Monday, August 8, 2011

Hit by corruption charges, PM, HM looking to score points in North East

(the following piece appeared in The Statesman, North East Page
on August 8, 2011)

nirendra dev

REELING under serious corruption charges, the UPA government is trying to win some brownie points by making a breakthrough in talks with North-east insurgent groups. The timing somehow suits beleaguered Union home minister P Chidambaram and also Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as both are under attack for alleged financial irregularities and mismanagement and need to prove their merit one way or the other.
The Prime Minister is a Rajya Sabha member from Assam. The home minister and he are understandably under tremendous pressure after tainted former Union telecom minister A Raja named them. So if they achieve something positive — a semblance of peace (accords) — with the NSCN(IM) and Ulfa it would be like the proverbial saving grace for them. No wonder, some weeks ago in a joint statement with the NSCN(IM) the Union home ministry said differences between the two sides were “narrowing down”. No one, however, has explained how this nearly six-decade-old gulf has suddenly narrowed. The government feels the NSCN(IM) will give up its demand for sovereignty.
The selective use of phrases in the joint statement — like “proposals for an honourable political settlement based on the uniqueness of Naga history and the situation which was recognised by the government of India in 2002, as well as the contemporary realities and a future vision consistent with the imperatives of the 21st century” — is, in fact, a double-edged sword.
A section in the government feels the NSCN(IM) should be persuaded to give up its emotive demand for “Naga integration”. If this happens, the once most potent, and to some extent most credible Naga militant group, would be really treading a difficult path. The NSCN(IM) is determined to achieve this, come what may. No Naga politician worth his salt can today dare speak
against it. In fact, Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio has already backed the demand.
Predictably, the United Committee of Manipur and the All Manipur United Clubs’ Organisation have accused New Delhi of driving wedges between communities in the North-east even as they slammed Rio for supporting the demand for the division of Manipur. Interestingly, Rio’s party, the Naga People’s Front, has already set up its units in Manipur’s Senapati and Ukhrul districts, ignoring objections from Manipuri organisations as well as from the Manipur government.
In 2002, the Vajpayee government formally recognised the “peculiarity and uniqueness” of Naga history. By that yardstick, there is no indication that the NSCN(IM) would even come nearer to compromise on their pet demand of Naga integration — Nagalim. In fact, it was only after the 2002 Bangkok pact between then government negotiator K Padmanabhiah and NSCN(IM) general secretary Th Muivah that the real impact of the demand for Naga integration was felt in Manipur — and Imphal Valley burnt for days.
The government was forced to withdraw the extension of the Nagaland ceasefire to Manipur.
The Centre and its current negotiator, RS Pandey, may be mounting pressure on the NSCN(IM) to appreciate the reality of 2011. One ready reference is the turmoil of 2010 when Manipur suffered immensely due to the economic blockade of its lifeline by the Kohima-based Naga Students’ Federation. In this context it is difficult to understand the real meaning of “narrowing down the differences”. The ground reality vis-à-vis the Naga political issue has been always different — something the ivory tower experts in Lutyen’s city have seldom appreciated.
No going back, they got a taste of it when in 2010 the infamous Naga-Manipuri feud was stoked by the government when it okayed the proposed visit of Muivah to his native village in Manipur in May last year without really assessing the ground reality in the state.

The writer is The Statesman’s New Delhi-based Special Representative and author of the book, The Talking Guns: North East India

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