COOLING THE HILLS

More trouble

By Nishit Dholabhai
  • Published 18.01.07
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A few years ago, when some over-enthusiastic Naga students publicly punished Bihari labourers in Kohima for carrying inner line permits, an exodus of these workers began from Nagaland. The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), opposed to such harassment, tried to convince them to stay by assuring safety. Common sense prevailed and further violence was prevented.

But then the Naga militants have been unusual. Their armed cadre have attacked only uniformed men, not civilians through five decades of militancy. In stark contrast is the United Liberation Front of Asom. Its terrorism shows that the outfit is bereft of humanity and has little concern for the people of Assam, or that of anyone else in the North-east. For, in case of a backlash in the mainland, no one who bears the same oriental features will be spared from violence.

The issues are complex in the North-east. Which is why the lack of sincere efforts on the part of New Delhi surprises all the more. Except for the 1987 Mizo accord, there have been no successful negotiations on any conflict. The Centre seems to be wanting militants to surrender without paying any heed to the grievances. Inviting groups to the table and shying away from working out a possible solution mean continuing insurgency in the North-east. Days ago, the National Liberation Front of Tripura (Nyanbasi faction) reminded the government that the memorandum of settlement signed two years ago had borne no results.

The NSCN (I-M), NSCN (Khaplang), United People’s Democratic Solidarity, Dima Halam Daogah, National Democratic Front of Boroland and Achik National Volunteer Council have all signed ceasefire agreements or agreements for suspension of operations with the Centre. The Assam accord, signed in 1985, is yet to be implemented in letter and spirit. Talks with the Naga rebels for the last ten years have gone nowhere.

More trouble

Not that the talks have always been very easy. The Ulfa, for example, has always put unreasonable pre-conditions in the way. The situation in Manipur has been equally problematic, particularly on the eve of assembly elections. Here, the NSCN(I-M) holds sway over Naga-dominated districts, which they want included in the Nagalim. Talks with the Congress may now enable the latter’s candidates to contest elections in these four districts. But the shortsightedness of the Congress-led government at the Centre is evident from the fact that the situation in Manipur is seen as unrelated to the developments in neighbouring Nagaland.

Either South Block does not understand the situation or it deliberately misses the point. Yet it should not forget that the more intractable the solution, the more intensive will be the influence from across the border. After all, none can deny the ties of militant outfits in the North-east with forces inimical to India. There is little point in keeping the Naga problem on hold while elections take place in Manipur and the Centre grapples with the Ulfa. Insurgency, kept alive even in one corner, will continue to threaten India’s sovereignty.

Ignoring the Naga issue at this juncture would mean more trouble in the future. The Naga militants reportedly train the Ulfa cadre in camps in Myanmar. It would thus make sense to seek at least an interim solution to the Naga problem to keep other militant groups like Ulfa and NSCN(K) at bay. In fact, while going after the Ulfa, it would be wise to take the NSCN(I-M) into confidence. No one can deny that the outfit is the most powerful in the region. Again, in Congress-ruled Manipur, a dialogue between the Nagas and the Meiteis is the need of the hour. There is much that the Centre can do to contribute in the narrowing of the widening rift between the hills and the valley.