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Quit blow to Naga talks

New Delhi, Dec. 23: Talks with Naga rebels have stalled after the Centre’s interlocutor, a former state chief secretary, resigned abruptly to join the BJP and return to home state Bihar where he is tipped to be a Lok Sabha candidate.

The resignation of R.S. Pandey, who quit last week as the interlocutor for the talks with the NSCN (Isak-Muivah), has not been accepted yet, government sources said.

The delay is being viewed as a sign of the Centre’s dilemma and the tough task of finding a replacement for the former IAS officer.

“The resignation has to be accepted at the highest level,” a senior home ministry official said, alluding to minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

The ministry is considering asking Pandey if he could continue for a few more months as the negotiations with the NSCN (IM) are at a crucial stage, the sources said.

But that appears unlikely. “I have joined the BJP and will be busy in Valmikinagar, which is my home. The BJP will have to field me first but at the same I have to spend time there,” Pandey, who joined the BJP along with former Union home secretary R.K Singh on December 12, told The Telegraph. Singh, who retired this June, is also from Bihar.

Valmikinagar, located near Bihar’s border with Nepal, is a new Lok Sabha seat created in 2008 following delimitation of constituencies.

The government sources said they would have liked Pandey not to leave abruptly, adding no search for an interlocutor had begun so far as they had hoped he would continue.

But with the general elections months away and Pandey deciding to return home after four decades in the bureaucracy in Nagaland and Delhi, the sources conceded the hunt for a new point man would have to begin soon.

“I am going (to Bihar). I cannot continue (as interlocutor),” Pandey, who sent his resignation to Union home secretary Anil Goswami, said.

Pandey said no talks had been held with the NSCN (IM) leaders since he quit. Until then, hopes had risen of an understanding with the rebel outfit. The resignation has sparked fears the talks could lose momentum if the Centre doesn’t find a new man soon.

But finding officers familiar with Nagaland rebel groups and the complex issues isn’t easy. Pandey himself conceded the talks are at a “crucial juncture”. “Somebody who is knowledgeable about the area and who knows the situation will have to be there. The talks are at a crucial juncture and if they can sort it out, it will be good.”

Back in Bihar hometown Valmikinagar, Pandey will have to contend with current MP Baidyanath Prasad Mahto if the officer is eventually fielded. Mahto is from the Janata Dal (United).

A leader of chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD (U), Mahto had won the seat in 2009 with former ally BJP’s support. The parties have since parted ways and will square off as rivals in next year’s polls.