Naga Nomenclature and Article 371 (A)

Thongam Sunil Singh

Creating a sense of solidarity among the different ethnic groups in Manipur and cementing a single Manipuri identity have been the efforts of the current BJP-led coalition government, headed by Nongthongbam Biren Singh. However, the question of identity and ethnicity tends to surround any social issue in Manipur today.

With the signing of Framework Agreement between Government of India and NSCN (IM) on August 3, 2015, the two are now inching closer to a solution to the several-decade-old Naga problem. The out-turn is that Manipur now faces a tough choice between the arrangement for giving special status to the Nagas belonging to the state and dismissal of this status as unacceptable.

The Centre is facing a massive backlash in Manipur, particularly in the valley, since the revelation for the first time the contours of the Naga Peace Accord to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs that it has signed “a framework agreement” with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), as the group agreed to further negotiate on “special status” within the Indian federation. This announcement is causing a strong protest in the Valley, spearheaded by the United Committee Manipur (UCM), the All Manipur United Clubs’ Organisation (AMUCO) and the Committee of Civil Societies Kangleipak (CCSK).

The influential Manipur civil society organizations have started mobilising people to launch a sustained protest against the proposed special status for the Nagas living in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.  The pressure groups have accused the BJP of rekindling ethnic and regional divisions in Manipur which is a pluralistic society with over 33 different tribes co-existing in harmony.

Yet from a constitutional standpoint, Article 371(A) provides special provision with respect to the state of Nagaland but the fact is not to whole Naga nomenclature. We find Nagas in Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and also in some parts of neighbouring Myanmar.

Manipur is made up of multiple tribes/families and if truth be told, the tribal community is unhappy over the backwardness of the hills and insists that they have been treated as second-class citizens in the state. The people in the hills are claiming that xenophobia is steadily growing in Manipur though people from different ethnic grounds and cultures are living together.

In a democracy, when citizens use their rights, they will create disagreement and conflict, and they will have to bargain for a solution. The common interest is something to be worked out together vis-à-vis the current standoff to achieve the emotional integration of Manipur so as to strengthen the sense of a common citizenship and a feeling of loyalty to the state which needs to maintain a single political community.