Even a small contribution to a peace process should be a welcome move. It was gratifying, therefore, to see Nagaland’s chief minister, Mr Neiphiu Rio, offering his assistance to New Delhi’s protracted negotiations with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, led by Mr Isak Chisi Swu and Mr Thuingelang Muivah. Mr Rio’s move had its political significance too because, unlike his predecessor, Mr S.C. Jamir, he seemed to enjoy the confidence of the leaders of the Naga insurgency. This was evident in the NSCN(I-M) leaders’ positive response to his plan to visit Bangkok to talk to them. Mr Rio has a legitimate stake in seeing the peace process move forward. In fact, leaders and people all over the region would like to see this mother of all northeastern insurgencies come to an end. That is why even the chief minister of Mizoram, Mr Zoramthanga, had mediated with the NSCN(I-M) in the recent past. The peace efforts of politicians have also been complemented by organizations representing social and religious groups in Nagaland. Naga Hoho, the apex body of different Naga tribes, and the Naga Baptist Church have consistently played peace-brokers.
It was disappointing to find the Centre throw a spanner at the eleventh hour in Mr Rio’s planned Bangkok mission. It clearly smacked of a lack of coordination between New Delhi and Kohima over Mr Rio’s overtures. It also gave the NSCN(I-M) an entirely unnecessary provocation to doubt the Centre’s “sincerity” about the peace initiative. The people of Nagaland too must have been confused by the Centre’s veto on Mr Rio’s trip because his coalition government, in which the Bharatiya Janata Party is a partner, is believed to have better equations with New Delhi than Mr Jamir’s Congress government had. Even if the Centre had some valid reason for stopping Mr Rio on his track, it has not been spelt out to clear the misgivings of either the NSCN(I-M) or the people of Nagaland. Instead of reassuring the government and the people of Nagaland that they mattered in the peace negotiations, the Centre’s action might lead to avoidable misunderstandings. The rebels’ acceptance of Mr Rio’s initiative was no small thing, considering the fact that the other major insurgent group in the region, the United Liberation Front of Asom, had never accepted any role for the state government in a dialogue with New Delhi. His passage to Bangkok may not have dramatically altered the course of the peace talks. But it could have been a goodwill mission with its own message of peace.