NSCN-IM settlement is intricately tied with Nagaland’s political drama. Here's how
The imminent political coup in Nagaland, which has been brewing for a while, appears to be connected with the hunt for a final solution or settlement between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM).
In fact, during the first week of July, the Thuingaleng Muivah-led group submitted a draft of the final settlement to the Government of India, NSCN-IM sources told Catch.
“It is up to the Government of India now,” said the source.
Notwithstanding the drama being played out in Kaziranga and Kohima – the rebellion against incumbent Chief Minister Shurhozelie Liezietsu - it is this development in New Delhi that is likely to have a greater impact in shaping political events in Nagaland.
Taking the Framework Agreement forward
Since August 2015, NSCN-IM has adhered to a ceasefire agreement since it signed the Framework Agreement with the government. It has been negotiating for a final memorandum of settlement.
The next step is believed to be “an interim arrangement”, although few know what that arrangement would be. For years now, Naga leaders have said that they are ready to “step down” in favour of an alternative arrangement.
“That should happen before the next elections because if polls are held, no one who has incurred crores in election expenses will step down,” said a source.
As both events are happening at the same time, all parties agree that a settlement has to be reached before the next elections in early 2018.
In fact, interlocutor RN Ravi paid a visit to Nagaland and interacted with civil society groups and political leaders ahead of a decision by the government.
More so, this development is tied deeply with the politics of the state. The BJP has jumped into the fray and has been pushing for a leadership change as the party believes the perfect face to effect such a settlement would be former chief minister Neiphiu Rio and not Liezietsu.
At the present moment, the political theatre is flood-ravaged Kaziranga National Park in neighbouring Assam, where 36 legislators of the Naga People’s Front are staying in suites of the Borgos resort waiting to depose the chief minister.
The dissidents are led by former chief minister TR Zeliang and are backed by Rio from the wings. Rio, a Lok Sabha MP, has chosen to stay in the shadows this time after having failed to execute a coup twice. The MLAs who support him are openly backing Zeliang at his bidding.
Getting to the brass tacks
“To me anyone in the CM’s chair should be ready for a floor test. If CM refuses, he should be dismissed (by governor PB Acharya),” Zeliang told Catch. “The Home Minister wants democracy and we have majority support,” he added, indicating that he has the full backing of the BJP leadership at the Centre.
Late 13 July, Acharya had again called for a floor test before 15 July - exactly what Zeliang was hoping for. The two had met in Guwahati on 10 July, according to Zeliang.
Liezietsu, inclined to put up a fight until two days ago, seems to have backed off. On 13 July, he withdrew the suspensions of dissident NPF members and even Rio, who he had suspended in May last year.
A compromise, however, would only mean his stepping down as chief minister in order to save his position as party president.
Into the wild
Borgos, a holiday resort in the heart of the Kaziranga grasslands, has turned into a fortress as the flood situation has worsened. Zeliang is the monarch surrounded by a moat with nothing but Assam government rescue boats to reach the highway to Nagaland.
In the huge dining hall, legislators dressed in T-shirts and shorts have been chatting about many subjects, from politics to the port wine and the quality of food at the resort. Some spend their morning at the gym, following it up by two or three meetings with their leader to discuss the day’s developments. “During the evenings, the bar is full,” said a source.
As far as intruders are concerned, there are no worries. Volunteers armed with walkie-talkies coordinate with a private security agency hired to keep legislators inside and intruders out.
Outside, SUVs lined up the road a kilometre away. A plan to return to Kohima was cancelled on Thursday even as they prepared to leave early Friday. Air-conditioned 15-seater buses were brought in to transport the valuable political cargo to Kohima instead of risking transportation in their own cars.
On Friday afternoon, legislators were ready to move to Kohima where another hotel was booked for them. “We will of course come to vote for Presidential election,” said Tokheho Yepthomi, a senior leader and a former Congressman. Even so, they will have to take the boat to their vehicles.
New Delhi’s role
The BJP government in Assam has gone all out in extending its help to Zeliang and his men, ostensibly at the behest of the powers that be in New Delhi. “Assam ministers visited us. Himanta Biswa Sarma also visited Dimapur,” said a source. Biswa Sarma engineered the successes for the BJP in Assam and then in Manipur. Nagaland may not be an exception.
There is hope in the BJP that the dissidents may well jump ship and join the BJP to have a BJP-led government implement the NSCN settlement. But that may not be likely.
“In the wake of the crisis in Kashmir, a resolution of the problem in Nagaland could be advantageous for the BJP,” said a source in Nagaland.
Governor PB Acharya has issued two letters to the Chief Minister asking him to call a special session of the Assembly before 15 July to conduct a floor test.
But Liezietsu has sent mixed signals, first readying for a fight and then withdrawing the suspension orders against the legislators from his own party and Rio.