In the middle of breathless Budget analyses and other political headlines, the country is at risk of missing an unprecedented sequence of events in Nagaland. All parties—repeat, ALL parties—have decided to boycott the upcoming Assembly polls, slated for February 27. Even in Kashmir, with a comparable history of anti-Indian Union sentiments, separatist calls for election boycotts are routine, though mainstream parties participate unfailingly.
In Nagaland, representatives of all parties, led by the incumbent Naga People’s Front, have responded positively to the boycott call issued by the apex body of the tribal Hoho. This includes the opposition Congress, as well as the BJP, a junior ally of the ruling NPF for five years that was seriously pondering a shot at power this time.
The central leadership resiled soon enough, suspended two local leaders, and retreated into silent confabulations about what to do next. But the statements coming out of Kohima and Dimapur have an unmistakable ring of anger that may not be allayed by piecemeal formulas. The universal endorsement the sentiment has received, cannot be ignored. “Twenty years of negotiations is enough,” went a remark. The “twenty years” is a reference to talks with the NSCN(I-M) initiated during Deve Gowda’s premiership. It was supposed to have attained a positive denouement with the Framework Accord Naga leaders signed with PM Modi in 2015, with a lot of fanfare from New Delhi.
The trouble is, no one outside the core policy group at the Centre has the foggiest clue about what exactly the accord promises. The Nagas, while exhibiting willingness to drop the secessionist spirit and participate wholeheartedly in the mainstream, have not indicated any softening from their core demand of Nagalim, a unified Greater Nagaland that calls for carving out territories from Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and even Myanmar. The Centre can scarcely afford to even lift a finger towards accomplishing that without inviting serious risk of setting the Northeast in flames.