A process that could lead to an honourable settlement of the six-decades-old Naga problem seems to be in the making. With the Prime Minister giving the go-ahead, the Union Home Ministry has begun discussing with all regional stakeholders the broad contours of a proposal that was hammered out earlier in negotiations between the Union government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). The NSCN (I-M), the major player among Naga groups, has accepted — at least for the “interim” — the impracticality of demanding the integration of contiguous Naga-inhabited areas including those in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, and of redrawing State boundaries. More importantly, it has tempered its demand for “Naga sovereignty,” thereby allowing an outcome that can conform to the basic structure of the Constitution. An agreement being stitched up before the State Assembly elections that are due by March 2013 will enable former insurgent groups to take part in the democratic process. The larger political environment appears conducive for a democratic reconciliation.

But there is still a long way to go, and many minefields to cross. Several concessions on the government’s part, including grant of a special brand of autonomy and freedom for Nagaland, will be required. For the grant of special status, additions will need to be made to Article 371A, under which no Act of Parliament applies to Nagaland in respect of the religious or social practices of the Nagas, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions under customary Naga law, and ownership and transfer of land and its resources, unless its Assembly so decides. The creation of a pan-Naga social body to highlight the identity of the people appears to be a key element of the formula. Its role, scope and powers need to be defined with clarity in order to avoid difficulties. The constitutional amendment that some of these proposals will entail requires national political consensus. Even the question of decommissioning weapons held by militants needs to be resolved. In the short term, a consensus will be needed to meet a demand that has been raised by Nagaland legislators for an alternative interim administrative arrangement. There is no time like the present to let the process reach its logical culmination. But every strand in this complex tapestry needs to be laid in place carefully. A prudent balance needs to be struck between what the Centre can concede and what the insurgents can accept. This has to be done on the basis of a clear understanding of the changing social and political dynamics of the region as a whole.

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