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Does the Modi Govt. have a peace policy for NE?


wasbir hussain
Executive director,
cDPS & visiting fellow, ipcs

The Narendra Modi Government has completed a month, but one does not have a clue as yet on its peace policy for the Northeast. Yes, the new NDA Government has talked about, what it says, ’zero tolerance on terrorism’, but again, one is not sure what it means by that—whether it is going to deal with terrorism with a firm hand by striking at the very root of its growth and sustenance or formulate tougher measures to deal with the menace.

There is an impression that the ongoing peace talks with the insurgent groups like the NSCN–IM, ULFA, the two factions of the NDFB, and some smaller groups in Meghalaya have come to a standstill. As of now, the new Government has not indicated whether it would continue with the existing peace interlocutors like PC Haldar to take the peace process forward with the rebel groups from Assam.

Besides, after the Government’s interlocutor for the Naga peace talks, RS Pandey, resigned to contest the Lok Sabha elections, the UPA Government in March appointed Ajit Lal as the new Naga peace envoy. Mr Lal is Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Although there are indications that the NDA Government may not replace Mr Lal as the Naga peace envoy, lack of a clear message from New Delhi had led to confusions within the NSCN–IM.

There is no progress in the peace talks with the Northeast insurgent groups for several months now and the new Government has kept everyone guessing on its approach to this issue. For example, top NSCN–IM leaders including its Chairman Isak Chishi Swu and General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah had left their base in Dimapur for New Delhi in mid–May to meet leaders of the new Government. But they have not been able to meet them so far. This has led to speculations as to whether the Modi Government would have a tough no–nonsense approach both in tackling insurgency as well as in handling the peace talks.

There are genuine reasons for concern among the leaders of various insurgent groups of the region. This is mainly because of the BJP’s stated position on Article 370 that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The party wants this provision abrogated. Nagaland also enjoys a variant of Article 370. Article 371A, that is applicable in Nagaland, gives the Nagas protection to their religious and social practices, enables them to follow Naga customary law and procedure and provides them adequate protection in ownership and transfer of land and its resources. Since the BJP does not seem to be in favour of such special status to states, one wonders what its stand would be to demands by the NSCN–IM to treat the Nagas differently and give the area they inhabit a ‘unique’ and special status.

A section of Nagas are concerned over BJP’s approach in resolving the Naga issue, particularly after Neiphiu Rio who had quit as Chief Minister to contest the Lok Sabha elections by backing the BJP has been denied a ministerial berth by Narendra Modi. Mr Rio, a regional satrap, may be inducted into the Modi cabinet at a later stage, but the fact that he was not taken in at the first instance indicates that he was not being given enough importance. Mr Rio, for the record, has been an ardent advocate for an early and permanent solution to the Naga problem.

With trigger happy and ideology–less militant groups like the GNLA, the NDFB Songbijit faction and the UPLA (United Peoples’ Liberation Army) engaged in a killing and extortion spree, one would expect the Modi Government to immediately declare a moratorium on peace talks with fresh militant groups or factions.

But the new Government would be well advised to re–energize the existing peace dialogues with groups like the NSCN–IM, ULFA and the two NDFB factions and take things to the logical conclusion.

(courtesy: The Sentinel)