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Manipur key to Naga solution

New Delhi, Oct. 16: A flag for Nagaland, rechristening of the state Assembly and a bicameral legislature among other things may still not be enough to arrive at a final solution. Given the scenario, Manipur appears to hold the magic wand to resolve the over 60-year-old “Indo-Naga political problem”.

As the Centre clears decks, a key factor to hastening the settlement with the NSCN (I-M) is how accommodative Manipur will be on granting greater autonomy to its hill districts. This assumes significance as the Centre has ruled out any territorial changes. Given this predicament, a middle path to resolve the imbroglio is an imperative.

Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde met Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh last week, giving him a proposal on autonomy for the hill districts.

In what seems to be setting up of a deadline, sources said Ibobi Singh was expected to get back to Shinde on the matter in less than a fortnight. The Manipur chief minister, however, is understood to be unwell and visited Mumbai for a medical check-up.

The NSCN (I-M) and the United Naga Council (UNC) have carried out parallel negotiations related to hill districts’ autonomy with New Delhi and Imphal. Both organisations concur that Senapati, Chandel, Churachandpur, Ukhrul and Tamenglong have Naga populations. There is, however, a difference of opinion within Manipur on which districts actually could be claimed as Naga-inhabited.

There is also the problem of the Sadar Hills district, which the Kukis claim is a separate Kuki-dominated district. This complex web of inter-ethnic tension on claim on land is said to make Ibobi Singh’s job tough. “What the Manipur chief minister does is important as he will have to hold local consultations,” former Union home secretary G.K. Pillai said. True, because Ibobi Singh will not do anything seen as a sell-out by his supporters.

Pillai has not only tackled the Northeast as a joint secretary in the home ministry years ago but also contributed to formulation of a solution during his tenure as home secretary. He had predicted this year that a settlement could be reached as early as December.

There are a few caveats though to that optimism. A delimitation exercise in Nagaland has been stayed by courts making it difficult to increase the number of seats in the state. Sources said not only has the Centre agreed to a bicameral legislature with a legislative council with 20 MLCs but was also faced with the demand for increase of Lok Sabha seats to two and add another Rajya Sabha seat from the state. Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio and 18 other MLAs called on BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, appealing to her to support a constitutional amendment that any settlement with the NSCN (I-M) will necessitate. The delegation met NCP president Sharad Pawar and JDU MP Sharad Yadav yesterday. Rio said the delegation had given a commitment for an alternative arrangement. “If there is a solution there will be alternative arrangement, if not there will be elections,” he said.

Rio and his colleagues posed for a photograph with interlocutor R.S. Pandey, who was holed up with the MLAs for over an hour at Nagaland House today.