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Naga peace talks leads to protest for speedy resolution!


wasbir hussain
Executive Director, CDPS & Visiting Fellow, IPCS

First of all, the Government launches back–channel talks for a possible peace dialogue with the insurgent groups, in this case the NSCN–IM, and then signs a ceasefire deal after intelligence officials and political leaders hold several round of parleys with leaders of the outfit across the world. The truce happened in 1997 and then began what has come to be called the Naga peace talks. Seventeen years down the line, these talks between New Delhi and the NSCN–IM are still going on with no tangible solution in sight. What changed in these years are the Delhi–appointed ‘interlocuters’ to represent the Government in the talks—from K. Padmanabhiah to Swaraj Kaushal to R.S. Pandey to now Ajit Lal.

Well, Delhi could actually be adopting a strategy of inducing possible conflict fatigue among the ageing NSCN–IM leadership, who had already climbed down from their demand of an independent Naga homeland to sort of an administrative arrangement for the Naga–inhabited areas. The Government could also be trying out a strategy of postponing peace by engaging in talks without placing a concrete solution formula on the table. At least that is the popular perception because of the extremely secretive nature of the Naga peace talks with both the Government and the NSCN–IM choosing not to be transparent on the matter.

The two sides—Government and the NSCN–IM—may not really be unhappy at what’s going on, but the Nagas in general are showing signs of getting restive at the delay in an acceptable solution of the Naga issue. This was evident by the rally organized by the United Naga Council (UNC), the apex Naga body in Manipur, which demanded an early end to the NSCN–IM–Government dialogue, and a separate administrative set–up for the Naga areas in Manipur. Nagas in Manipur want their areas to be included in the adjoining Nagaland state. The point to note here is that people are now having to agitate on the streets to press New Delhi to expedite the talks with the NSCN–IM and work out an agreement that is acceptable, besides demilitarize the Naga areas in Manipur. This is a critical situation because the Government by failing to work out a deal after 17 years of talks gives out an indication it is either not attaching importance to the matter or is simply unable to work out an agreement.

Every time people come out onto the streets in the Northeast, whether it is in Manipur, Assam or elsewhere, the police almost always resort to excesses to disperse them. This leads to continued anger against the Indian state and its law enforcing agencies, benefitting the insurgents. This happened yet again on September 4, at Ukhrul, a Naga hub in Manipur, where police opened fire on hundreds of UNC protestors, killing two and injuring several others. The UNC was quick to call a highway blockade in the Naga areas disrupting vehicular traffic between Manipur and the rest of the country.

This has forced Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to advise the Manipur Government to withdraw prohibitory orders from Ukhrul town and also withdraw security personnel from the place to create a conducive climate in the wake of the UNC road blockade. But, the NSCN–IM greeted the withdrawal with ambushes on police and paramilitary contingents who were returning to the Imphal Valley. A police commando was killed and two others injured. This again raises the question whether the NSCN–IM was prepared to reciprocate and respect the moves of the Union Home Ministry that actually agreed to the UNC demand to reduce the security force personnel from the Ukhrul area.

The Union Home Ministry had actually rushed three officials to Imphal on September 5, a day after the police firing, to take stock of the situation but BJP leaders have themselves accused them of returning to Delhi after meeting only the Chief Minister and the Governor. What one has been seeing for years now is that the state and the Centre have always been engaging in ad hoc fire–fighting measures in dealing with issues in Manipur and elsewhere in the region. This has been leading to opening of newer fronts every time an attempt is made to deal with a certain emerging situation.

The Naga issue still have several fronts that need to be addressed. First, one is interested in knowing what the magic formula could be that will end the talks with the NSCN–IM—can it be a super Naga politico–administrative structure without territorial jurisdiction? Second, what will Delhi do to the demand of Nagas from Manipur that they would like to severe from Manipur and live either as part of Nagaland or under a new administrative arrangement? And yes, the NSCN–IM is not the only rebel group that seeks to represent the Nagas. There are several others, including the NSCN–K that is also on a truce mode with the Government. Things are slippery to say the least.

(Courtesy: The Sentinel