Kohima/Imphal, Dec. 31: The one issue that has kept the talks with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) from reaching their end has been the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas contiguous to Nagaland.
Manipur has stoutly opposed any such move but the overriding yearning in neighbouring Nagaland is one of peace irrespective of whether integration takes place or not.
Niengulo Krome, former secretary-general of Naga People's Movement for Human Rights, said a solution to the protracted Naga political problem would bring not only respite to Nagaland but also to the region as a whole. He said there should not be any questions about loss or gain by Manipur or Nagaland but the bigger issue was to resolve the vexed problem and facilitate the return of peace to the area.
Krome said Nagaland might gain in geographical area if a part of Manipur was merged with Nagaland in case such a solution could be hammered out. Otherwise, it would help both the states in terms of peace and development. The human rights activist said that even if Nagas are integrated, they have to depend on New Delhi on the economic front. "We have to depend on the government of India for some time."
"We all long for peace in the region and, therefore, a solution should come. We will remain as good neighbours even if a part of Manipur joins Nagaland," says Khrienuo Theunuo, a schoolteacher. She said that lasting peace was what people of the region wanted.
The president of Naga Hoho, Kevilietuo Kewhuo, however, said Naga integration was the demand of the people. "It is their demand," said the chief of the apex Naga organisation, without refusing to comment on how Nagaland would gain from any disintegration of Manipur.
"Geographically, of course, Nagaland will gain if the Nagas of Manipur integrate with Nagaland but right now we can't say how Nagaland would gain or benefit out of any such arrangement," president of Naga Students' Federation, Kelhouneizo Yhome, said.
He said it was the longstanding desire and demand of Naga people for integration of all contiguous Naga areas under one administrative unit but it would be too early to say how it would benefit Nagaland's economy and social aspects.
On the other hand, there are apprehensions in Manipur that the state may lose something politically or administratively but there are not many people who expect a division of Manipur as fallout of any peace deal. However, it is unanimously agreed that the signing of a peace pact between NSCN (I-M) and the Centre will not be the final solution to the problem of Nagas.
The people's apprehension is that some autonomy may be given to the Naga inhabited areas in Manipur comprising Senapati, Ukhrul, Chandel and Tamenglong districts under the Sixth Schedule or some cultural integration. The Nagas will have say on the question of their identity and culture in the new are but they are not sure whether it would bring lasting peace.
"I don't think a deal between the Muivah-led NSCN and the Centre will end Naga militancy. There are other groups like the Khaplang faction of NSCN, Kitovi group and the Naga National Council (NNC) who are not ready to accept the settlement being worked out with NSCN (I-M). So, I feel that the outcome of the talks will not end the Naga problem. It may even trigger problems among the Nagas," Kh. Sarat Singh, a senior government employee in Imphal, said. He said Manipur's boundary would not be broken up, as the Centre is aware of the likely repercussions of such a step.
There are also people like Meyengbam Thoiba, a theatre personality, who believes that the agreement with NSCN (I-M) would not do much harm to Manipur, as anything that would amount to harming the political and administrative interest of three states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur would create more problems. Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are also opposed to the integration of Naga areas in their states with Nagaland.
However, the overall apprehension is that Manipur's interest may be lost in some way or the other as a fallout of the agreement as the NSCN (I-M) appears to be giving more importance to Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur. The United Naga Council, the apex body of Nagas in Manipur, is also seeking an alternative administrative arrangement for Nagas living in Manipur outside the purview of the Manipur government.