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Ceasefire On Life Support

The Centre's U-turn on the June 14 Bangkok Agreement has the Nagas crying foul now

Ceasefire On Life Support
Ceasefire On Life Support
IN two ways, the situation in Nagaland has come full circle. Firstly, the four-year-old ceasefire with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim's Issac-Muivah faction, nscn(im), is in danger. Nominally, it stands extended by another year from August 1, but confined to the geographical boundaries of Nagaland. Second, after a two-year gap, a politician is back as chief negotiator for the talks, in the shape of former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma.

But backtracking on the June 14 Bangkok Agreement—which had extended the truce "without territorial limits", only to come up against a mass uprising in Manipur—is fraught with problems. New Delhi insists that last fortnight's decision to delete the phrase in contention—"without territorial limits"—had the consent of the nscn(im) leadership. However, the two senior Naga leaders, Muivah and Swu, have asserted otherwise. "We had totally rejected the proposal (of limiting the ceasefire to Nagaland), and had said that the matter could not be discussed since the ink had not even dried on the June 14 pact."

A statement from Amsterdam, where Swu and Muivah are currently based, reiterates that the policy reversal didn't have their approval: "During the two-day talks with the Centre's negotiator K. Padmanabhaiah in Amsterdam, nothing was finalised on the review of the Bangkok Agreement. Therefore, New Delhi's assertion that the ceasefire will now be within the territorial limits of Nagaland is unacceptable."

The Centre, understandably eager to quell the spectre of mass violence in Manipur, is sticking to its stand. Needless to say, there is confusion about what the actual status is. Says Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir: "The Centre and the nscn(im) should clarify whether the decision to revoke the terms of the ceasefire was mutually agreed upon or a unilateral one by the Centre."

Meanwhile, the setting for popular protests may only shift from Manipur to Nagaland, or rather the extended Naga areas. Five Naga organisations in Manipur and the powerful Naga Students Federation (nsf) have already come out against the Centre's "unilateral" decision, saying that if New Delhi only understood the language of violence, then the Nagas would be forced to take that path.

The Nagas of four Manipur districts—Senapati, Tamenglong, Ukhrul, Chandel—are signalling that New Delhi better brace itself for worse trouble in the state in the coming days. "The Centre is going to trigger a civil war in Manipur between the Nagas and the Meiteis, taking a unilateral decision like this without our consent," predicted Hempuni Kayina of the Memai Tribe Council, after a crucial meeting of the Naga organisations of Manipur at Senapati. A total bandh was observed in the district to protest the July 27 decision. The local Naga student bodies have already launched an 'economic' blockade on National Highways 39 and 53, the lifeline of Manipur. Intelligence reports also hint at a rising spiral of political violence.

Ironically, till now the Naga organisations were abiding by the spirit of the ceasefire as the dialogue with New Delhi proceeded, in fits and starts, towards a settlement. As the Centre gave in on the old nscn(im) demand of extending the truce to all Naga-populated areas, it was the Meiteis who resorted to violence. The latter live mostly in the narrow Imphal Valley and fear losing two-thirds of Manipur's total area to the 'Greater Nagaland' concept.

Phungthing Shimrang, convenor of the nscn(im)'s ceasefire monitoring cell, says such apprehensions are misplaced as the Nagas have always helped the other northeastern communities.Shimrang accuses the Centre of inconsistency in its approach, and worse. The role of Delhi-backed saboteurs in fanning the agitation against the truce's expansion couldn't be ruled out, he alleged.

Once it went back on the Bangkok Agreement after a meeting of the prime minister with the chief ministers of the north-eastern states, New Delhi also had to cede to the demand from all quarters that the chief negotiator should be a politician who understood the region. Former Lok Sabha speaker and Nationalist Congress Party (ncp) leader P.A. Sangma was chosen for the salvage operations. Sangma will now replace Padmanabhaiah as the chief negotiator; the latter, a former Union home secretary, will continue as the prime minister's interlocutor in the dialogue.

At least three senior politicians from the northeast had demanded the removal of Padmanabhaiah as "he lacked a proper understanding of the situation". Says Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi: "Since it is a well accepted fact that the Naga insurgency problem has to be solved politically, a senior leader from the northeast who understands the sentiments of the people should be negotiating with the nscn(im)." According to P.R. Kyndiah, Congress leader and chairman of the northeast MPs' Forum, a "team of key interlocutors should replace Padmanabhaiah to negotiate with all the insurgent groups in the region. Any attempt on the part of the Centre to achieve peace in isolation will definitely fail." Even Sangma feels that talking to just one group will not lead to a lasting solution.

Appointing Sangma solves only part of the bigger problem. With the nscn(im)'s collective leadership rejecting the Centre's latest proposal, the banned outfit's cadre are likely to go on the offensive, creating trouble both in Nagaland and Manipur. Says nscn(im) leader V.S. Atem: "The cadre could once again go underground and resume its battle for sovereignty." Such a move could spell trouble for the entire region.
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