of the Naga political issue, former Chief Minister of Nagaland, late JB Jasokie, a veteran politician and a widely respected leader of his time was the first visionary who suggested that Nagaland should have a party-less Government in order to deal with the vexed Naga political problem. Jasokie’s plain logic behind such an idea, a shocking one at that point of time, shocking because its “time had not come”, was that in Nagaland there was no political ideology as such! The existence of political parties was necessitated for the sole purpose of contesting elections! Hence, to have a strong as well as unanimous view on the issue of Naga political problem, there should be an elected Government; but that it should be a dispensation without party colours. Jasokie tried hard to convince that unless there was unanimous and united effort before the Government of India (GOI) any honourable and satisfactory settlement to the Naga political problem would be impossible. That Jasokie was right in his assessment of the ground level reality has been proved again and again! However, let us look still further back.
Prior to formal creation of Nagaland State on December 1, 1963, there was no political party in Nagaland. The only organization recognized by the people was the Naga National Council (NNC) which was formed in 1946 at Wokha. After the formation of the State, the Assembly election under the Constitution of India was held in 1964. The members of the Interim Body of Nagaland who administered the new State during three years of Interim period under the leadership of P Shilu Ao felt that introduction of political parties in Nagaland would disturb the very ethos of traditional governance of the Nagas and as such election should be without any party colour. Suddenly, however, under the leadership of A Kevichusa, the Democratic Party was formed to contest the first election in Nagaland. P Shilu Ao was compelled to form a political party known as Naga Nationalist Organization (NNO). While forming this NNO, the word “party” was intentionally omitted and it was called an “Organization”. When the first election was held, there was excitement in the air. The people were taking part in the State election for the first time to elect their representatives. Both the parties in their manifestoes had stressed on resolving the Naga political issue. All the candidates who had entered the election fray took oath under the Constitution of India. The NNO won with a massive majority and formed the Government led by P Shilu Ao. After the election, while taking oath all the MLAs had sworn in the name of God to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established and to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India.
Legally and constitutionally, they were the only legitimate representatives who carried the mandate of the people of Nagaland. The NNO, as per its election manifesto fully supported the Ceasefire of 1964 between the Naga Federal Government (NFG) and the Government of India. It was no doubt a great achievement considering NFG’s obstinate stand till then. This ceasefire was remarkable in the sense that it paved the way for continued political dialogue. In fact six rounds of talks were held and in the last round of talks Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister, offered the maximum possible autonomy to the Underground delegates but by sheer stupidity of the underground Federal delegates the talk failed. Tribalism was the factor that aborted the last round of talk with the Prime Minister. What a lost opportunity this was! On the other hand, MLAs of the Democratic party resigned en block pursuant to their Party’s manifesto to facilitate political negotiation between the Naga undergrounds and the Government of India.
Times changed, and very tragically for the Nagas! Other States of the country have marched ahead. Nagaland has, literally speaking been stuck and mired up in time. Peace, prosperity, academic activity, infrastructure building, improved law and order situation, etc., have eluded Nagaland. Yet one thing increased ~ multiplication of political parties! With the passage of time the State is witnessing mushrooming of political parties under different names and symbols just for the sole purpose of contesting elections. The leaders and many other self-proclaimed leaders have imported into Nagaland almost all big political parties that dotted the landscape of India without even bothering about the aims and objectives of many of those political Parties! Many were just plain eager to jump into the political bandwagon without any commitment and without even bothering about the concerned party ideology. Besides other minor parties, Indian National Congress and BJP, the two largest national Parties entered into Nagaland. How these two national parties penetrate and take roots in the Naga mind, heart and soil, only time will tell. The saddest signal for regional parties in Nagaland is that none of them really can claim to be hard-core regional as clearly proven by their political conduct over time. The reasons appear to be only too transparent.
If someone delves deep into the root cause of the failure to find a final solution to the Naga problem, especially by the national parties like Congress and the BJP, the approach appears to have been all along one of dilly-dallying as long as possible in the hope perhaps of gradually watering down the hard stance of the Naga UGs. Of course, the present NDA Government, led by N Modi, the Prime Minister of India, has shown more sincere commitment and succeeded in persuading leaders of both the NSCN (IM) and the NNPGs and signed two political agreements formally and officially by appending their signatures in person. The real unfolding and outcome of these agreements is the crux of the Naga political issue today.
