In protracted peace talks, one small step can sometimes mean a big leap. The latest round of talks in Bangkok between the Naga underground leaders and the Centre’s interlocutor, Mr K. Padmanabhaiah, should bring some cheers to both sides. But it may not yet be time to raise the toast to the end of India’s oldest insurgency. Since the Shillong Accord between the Centre and the Naga leader, Z.A. Phizo, attempts by successive governments to bring an end to the five-decade-old conflict have foundered on some issue or the other. But it would be a measure of the success of the Bangkok talks if Mr Isak Swu, the chairman of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, and its general secretary, Mr Thuingaleng Muivah, come to India for the next round of talks. The group has always refused to hold talks inside India, arguing that this runs counter to their demand for “sovereignty” of the Naga “nation”. It is not difficult to assume that the Union government would try to create the right conditions for the talks on home turf. Apart from the symbolism of such an eventuality, it will send out the right signal for the people of Nagaland. Four years ago, the government had smoothened the rites of passage for the two Naga leaders’ return to Nagaland in thirty years.
But the success of the talks depends as much on the existing state apparatus in Nagaland as on the right attitude on the part of the Centre. And for this, the Nagaland chief minister’s cooperation is crucial. It is unfortunate, however, that the chief minister, Mr S.C. Jamir, has already begun casting aspersions on the gains of the Bangkok talks. The very stale air had been clearing since the Amsterdam joint communiqué in July in which the Centre had recognized what Mr Muivah calls “the unique history and situation of the Nagas”, most of whom see themselves as originally “not a part of India”. It does not do the atmosphere of talks any good if the chief minister has nothing but scepticism for the talks. It is no secret that there has been no love lost between Mr Jamir and the group led by Mr Swu and Mr Muivah. Not all Mr Jamir’s grievances against the NSCN(I-M), still seeking to have the ban on it to be lifted, are without reason. But the peace talks are more important than factional preferences. New Delhi too will have to take the chief minister as well as the Khaplang faction of the NSCN to bring about peace in Nagaland. Mr Jamir can contribute to the peace process by clearing hurdles on its way, instead of clouding it with suspicion. It is as much his obligation, as it is New Delhi’s, to give peace a chance.