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Delhi’s Hard-talk On NE Insurgency



Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as head of the UPA-II Government, has shown clear signs of actually trying to tackle insurgency in the Northeast and put the process of restoration of peace on fast track. Take a look at the following signals emanating from New Delhi: Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has held at least three exclusive review meetings on the situation in a small district in Assam, North Cachar Hills, where a rag-tag gang of rebels sans ideology called Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel) has been on a rampage. Not just having meetings with State Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, in presence of the National Security Adviser and the Army Chief, New Delhi had also deputed Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation in NC Hills.

What emerged after these deliberations is a no-nonsense strategy—the DHD (J) must surrender arms by September 15 and only after that will the Government consider starting peace talks with the outfit. That means, the Government will not reciprocate the DHD (J)’s unilateral ceasefire offer until the rebel groups do as the Government wants. Bluntly speaking, the message from Delhi to the DHD (J) is do (as we say) or die. Not just surrender of weapons, the DHD (J) must send their cadres to designated camps, stop extortion, and make sure its top leaders are available for the peace talks as and when they begin. Now, one has not seen such clear talk by anyone in authority in three decades of insurgency in the State.

Counter-insurgency strategists are happy. Questions have always been raised as to whether there is any need for the Government at all to give importance to a faction-ridden group like the DHD (J) that has a cadre strength of around 200. At the same time, questions have been raised in the past three months as to how 200 militants could keep upwards of 7,000 security personnel of all hues (army, police and the paramilitary) on their toes. An answer to this question, if newspaper reports are to be believed, is provided by Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor, who talked about lack of coordination between the Assam Police and the Army in NC Hills at the September 1 meeting in New Delhi on the situation in the district that was convened by Chidambaram. The confusion is clear at last—operations against the DHD (J) will continue unless, of course, the rebels lay down arms by September 15.

What is to be seen now is whether this stand of the Government is applicable only to Assam’s NC Hills district or whether this is the Government’s general policy towards every insurgent group in the region. In the past, ceasefire deals were struck with one and sundry rebel groups but the basic purpose for which such deals were reached was not fulfilled—that of peace talks. Questions were therefore raised on the justification of entering into truce deals with rebel groups or factions because there have been umpteen instances of rebel cadres on a ceasefire mode indulging in unlawful, even violent, activities, in gross violation of ceasefire ground rules. Yes, many rebel groups or factions were using truce as a strategy to take the security forces off their back and regroup. Moreover, it appeared as if the Government on its part was trying to use ceasefire as a strategy for postponing peace.

Now, with the Government’s latest stand, only those rebel groups or factions are expected to come forward for a truce who are willing to lay down arms and seriously embark on the road to peace. And for the rest of the rebels, the battle continues until they realize the futility of taking on the might of the Indian state.

Perhaps as part of New Delhi’s new policy on insurgency and its possible desire to put peace on a fast track, the Government got rid of K. Padmanabhiah who was its interlocutor on the peace talks with the NSCN (IM). The former Union Home Secretary was acting as the Naga peace envoy for a decade during which a few things were smoothened out but the road to a solution was not really firmed up. And ten years is a long time. The Government has decided to move on and hold talks directly with the NSCN (IM) leadership. Direct talks are much better any day rather than talking through a mediator, what if the mediator is Government appointed. Things may change for the better but then the Government is known to go back on its policies or vacillate on plans.