POLICY OF EQUI-DISTANCE AND EQUI-CLOSENESS:
Almost all succeeding Governments in Nagaland followed the policy of equi-distance towards the underground. When the Congress took over the reins of administration under my watch, the same policy of equi-distance was followed towards all the UG groups. It was felt expedient to maintain equal distance with all the factions of the underground for the simple reason that all of them subscribed to the same goal of sovereignty and separation from India. It was during Congress rule in Nagaland that two ceasefire arrangements were made between the Government of India, one with the NSCN (IM) in 1997 and then with the NSCN (K) in 2001. The policy of equi-distance towards the underground provided space for the two factions to have ceasefire with the GOI without any hindrance whatsoever.
When the NPF took over the reins of administration in Nagaland under N Rio’s leadership, in its own wisdom it had adopted the policy of equi-closeness. In its overenthusiastic approach somehow it went too close to one of the factions and then it was irreversible perils all the way. Proximity to one faction fully antagonized all other factions. It was but natural that the other factions got alienated because of non-too-comfortable closeness to one faction.
This, in a nut-shell, is the backdrop against which we have to analyze the present scenario and then ponder over the Opposition-less State Government. What then is the present political and socio-economic scenario in Nagaland today?
(a) Multiple factions under different nomenclatures marked by ‘aya ram gaya ram’ or frequent defections;
(b) ever increasing multiple cases of systemic extortions, and issuance of demand notes to the people;
(c) narrowed space for consensus;
(d). ever-increasing State governance organization, accompanied by ever increasing State debt burden and resource deficit in the backdrop of ever more generous and increasing Central funding releases to the State;
(e) multiple allegations, now in public domain, of rampant corruption cases and gross instances of gross mis-governance;
(f) sky-rocketing of prices of all essential and non-essential commodities;
(g) the promise to the people of a better life now and a still brighter future now standing at the crossroads of stark poverty, deeper hardship, hopelessness and despair for the up-coming younger generations!
All these have come to the State of Nagaland in exchange for supporting the Naga promise land. For how much longer the Naga people have to bear the brunt of all these, they do not know. An urgent solution to the long protracted Naga political issue and an accompanying thorough cleansing of State governance is the most urgent and preponderous need of the Nagas today.
May we be reminded that during the meeting of all factions of the UGs on 29 February 2012 at Agricultural-Expo, Dimapur, when a written speech was read out that, “the Naga independence and integration issues were no longer possible,” the final nail was hammered into the coffin of the Naga political issue. This pronouncement shook the morale of the congregation and the people were left bewildered and confused.
Despite this Himalayan plunder, at long last, the leaders of the UGs in their collective wisdom and political foresight have succeeded in hammering out two honourable political ‘Framework’ and ‘Preamble’ agreements with the Government of India, but the fate and final outcome of these ‘Agreements’ is still unknown to the Naga public. The Naga people have suffered and waited long enough and are impatient to see the materialization of the new political dispensation in reality.
The situation as we see today is delicate, complex, crucial and most challenging. But this seven decades old issue can no longer be allowed to drag us down into the abyss of self-destruction. We cannot, in my humble perception, wait until 2023 or 2024 new political developments in Nagaland and at the Centre to catch up with us. At present the sixty Members of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly are constitutionally mandated representatives of the people of Nagaland and without any party colour, leaving aside all other important issues of the State, they have united themselves into an Opposition-less, Nagaland United Government with the one singular agenda of facilitating the final settling of the Naga political issue once and for all. This should indeed be a “do-or-die” plunging forward with absolute deliberate intent and purpose. It is opined that in the few months ahead before 2022 sets in, the sixty Honourable Representatives of the people would do well to mobilize public opinion, move Delhi and the UGs to expedite the settlement finalization process, and by beginning of 2022, if there is no breakthrough, go to the extent of unanimously resigning from their seats and dissolving the State Legislature ‘ad infinitum’ until a final solution is arrived at and the new political dispensation is ushered in. Several leaders across different political spectrum have already urged the MLAs to make this supreme political sacrifice. All Nagas should unite and stand firm on this proposition. I propose that every section of Naga society and in fact every Naga citizen should loudly cry out as one voice to demand a final political solution. The Churches would do well to organize prayer programmes and the Civil society organizations should organize and conduct peace rallies to bring this issue to a final and honourable conclusion at the earliest. Wisdom says, “United we stand, and divided we fall”.
Kuknalim and may God bless Nagaland!