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Two UPA II mandarins join BJP

- Exit of interlocutor puts question mark on Naga negotiations
Interlocutor for Naga talks R.S. Pandey (centre) and former Union home secretary R.K. Singh (second from right) with BJP leaders after they joined the party, in New Delhi on Friday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Dec. 13: Two bureaucrats, former Union home secretary R.K. Singh and interlocutor for Naga talks R.S. Pandey, who served the Northeast during UPA II’s tenure, joined the BJP today.

Singh and Pandey, who were toying with the idea of joining politics for several months, joined the BJP along with railways officer Dharam Singh at a formal ceremony.

It was during Singh’s tenure as Union home secretary that the Ulfa talks were initiated and agreements with Karbi and Dimasa militant groups signed.

Singh was to join Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar as infrastructure adviser but called off the plan at the eleventh hour to join the BJP. He is known as the Samastipur collector under whom BJP leader L.K. Advani was arrested in October 1990 when his rath yatra was on way to Ayodhya. A Rajput, Singh may contest for the Lok Sabha from Bihar.

The two bureaucrats have radically different personalities. While Singh is passionate with strong views on most issues, Pandey is moderate with strong views on natural resources and decentralised governance.

Recently, Singh had strongly criticised the Bihar government for the bomb blasts during Narendra Modi’s rally. The criticism apparantly coincided with the decision to give a miss to Nitish Kumar’s job offer. Weeks before his retirement in June this year, Singh is known to have had major differences with his minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde.

He, however, said he had nothing to worry about, as he was “a free man” after retirement.

Asked why he had chose the BJP over the Congress, Singh said, “That’s a no-brainer. Can anyone join the Congress today?” The former Bihar IAS officer also said the UPA government was entangled in controversies over coal allocations and the 2G spectrum scam.

Pandey has set a political course for himself for apparently more idealistic reasons. “With all this experience, one looks for a larger role in nation-building after retirement,” he said after joining the BJP at the party headquarters.

Asked why he chose the BJP, he said, “People are looking for an alternative and I wanted to join a national party”.

Unlike Singh, who is not in any position in the government, Pandey is the interlocutor for talks with Naga militants. He was appointed by the UPA government, replacing former Union home secretary K. Padmanabhaiah, and as interlocutor has engaged rebel leaders Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu in talks for nearly three years.

Home ministry officials concede that Pandey has taken the negotiations to a new level. Intelligence sources said there has been definite progress in the talks with the NSCN (I-M), which Pandey has piloted.

“The talks have definitely progressed and some of the many problems have been resolved. But certainty can be only after an agreement is signed,” a top intelligence official said.

Pandey, who was the chief secretary of Nagaland before serving as Union petroleum secretary and steel secretary, has the advantage of not only being aware of Naga culture, problems and sensitivities but also enjoys a reputation among the rebels of being unbiased.

“Talks have not suffered a reversal under him,” said Phunthing Shimrang of the NSCN (Isak-Muivah). “We also had Swaraj Kaushal who was good,” he said over phone from Camp Hebron near Dimapur. Kaushal is married to leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj.

Pandey, however, told The Telegraph that he “may resign before the tenure expires” and added, “The Naga talks will go on”.

He did not seem to nurse a grudge against the Congress or the UPA government or openly subscribe to strong political thoughts although he has won the United Nations and Prime Minister’s awards for decentralising governance in Nagaland.

His exit puts a question mark on the future of Naga negotiations, which have reached a crucial juncture.

However, if the political future is altered, Pandey may have the advantage of carrying forward the talks with the rebels at a more political level.

The Nagas have not lost hope either. “We are always hopeful,” Shimrang said.

The Neiphiu Rio government in Nagaland may also gravitate towards the BJP. “After all, we have BJP as part of the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland,” a source said from Kohima. Rio’s Naga People’s Front is, however, an ally of the UPA in New Delhi.

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