Ahead of February 27 Nagaland Assembly elections, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Government of India (GOI) has succeeded in convincing the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) to relax its stand to abstain from the election until their demand for a Frontier Nagaland State is met.
The ENPO in a statement on February 4 said it has decided to relax its resolution to abstain from the election process in view of the Union Home Ministry representatives’ request to the organisation to review its stand and the subsequent assurance given by Union Home Minister Amit Shah on February 2 in Delhi.
The Union Home Ministry assured the ENPO, which has been demanding a separate “Frontier Nagaland” state, that the issue would be resolved after the State Assembly election process.
ENPO, which represents seven Naga tribes – Chang, Khiamniungan, Konyak, Phom, Sangtam, Tikhir and Yimkhiung of the six districts of Mon, Tuensang, Kiphire, Longleng, Noklak, and Shamator, has been demanding a separate Frontier Nagaland state since 2010 over alleged discrimination by the western or advanced Nagas.
“The assurance was that a solution as mutually agreed will be reached after following the due process and will be implemented after completion of the election process,” the Union Home Ministry said in a statement after the meeting on February 2.
The ENPO, after an executive meeting on February 4 at Dimapur, stated that “in faith with the union home minister and the MHA, GOI”, ENPO relaxed the August 26, 2022 resolution to abstain from state assembly elections in the interest of fair and peaceful conduct of election in the state. The ENPO also requested all citizens to cooperate with the government in the conduct of the election and not create any law and order problems.
Moreover, a panel of the Union Home Ministry led by MHA advisor AK Mishra reportedly offered an autonomous regional council for six eastern districts that come under ENPO.
Earlier, reports said the ENPO has arrived at an agreement over regional autonomy during the two-day talks with the Union Home Ministry’s committee headed by MHA advisor AK Mishra that concluded on January 31 in Assam’s Guwahati. The autonomous council with a possible legislature could be called the ‘Frontier Nagaland Autonomous Council’.
It may be mentioned that the demand for Frontier Nagaland state gained momentum last year with August 26, 2022 resolution to abstain from state assembly election. Even as the Election Commission of India has scheduled Nagaland Assembly election on February 27 and all the political parties in the state gear up for the polls, the ENPO intensified its movement and pressed for their demand with strong determination. Even the decision to abstain was reaffirmed on January 26, the second day of the joint consultative meeting held at Konyak Morung in Dimapur.
However in a new development after series of meetings between MHA team and ENPO leaders, addressing a campaign meeting in Mon town for BJP and NDPP candidates in his first visit to Eastern Nagaland on February 20, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah assured the people that all issues raised by the ENPO will be addressed after the elections.
What is more important is the Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s calling the demand for a separate Frontier Nagaland State a legitimate grievance.
“A few days ago, ENPO had decided to not participate in the election. The reasons for the boycott were legitimate. But (after) we spoke to the ENPO, we have understood their demands and I have assured them that after the election, the NDA government which will be formed under Rio’s (NDPP leader and CM Neiphiu Rio) leadership will solve all your issues – whether related to budgetary provision, giving the council here more rights, or placing equal responsibility on all of Nagaland for development of this region, solutions will be brought by the BJP-NDPP government,” Amit Shah said.
Stating that the Centre is with the people of Eastern Nagaland, the Home Minister said Rio has also said that he will “support whatever is decided after discussions. So your issues will be solved very soon.”
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on February 4 lauded the decision by ENPO to withdraw its assembly election boycott call, saying it is an expression of trust in the Modi government.
“It is heartening that in an expression of trust in the Modi government, the Eastern Nagaland Peoples Organisation (ENPO) in Nagaland has withdrawn its call to boycott the assembly elections. The decision will help in keeping the ongoing process of peace and development unhindered,” Amit Shah said in tweets.
The Union Home Minister said he was grateful to the group for the positive gesture reaffirming ENPO’s commitment to democratic processes. He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made untiring efforts to assure the people of Northeast India that the government is with them and the ENPO’s move is an approval of these endeavours.
Another tweet on February 20 the Union Home Minister Amit Shah said, “The BJP’s coalition government to be formed after the elections will remain committed to solving all the problems faced by ENPO. Be it granting more rights to the council, separate budget provisions or equal development opportunities- all the demands will be met.”
On the other hand, many people in the Eastern Nagaland opine that there are very few Eastern Naga leaders in governance, policy-making and legislative positions though they have 20 seats in the State Assembly because only a few Eastern Naga leaders get elected to those seats.
Though it isn’t exactly the separate state that the Eastern Nagas had been hoping for, some council leaders say it’s a ‘state within a state’ and leaders claim that the ‘Naga Frontier Territory’, as the area will purportedly be called, will have its own legislative assembly with 40 seats, its own chief minister and elections.
Tribal council leaders realise that this upcoming state election is a crucial stepping stone for Eastern Nagaland’s demand for autonomy.
Reports quoted Y.P. Angam, former president of the Phom Peoples Council and ENPO Talks Team member in Longleng as saying, “The BJP is using the Frontier Nagaland issue as a bargaining chip to win support for elections in the eastern districts. Eastern tribes, in turn, are using the election as a bargaining chip to get their demands met by the Centre.”
Notably, the BJP itself has given at least seven tickets to leaders from Eastern Naga tribes. At the heart of BJP’s goal to set up its second successive government in collaboration with NDPP in Christian-majority Nagaland is the 20 seats in the six eastern districts that are strategically situated bordeing Myanmar and are homes to seven notified “educationally and economically backward” tribes of the state.
It is noteworthy to remember that way back in 2012; BJP had promised to fulfil the demand for a separate “Frontier Nagaland” state of the people of Eastern Nagaland after coming to power at the Centre in 2014. Since then, every election reminds the Eastern Nagas particularly ENPO leaders about the promise made by the BJP.
In another election rally at Tuensang on February 21, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah declared, “The Ministry of Home Affairs has held discussions with ENPO and an ‘agreed agreement’ has been reached. But it could not be materialised due to the implementation of the election model code of conduct.”
The Union Home Minister further said, “I promise you all that after the elections, the agreement will be implemented through which all issues of eastern Nagaland will be addressed. There will be massive development in the region and you will get your rights.”
He assured them that after the election, the new BJP-NDPP government will solve all their issues with separate budgetary provision, more rights to their councils.
Notably, in 2018, the BJP had strategically held PM Narendra Modi’s campaign at Tuensang where he promised to look into their problems after the people threatened to boycott the polls. In that election, BJP opened its account in the state with an impressive 12 seats, five of which were from Eastern Nagaland region. Its ally NDPP’s total tally was 17 and four of them from the region.
Though the lion’s share of 10 seats from Eastern Nagaland had gone to NPF and the NPF finished as the single largest party with a total tally of 26 but finally lost out to the alliance of BJP, NDPP and others in government formation after 2018 election.
This time the BJP is hopeful of expanding its hold in the Eastern Nagaland as the BJP is using the Frontier Nagaland issue as a bargaining card to win support for elections from Eastern Nagas while the Eastern Nagas are using the election as a bargaining card to get their demands.
(This article was first published in Imphal review of Arts and Politics)(The writer is a Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics)