NOT MANY, EITHER IN NEW DELHI or in Nagaland, are hoping for an early resolution to the six-decade-old Naga imbroglio. Despite nearly 13 years of negotiations, the problem is stuck on the crucial issue of territory. The Issac-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), which has been negotiating with the Indian government since 1997, is determined to achieve ‘Greater Nagalim’ through a merger of the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam with the present Indian state of Nagaland. It may give up on its long cherished dream of Naga sovereignty—but someone like Thuingaleng Muivah, who hails from Manipur’s Ukhrul district, is not expected to budge on the territorial question. Without his own district and other Naga areas of Manipur in a future ‘Nagalim,’ Muivah’s own position in future Naga politics would become suspect.
But after the violence in Manipur over the extension of the Naga ceasefire to other parts of northeast India, New Delhi knows that any attempt to create a Greater Nagalim will unleash much trouble. It would entail a fresh reorganisation of the Northeast—a process fraught with uncertainty and ripe with potential for much turbulence. Apart from immediate violent resistance in the states neighbouring Nagaland, the creation of a Greater Nagalim would fuel the aspirations of a dozen or more battling ethnicities in the Northeast, all seeking exclusive tribal homelands on their own terms. And that is a risk New Delhi, under any dispensation—the United Progressive Alliance, the National Democratic Alliance or even the left-of-centre United Front—would clearly be unwilling to take.
Although Muivah is also insisting that the NSCN has not given up the demand for Naga sovereignty, there are clear indications that might become possible if the territorial question were resolved to the satisfaction of the rebel leadership. The NSCN has indicated that it is prepared to accept a “special federal relationship” with India—an arrangement that would involve considerable changes to the Indian Constitution and would give Nagaland “very substantial powers” in every sphere except on key federal subjects like defence and foreign affairs. The broad contours of the ‘special federal relationship’ have been worked out through painstaking backroom negotiations—but they need to be firmed up through a few final rounds of dialogue.