May 31, 2020
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A Pen-Pusher's Pact

The NSCN ceasefire is under threat from hardening stances

A Pen-Pusher's Pact
A Pen-Pusher's Pact
"Do those opposed to the ceasefire (with the NSCN(IM)) feel that violence is a better means to a solution?"
— NSCN(IM) leader Th. Muivah

Two weeks after Manipur's capital, Imphal, went up in flames over the issue of extending the territorial limits of the ceasefire with the Issac-Muivah (IM) faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalin (nscn) beyond Nagaland, questions are being raised about whether the organisation's terms should have been accepted in toto in such a hasty manner.

The nscn(im) has never made secret its desire to have the ceasefire across what it calls 'Greater Nagaland', since the beginning of its truce in July 1997. The Centre, aware of the latent fears among other states over the issue, had so far resisted meeting this demand. In fact, Swaraj Kaushal, K. Padmanabhaiah's predecessor as the prime minister's special emissary in the talks, had resigned following differences over the question of extending the area of the ceasefire. So what made Padmanabhaiah suddenly acquiesce to the long-standing nscn(im) demand and trigger off a fresh bout of unrest in the region?

The uncharitable but plausible version doing the rounds is that Padmanabhaiah, under pressure to achieve a breakthrough, gave in to the nscn(im) leadership in order to gain their confidence. According to a senior government source in Guwahati, Padmanabhaiah's "efforts were going nowhere. The nscn(im) did not trust him implicitly. It was in fact threatening to pull out of the truce so Padmanabhaiah gave in to the outfit's demand to salvage the talks and his career. There was pressure on him to show the talks were going forward."

The new agreement finally ironed out is heavily loaded in favour of the nscn(im). According to political leaders in Imphal and Guwahati, the least Padmanabhaiah could have done was to extract a written promise from the nscn(im) leadership that the extension of the ceasefire "without territorial limits" would not mean recognition of its claim over the Greater Nagaland area.

In short, fingers are now being pointed at the former home secretary for having succumbed to the nscn(im)'s pressure tactics. But others feel Padmanabhaiah could not have acted on his own. Points out a retired general who has served in the northeast and has dealt with the nscn: "He clearly had instructions from New Delhi to salvage the talks at any cost since the Nagas were threatening to pull out if their demand was not met."

The Centre, analysts say, appears to be more concerned about the possibility of the nscn(im) walking out of the ceasefire and its cadres going back to the jungles than any fallout in the neighbouring states. It had not anticipated the anger that the extension would trigger off. Now, it is caught in a classic Catch 22 situation. It can neither go back on its truce with the nscn(im) nor can it appease the sentiments in the rest of the northeast without rolling back the "objectionable" ceasefire without territorial limits.

The nscn(im) has not helped matters by saying that the Nagas have not demanded any territory belonging to others but have claimed what is rightfully theirs. Muivah said in an interview in Bangkok: "We don't have greater Nagaland nor do we have smaller Nagaland. We have just the land that belongs to us. We Nagas are not living in anybody's territory. We are in our own territories. This is a fact, so the question of claiming does not arise."

Another press statement on June 27 from the nscn(im) was equally categoric: "The Nagas will not allow a few emotional youths of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh as well as disgruntled state politicians to hijack the hard-earned peace process. " It added: "It is the cherished desire and wish of the Naga people to live peaceful lives within the ancestral Naga homeland." The statement, coming in the midst of continuing protests in Manipur, is likely to harden positions on both sides leading to a protracted stand-off. Moreover, many insurgent outfits based in Manipur are also likely to actively oppose the nscn(im)'s gameplan.

Sana Yaima, chairman of the United Nationalist Liberation Front, one of Manipur's oldest insurgent outfits, has this to say: "We oppose the 'identity expansion' sought to be done by groups like the nscn(im). The nscn(im) leadership is thinking and seeking a solution to the Naga problem on narrow ethnic lines. The nscn(im), which was flattered by the Indian media as the mother of all insurgencies in the northeast, has now become the mother of all opportunism in the region."

Given such opposing positions, many in the northeast feel the Centre would perhaps do well to involve everyone in its quest for peace in the region. Making unilateral and hasty moves without taking the people into confidence may only further inflame passions in this turmoil-ridden region.

Nitin A. Gokhale
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