Article 371 (A) of Nagaland isn’t very clear on multiple subjects: Rebel leader Kitovi CanIndia News

Naga rebel leader N. Kitovi Zhimomi of the pro-Ssolution Naga National Political Group (NNPG) said that to a large extent, the Article 371 (A) — the basis for creation of Nagaland state — is “not very clear” about many important subjects.

“Please try to understand even socio-cultural matters such as the Urban Local Body matters have reached the Supreme Court because there is no clarity under Article 371 (A). Had Nagas were given power to legislate a law on ULB then whatever Nagaland legislative assembly decided that would have been final,” Kitovi told this journalist in an interview.

“But the assembly was not given adequate power. So the confusion is there not only on land and resources but also on matters such as religion and customary laws. Earlier even criminal justice was based on customary decisions.

“These are the subjects on which the NNPG wants all to be independently handed over to the proposed Nagaland Federal Hoho as proposed in the Agreed Position inked between NNPG and the Centre,” he added.

The NNPG is an umbrella body of seven Naga militant outfits and is strongly in favour of signing of a final peace pact.

The issue of urban local bodies with 33 percent reservation for women has reached the Supreme Court with a notice of contempt of court served to Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and others. Various Naga tribal bodies are opposed to the concept of quota for women in urban local bodies as mandated by a central law and which has the endorsement of the Supreme Court.

“The delay in peace talks is bringing in frustration. If Solution does not come, people will be more frustrated. We Nagas have now reached a critical stage of our history. For investments we need permanent peace. And for permanent peace, there is the need for Solution,” he said.

Answering questions, he said: “We have always reposed faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government. Therefore we have come forward for talks in 2017.”

The NNPG had signed a Deed of Commitment and Agreed Position triggering many hopes in the peace parleys. In the ‘Deed’ they had pledged among other things that the political dialogue between the Centre and NNPGs shall uphold the interest of the “Naga brothers and sisters living in Myanmar, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh”.

“We shall continue to extend fullest support and solidarity towards our Naga people irrespective of topography and habitation,” the Deed of Commitment had said.

He further explained: “At this given time, however, we may have all the rights under the sky, but we have to be practical. In 2017 itself NNPG has agreed to work out with the Centre on the details of relationship that would be enduring and also ensure peaceful co-existence considering the contemporary political reality.

“This means the world has changed and now more attention is given to economic sectors… So, we have to focus more on economic growth. That was our commitment. We further pledged to participate in the political process and also promote economic growth in the region and also how to protect our traditional rights,” he said, also referring to the proposal to increase the number

of MPs — in both Houses of Parliament from Nagaland.

Kitovi claimed once a solution comes, Nagaland could have three MPs in Lok Sabha as against only one as of now.

The Naga peace talks had commenced in 1997 during the tenure of I.K Gujral as the Prime Minister. Prior to that Gujral’s predecessor H.D Deve Gowda had met NSCN-IM leaders Thuingaleng Muivah and Late Isak Chishi Swu in Zurich putting the peace process on a formal track.

Other Naga underground groups came in later in February 2001 only during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister.

The peace talks which reached its climax for signing of an agreement in 2019 October have been delayed after the NSCN-IM raised the issues of a Naga Flag and a separate Constitution for Nagas. The twin demands have been rejected by the centre more than once.

On these, Kitovi said,: “The demands for Flag and Constitution are also dear to the NNPG. But we have to be realistic. The Indian Constitution does not allow such compromises by New Delhi… So, no double standards. Thus, I say Flag and Constitution have no relevance for economic prosperity. We have to call spade a spade. We have to stop bluffingour own people”.

On certain complexities vis-a-vis the Article 371 (A), Kitovi said,: “I will give a very raw example… The Article 371(A) of course prevents everyone from forcing Naga people to eat spicy dal prepared in Delhi (in reference to central laws), the Nagas can decide today whether they should eat the dal made in Delhi or not, but at the same time the Article 371(A) actually does not allow the Nagas to prepare and eat their own Naga dal.”

By stating this, Kitovi in effect maintained that while rich mineral resources and land resources remain there “untapped”, the Naga people continue to be poor.

Kitovi also suggested that in certain quarters “unwarranted hype” is created around Article 371 (A). “The moot point is the Nagaland Assembly is not given the power to legislate any law pertaining to matters under 371 (A)… There is a cow and grass and also a dog barking at the cow and this is to prevent it from eating the same grass.”

However, the seasoned militant leader-turned-peace proponent now says: “In no way I am downgrading Article 371 (A). It was an important piece of legislation in the 1960s…but things have changed and so now we are making a cause for a new Naga peace agreement which is based on the current situation and therefore our Agreed Position is more realistic and pragmatic and also future oriented.”

(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. He is also author of books, ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ and ‘Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth’. Views are personal)

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