Friday 26 May 2017 News Updated at 03:05 AM IST
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CMs' meet: way for 'shared sovereignty'? - Deccan Herald
CMs' meet: way for 'shared sovereignty'?
Subir Bhaumik,
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States in India's troubled Northeast often live with animosities that resemble nations at war. In the 1980s, the armed police forces of Assam and Nagaland fought gun battles like Indian and Pakistani forces fight across the Line of Control.

Manipur has been uncomfortable with Nagaland because it fears a 'great Nagalim' could materialise if Delhi conceded the demands of the rebel National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

The entire Imphal valley erupted in flames when the Vajpayee government decided to extend the Naga ceasefire to states outside Nagaland. Meiteis apprehended this may be the first step towards dismemberment of Manipur by accepting NSCN supremo Thuingaleng Muivah's "Greater Nagalim". Manipur stands to lose more than 60% of its present area if the 'Greater Nagalim' is accepted. So when Muivah tried to enter Manipur from Nagaland a few years ago, then chief minister Ibobi Singh lined up his police at the border Mao gate to stop him. All major TV channels rushed crews to cover the impending confrontation that was finally averted by the Centre's intervention.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is walking on thin ice as he tries to find a final solution to the six decades old Naga problem. Two years ago, his government signed a 'framework agreement' with the NSCN to set the stage for a final settlement. But such is the sensitivity involved that Modi or his security team have not been able to make public the contents of the framework agreement.

The BJP now has governments in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh - three states whose areas were demanded by Muivah for his 'Greater Nagalim'. That makes it easy for Modi to sell the Naga settlement to these states who have opposed any concession to the NSCN. What adds to Modi's position is that the present regional party in power in Nagaland is an ally of the BJP, a part of the NDA it leads.

So when Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh recently received his Nagaland counterpart Shurhozelie Liezietsu in Imphal, the two leaders opened a new chapter in the history of their troubled relations. Despite sharing borders, the two states have been at loggerheads - so the meeting would be seen by many as some kind of a breakthrough that might finally help the cause of finding a settlement to the Naga imbroglio.

Shurhozelie, 81, spent more than four hours in the Manipur capital during which he discussed with Biren Singh a range of issues and promised to find lasting solutions to them.

The visual effect of hundreds of Meiteis holding up posters of the two CMs - Biren alongside Shurhozelie - was electrifying. The message was clear - the Modi government had got the two CMs together to prepare the ground for a final settlement of the Naga issue.

'Greater Nagalim'

Manipur has been devastated by road blockades sponsored by Naga groups backing the 'greater Nagalim' demand on the historic Kohima-Imphal highway that leads to Myanmar's Tamu - a proposed route for the Asian highway over which India's Act East policy is set to unfold. But how can a highway so badly hit by blockades owing to ethnic strife be used for trans-regional connectivity? The Modi government has finally realised that without a final settlement of the Naga issue, there can be no Act East by land.

The Shurhozelie-Biren meeting is to set the stage for the final settlement of the Naga issue. Muivah has been coming out with statements that India has agreed to the concept of 'shared sovereignty' in formulating a final settlement of the Naga issue. That gives the Nagas a trapping of sovereignty - even possibly a separate flag and a separate constitution.

While the Modi government is yet to confirm this, it has not yet denied concept though the PM during the Manipur election campaign this year made it clear that the territorial integrity of the state will not be compromised. By all indications, therefore, a Naga settlement will not lead to territorial reorganisation in the Northeast - in short, no Nagalim. The BJP governments in Assam, Arunachal and especially Manipur can go back to their people and claim the Modi government has ensured the territorial integrity of their states. And the BJP-backed Nagaland government can claim to get Nagas a huge dose of regional autonomy not available to any Indian state.

There is still much of a slip between the proverbial cup and the lip. For a hardline government like the one Modi heads (with a huge ultra-nationalist constituency to appease), it will not be easy to sell any autonomy-driven settlement in mainland India. But if Modi finally manages to settle the Naga imbroglio on the basis of shared sovereignty, it will doubtlessly be a great model to tackle the ongoing crisis in Kashmir.

Most Kashmiris would surely find shared sovereignty a much better option to a merger with Pakistan - what can a much lesser population of Kashmiri Muslims expect in the failed state? For any region up in arms against Delhi, shared sovereignty will be useful to handle their aspirations by giving them a stake in the idea of India.

The writer is a veteran journalist and author