“Thinking Out of the Box,” The Telegraph, Calcutta, May 14, 2005

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“Thinking Out of the Box,” The Telegraph, Calcutta, May 14, 2005

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  !""#$%%&&&'"()(*+,#!-./-,'012%3454536%,7#%1#-.-1.%7"1+896:;<4;5',7# >!( >()(*+,#!? @,)0A"",? B,8 36? C445 THINK OUT OF THE BOX T. Muivah's suggestion ' a special federal relationship with India ' may well be the solution to the Naga dispute, writes Sanjib Baruah  Honest effort When in an interview on BBC's Hard Talk   last month Thuingaleng Muivah spoke of a special federal relationship with India it could have become a sign that the eight-year-old peace process is finally heading towards a settlement. However, it was not interpreted that way. Apparently our opinion-makers do not consider a special federal relationship a viable proposition. Nor can the kind of constitutional change necessary to create such a relationship be won in a bargain at a closed-door negotiation. Public debates have to first prepare the ground. In certain ways, the climate for such a debate could not have been more conducive. Today, innovative new ideas are part of the discussion on the status of Kashmir. Consider K. Natwar Singh's sky-is-the-limit comment on what is possible. There is no reason why the same could not apply to Nagaland. However, whether the kind of national attention that focuses on Kashmir can be mobilized for the Naga question is another matter. When it comes to the North-east, we seem to be quite content to leave decisions to small groups of people: we don't even want to know very much until some crisis boils over. There have been two major stumbling blocks to a settlement of the Naga conflict ' the question of Naga sovereignty and the idea of integration of Naga-inhabited areas. Under the leadership of Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu, the Nagas have begun thinking of the sovereignty question in quite creative ways, outside the traditional paradigm of independence. This has been an act of admirable statesmanship on the part of Muivah and Swu, and the single most important factor that has carried the peace process this far. There is no similar movement on the question of the integration of Naga-inhabited areas, but Muivah has indicated that he only seeks an agreement in principle. He is willing to give more time  for translating such a commitment into practice. It is in this context that the idea of special federal arrangements could provide a breakthrough. Muivah's reply to a question on whether such a settlement could be within the framework of the Constitution was suggestive. It can come 'as close as possible' to that, he said, but ruled out a settlement 'within the Indian Union or within the framework of the Indian Constitution'. Yet it is hard to argue that a federal relationship can be anything other than one that is spelt out in the Constitution. Further, Muivah's reasoning on the issue was not based on principle, but on a concern that an agreement made today might not last, that laws incorporating such an arrangement can be thrown out later. One can hardly blame Muivah for reading the Indian track record accurately. After all, that is exactly what happened to the autonomy that Jammu and Kashmir had once enjoyed.  Article 370 had made India a leading example of what political scientists call asymmetrical federalism ' a federation where some units have different powers, or greater autonomy than others. In the case of Kashmir, it was done to make its constitutional status consistent with the accession instrument. Thus parliament's powers were limited to defence, foreign affairs and communication and the residual powers were left to the state assembly. Furthermore, the state's two top offices had special designations ' Sadr-i-Riyasat, instead of governor, and prime minister, rather than chief minister. But gradually all elements of Kashmir's special autonomy disappeared, titles like Sadr-i-Riyasat were eliminated and Kashmir became like any other state. Today a leading example of asymmetrical federalism is Canada, where Quebec has more powers in certain areas compared to the predominantly Anglophone provinces, and Spain, where 'historical communities' such as Catalonia, Basque Country and Galicia have more powers than other autonomous communities. But unlike Canada and Spain, Indian public opinion has been ambivalent about asymmetrical federalism. To a large extent, this attitude was responsible for sealing the fate of Article 370. Article 371, which follows the constitutional provision on Kashmir, grants some asymmetrical autonomy to Nagaland and a few other northeastern states. That this autonomy has survived owes more to the lack of interest in the region in the rest of the country than to any active public support for such a dispensation.  A special federal relationship can be built on the foundation of the asymmetrical federalism that already exists in Nagaland. Indeed it might even permit the settlement of the integration issue. For instance, a second legislative chamber can be constituted to represent the interests of Nagas living outside Nagaland. Such a chamber elected by non-territorial constituencies ' something like a Naga Ho-ho transformed into a statutory body ' can recognize the trans-state nature of Naga identity and respect the territorial integrity of states like Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. But such an idea cannot be explored unless the neighbouring northeastern states are brought into the discussion as stakeholders in the Naga conflict. One should not expect a final settlement to take the form of an agreement announced to the press at the end of secret negotiations. What the next stage of the Naga peace  process needs most is not fresh ideas but active efforts to link what happens behind closed doors with dialogues outside. Such dialogues should involve not only Naga civil society, but also the civil societies of the neighbouring northeastern states and the rest of the country. The Naga leadership and the Indian government must now muster enough political will not only to imagine a viable blueprint for the future but a road map on how to reach there. And such a road map must include a healthy dose of public participation. Sanjib Baruah is visiting professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.
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