| Okram Ibobi Singh |
Imphal, Jan. 31: The Okram Ibobi Singh government and United Naga Council (UNC) are prepared to drive a hard bargain when they meet at the Senapati district headquarters on February 6 to discuss the council’s demand for an alternative arrangement for administration of Naga areas in Manipur.
This will be the seventh round of talks between the UNC, the Manipur government and the Centre. While the earlier talks were at the official level, these will be at the political level.
The first round of talks was held at the Senapati district headquarters on December 3, 2010.
The UNC said this would be for the first time the talks will be held at the political level and the demand for an alternative arrangement would be discussed.
The UNC, the apex body of the Nagas in Manipur, raised a demand for an alternative arrangement after the Ibobi Singh government foiled an attempt by NSCN (I-M) leader Th. Muivah to enter Manipur through Mao Gate, along the Imphal-Dimapur highway on May 6, 2010.
This also followed the death of two students during a police crackdown on the Nagas at Mao Gate, protesting the government’s decision not to allow Muivah to enter the state.
The six rounds of talks focused mainly on bringing development projects to the hill districts of Manipur.
The Union home ministry decided to take the talks to the political level after the UNC team insisted on it during the last round of talks held on August 30 last year.
S. Saha, the deputy secretary (NE-III) in the Union home ministry, wrote to UNC president L. Adani on January 22 informing him that the date for the seventh round of talks was fixed for February 6.
The letter also said the Ibobi Singh government had consented to send representatives at the political level to the meeting and representatives of the home ministry would also be present.
“So far, the talks focused on development in the hills. This time the core issue, which is an alternative arrangement (of administration) for the Nagas outside the purview of Manipur government, will be discussed,” the UNC president told The Telegraph.
Adani said the Naga leaders were holding consultations to “fine-tune” their presentation of the need for an alternative arrangement for the Nagas. The UNC also termed the Ibobi Singh government “communal”.
However, the Ibobi Singh government is not prepared to compromise on the question of the state’s territorial integrity.
“We have not decided who will represent the state government at the talks. We fail to understand what an alternative arrangement means. To understand this, we have to talk to the council. However, the interest of the state (territory) will not be compromised in any case,” deputy chief minister and home minister Gaikhangam said.
The UNC talks comes ahead of next round of talks between the NSCN (I-M) and the Centre, which is expected to take place by mid-February in New Delhi.