New Delhi, Oct. 10: The Centre is talking to Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur chief ministers for a consensus on steps relating to the welfare of Nagas living in the two states before it reaches a final settlement with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah).
A solution is likely before March next year, Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde indicated on Wednesday.
“I have been talking to the chief ministers of both Arunachal and Manipur and we are trying to reach a consensus on this,” he told reporters today in reply to a question on the progress of Naga talks. Shinde’s statement comes a day after he held talks with Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh here.
Talks with the NSCN (I-M) concern the states neighbouring Nagaland as the outfit had demanded an integrated homeland for the Nagas — there are Naga tribes in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur as well as in Myanmar. Although the Centre has turned down the demand for carving out Naga-inhabited areas from other states and bring it under a single administrative arrangement, an alternative way to appease tribal sentiments in these areas is being explored.
Consultation with Manipur is a priority for the Centre as the population, especially in Imphal valley, is sensitive to any suggestion of the Naga-inhabited areas being taken away from the state’s territory. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited the state last year to iterate that Manipur’s territorial integrity would be protected. In Arunachal Pradesh, the NSCN lays claim to Tirap, Changlang and the newly created Longding district.
Shinde’s statement today is significant in the light of the approaching Assembly election in Nagaland around March next year. “I hope there will be a solution before elections,” Shinde said on the sidelines of a news conference. For the Congress, even a proposed solution could be beneficial as the party has been out of power for a decade in the northeastern state ever since S.C. Jamir lost to the regional Naga People’s Front.
The home minister, however, did not specify whether the chief ministers were agreeable to the Centre’s proposal of a special body to look into the welfare of the hill tribes in Manipur and other states.
Recently, Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio and 59 MLAs had offered to “step down” to pave the way for an “alternative arrangement” in the state. That offer, Shinde had said, was not possible under the Constitution.
NSCN (I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu are camping in New Delhi and have been holding consultations with their second-rung leaders and NGOs on a proposed solution.
Negotiations with the Naga rebel outfit completed 15 years this July but the outcome or progress of the talks is a closely guarded secret, apparently because there has been little progress. Over the years, interlocutors have changed and the tenacity of the group’s demands has seen a mellowing.
Time and again, the government has said that unless all groups come together, a solution would be difficult to arrive at. However, a reconciliation process in Nagaland has proved difficult. The Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) has held several meetings with rebel leaders from different factions at Chiang Mai in Thailand and at Dimapur in Nagaland, but differences based on past experiences remain.