Naga MLAs, groups in Delhi to meet Shah, ensure ‘not left out of any Manipur agreement’

As fresh violence erupted in Manipur, 10 Naga MLAs from the state arrived in New Delhi Monday, a day before their meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The MLAs were accompanied by Outer Manipur MP Lorho Pfoze who is from the Naga People’s Front (NPF), a BJP ally.

The Naga MLA contingent includes six from the NPF: Manipur Transport Minister Khashim Vashum, Leishio Keishing, Awangbow Newmai, Ram Muivah and Losii Dikho. Two MLAs, S S Olish and Dinganglung Ganmei, belong to the ruling BJP led by N Biren Singh, while N Kayisii and Janhemlung Panmei are from the Conrad Sangma-led Nationalist People’s Party (NPP), also a BJP ally.

Intellectuals and social activists from the Naga community also gathered Monday morning in preparation for the meeting with Shah. Although the Naga community has not been involved with the violence in Manipur, which has been between the dominant Meiteis and tribal Kukis over possible ST status for Meiteis, its representatives had requested a meeting with Shah when he visited the state earlier this month.

“At the time, he had no time to meet us. But he had told us to meet him on June 6. That is why we are here,’’ a delegation member told The Indian Express.

He added, “During the meeting with civil society today, we have established that elected representatives and the civil society members from the Naga community are on the same page. We are concerned that a solution by the Indian government should not be for one community alone but for the entire region. A solution for just one community is meaningless. It will not solve anything. The Centre should strike a balance.”

“We will raise concerns about the ongoing violence. Currently, this does not affect the Naga community, but we need to know how to cope with such a situation. Right now, we are concerned about a possible settlement agreement with the Kuki community – which the Home Minister has hinted at. An agreement also affects the Naga tribes directly. This is because much of the land that the Kukis dominate and claim as their own historically belonged to the Nagas. A settlement that does not take this aspect into account would be difficult to accept,’’ said another delegation member.

Civil society actors from the Kuki-Zomi community have been pressing for “separate administration” in the wake of the violence that has so far left at least 98 dead and internally displaced several hundreds.

The Kukis and Nagas have shared a hostile relationship since colonial times, and have also had ethnic clashes in the past. The Kuki insurgency gained momentum after ethnic clashes with the Nagas of Manipur in the early 1990s, with the Kuki arming themselves against Naga aggression. As many as 115 Kuki men, women and children were believed to have been killed by the NSCN-IM in Tengnoupal in 1993 — a day still marked by the Kukis as ‘black day’.

The Kuki-Zomi insurgent groups are primarily based out of the Churachandpur district in Manipur but are also present in the Kanpokpi and Chandel districts, mainly in the Indo-Myanmar border town of Moreh. They had entered a Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement with the Indian Government in 2008, a decade after Nagaland rebel group NSCN-IM’s agreement with the Centre. Peace talks with the insurgent groups, however, had only begun much later under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration.

As per sources, the peace settlement that is being discussed between the Kuki SoO groups and the Indian government at the moment would be based on the concept of territorial councils. These councils are likely to give far greater autonomy, particularly in the case of control of finances, to the tribes.

The Kuki groups have asked for the 10 hill districts, dominated by Kuki-Zomi and Naga tribes, to be divided into two territorial councils.

The Biren Singh government, on the other hand, has proposed 10 territorial councils, amounting to one each for every hill district. The Centre had proposed a 2:2:1 division, a proposition backed by the Zomi insurgent groups.

It is learnt the Meiteis are not amenable to the territorial council concept. The Naga community is also now likely to contest it, especially the point about delineation of administrative territories for the Kuki and Zomi tribes in the state”.

“What needs to be impressed on the Centre is that the settlement affects us well, not just the Kuki-Zomi tribes. The consultation process for the settlement needs to have a much wider ambit and include the Nagas as well. The Central government cannot decide the councils for the tribes by consulting one community. It is also not enough to simply consult the elected representatives – the government needs to consult the Naga civil society as well,’’ a Naga activist said.