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NDA nudge to Naga talks

- Modi zeroes in on interlocutor

New Delhi, July 29: Former Intelligence Bureau special director Ajit Lal is likely to be named the government’s interlocutor for talks with the NSCN (Isak-Muivah), sources said today, amid reports of rising impatience for a settlement to the Naga problem.

The sources said once Prime Minister Narendra Modi finalises the name of the Centre’s point man, it would send the message that negotiations were about to resume.

Lal, a 1974-batch IPS officer, heads the joint intelligence committee and holds temporary charge as interlocutor. As Lal is set to retire on July 31, Modi, sources said, should “logically speaking” finalise the name by tomorrow. They said Union home minister Rajnath Singh cleared Lal’s name last week after national security adviser Ajit Doval gave the go-ahead.

The sources said the NSCN (I-M) was unlikely to protest the choice as Lal had been involved in the negotiations as special director too. Lal held a meeting with NSCN leaders earlier this month but it was believed to be a warm-up round.

“You can never do any guesswork in politics. Let us see how things unfold,” a senior NSCN (I-M) leader said, reacting to the likely formalisation of an interim appointment.

Since the ceasefire with the NSCN (I-M) was signed in 1997, Swaraj Kaushal, K. Padmanabhaiah and R.S. Pandey have served as interlocutors at over 70 rounds of talks held in cities across Europe and Southeast Asia. The names of Pandey, former Nagaland chief secretary who joined the BJP last December, and former home secretary G.K. Pillai also did the rounds before the government decided on Lal.

The decision comes in the backdrop of increasing impatience for a settlement to the Naga problem. While the NDA government appeared to be in no hurry to address the problem immediately after taking over two months ago, intelligence agencies have reported this sense of impatience, particularly in the Naga areas of Manipur.

NSCN (I-M) general secretary Thuingalang Muivah belongs to Manipur’s Ukhrul district, considered the symbolic heart of the movement aimed at unifying Naga areas across Nagaland and Manipur.

The NSCN (I-M) insists on a “special federal relationship” with the government of India, a demand that is seen as “unrealistic” by both South Block and North Block.

But over the past few weeks, arrests of NSCN (I-M) cadres from Ukhrul by state security agencies have made the hills anxious. There have been other developments, too, involving the NSCN factions that could temper the Centre’s strategy. For one, the NSCN (Khole-Kitovi), which broke away from the NSCN (Khaplang), is waiting in the wings for a chance to hold talks.

Then, extortions by multiple rebel outfits in Nagaland and resistance from others have compelled the rebels to also look for a speedy settlement. Sources said the government might consider a realistic time frame to reach a lasting settlement.

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