Over the last few decades the North-east has been witness to ethnic, political and combined insurgencies and through it all the occasional peace talks have resulted in a puzzling enigma for both sides. Thus, whenever a peace initiate to quell state-level insurgency seems to make progress, one realises these parleys are doomed to spin on because of the political dogma involved.
Now the Centre has claimed to have made progress in the Naga peace talks with the 3 August signing of a probable solution, even as several questions beg answers.
Significantly, optimism should guide the future turn of events.
In this context, what remains to be scrutinised is that the Modi government is also pursuing peace talks with other militant groups like the National Liberation Front of Tripura and the Ulfa. Talks with the latter began during the UPA regime in February 2011 and, like the Naga dialogue, the process has been slow and halting. Unlike negotiations with the NSCN(IM) leadership, which enjoyed favourable going since 2011, a lot needs to be done with regard to dealing with the Ulfa. New Delhi is talking to only those leaders who surrendered in 2009.
The Ulfa (Independent) breakaway faction led by self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua, which is now in league with the Khaplang faction of the NSCN, is yet to come forward. A backroom channel was recently opened and spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar had a telephone conversation with Baruah.
The latter was quoted by the local press as having said, “The spiritual leader requested that we should come for talks for an amicable solution to build India. He told me he would help facilitate talks with the government of India. But I told him categorically that talks can be possible only if Delhi agrees to include sovereignty in the agenda.”
For its part, the Centre has reason to welcome Ravishankar’s initiative to “break the ice”. This is perhaps for the first time in last few years that Baruah has spoken to “someone who urged him to accept the inevitability of peace”, according to Intelligence sources in Delhi.
Ulfa peace negotiator PC Haldar, a former Intelligence Bureau chief, has been told to keep the Union home ministry abreast of the developments of his talks with the Ulfa faction led by chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa. The latter has demanded Scheduled Tribes status for Koch-Rajbongshis, Morans, Muttocks, Tai Ahoms and tea tribes. Scheduled Tribe status for these communities is also being linked to next year’s Assam polls as this could give BJP prospects a big boost.
On the other hand, formal parleys with the NLFT are in the offing with Central agencies having cleared the decks in coordination with the Tripura government’s Tribal Welfare Department. The Marxist government headed by Manik Sarkar and the Centre believe the time is “ripe” to drag the NLFT to the negotiating table as the outfit, with a “reduced strength of less than 100”, is in no position to bargain with the government. The hold of Biswamohan Debbarma, a first generation NLFT leader, is already on the wane and the group is now being led by Sachindra Debbarma.
Security specialists say the Modi government is preparing a plan even though most of these negotiations to end insurgency in the North-east are considered “business as usual”. The Prime Minister, they say, appreciates the clamour for peace and thus wants to deliver on this front.
Regional leaders like Manik Sarkar are cooperating.
The challenges are complex, but many feel peace prospects are brighter compared to demands for price control and mainstream jobs because the region has slowly turned violence-fatigued.
Youngsters in the North-east no longer harbour the ideological moorings of their forefathers, as used to be the case in the 1970s and 1980s.
In Assam, people are growing vocal against the Ulfa (Independent) and rallies have been held with placards reading “Enemies of India are enemies of Assam” and “Enemies of Assam are enemies of India”. Whatever arguments these militant groups have, the message from the street is clear – let’s live in peace and harmony and strive for development.(ends)
EDITED VERSION appeared in The Statesman