ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Forced Optimism

   Forced Optimism The atmosphere of optimism that marked the latest round of negotiations between representatives of the Indian government and leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isaak Muivah (NSCN-IM) group in Amsterdam on May 19 and 20 was also tinged with frustration. The NSCN-IM secretary, Thiungalengah Muivah, an ever-present figure since the talks first began in 1998, has been openly unhappy at the virtually non-existent pace of progress, and finds himself in an unfortunate position. Despite the dividends which peace, following the ceasefire first signed in 1997, has provided Nagaland, tardy progress in finding a

June 10, 2006 E L L WEEKLY
Forced OptimismThe atmosphere of optimism that marked the latest round of negotiations between representatives of the Indian government and leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isaak Muivah (NSCN-IM) group in Amsterdam on May 19 and 20 was also tinged with frustration. The NSCN-IM secretary, Thiungalengah Muivah, an ever-present figure since the talks first began in 1998, has been openly unhappy at the virtually non-existent pace of progress, and finds himself in an unfortunate position. Despite the dividends which peace, following the ceasefire first signed in 1997, has provided Nagaland, tardy progress in finding a “solution” is fostering an increasing impatience among Naga leaders and especially among the youth and student federations. The initial rounds of negotiations were welcomed as a necessary gesture. But eight years and 14 rounds of negotiations later, the talks have become an end in themselves. The centre, apart from an ill-informed move by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2001 on the issue of “Nagalim”, is willing to offer little beyond well-meaning platitudes and does little more than expend its efforts on ensuring a timely renewal of the ceasefire. At the same time, while the Isaak Muivah group of the NSCN has conscientiously adhered to ensuring peace, its position vis-à-vis the centre has been undermined by the fact that the centre chooses to see it as merely one Naga party among others. For instance, the ceasefire with the NSCN-IM group was soon followed up with one with the rival NSCN-Khaplang group. The earlier round of negotiations this year in January was marked by an evident unwillingness on the part of the NSCN-IM to adhere to the annual arrangement of extending the ceasefire; it was finally extended by a period of six months. The frostiness on both sides was more apparent in the most recent round of negotiations in Amsterdam. While Muivah chafed at the tardiness of the negotiations, the centre’s representatives, including the union minister Oscar Fernandes and the long-standing interlocutor on Nagaland, K Padmanabhaiah, expressed their displeasure at the NSCN-IM’s recent overtures to China and that its representative had addressed the British pressure-group, the Parliamentarians for National Self Determination (PNSD). (The PNSD, in the recent past, has also provided a platform for groups espousing the cause of a “free Kashmir” and “Khalistan”.) The earlier bonhomie has thus given way to suspicion. The constraints that the centre grapples with are understandable, in that it has to seek a solution within constitutional parameters. However, the centre’s position vis-à-vis the NSCN-IM also seems to be straitjacketed within the national security framework that sees the group as just another insurgent group. It does not help that the centre views the Naga issue as one that can be solved by combining strong-arm militarist tactics with periodic negotiations. Part of the NSCN’s tragedy could well be that successive governments have clearly disregarded or chosen to forget the history behind the Nagalim struggle. Despite this (and this is also a reflection of the deep-seated democratic notions prevalent in a region stereotyped as “backward”), different Naga groups such as the Naga Hoho, the Naga Mothers Association, Naga Students Federation and others continue to place their faith in a peaceful solution to the Nagalim issue. Nearly a decade’s peace has assured Nagaland some development, and it boasts of one of the higher literacy rates and gender equality ratios in the country. However, patience may soon be running dry. Not only are the NSCN and other groups becoming increasingly restive, frustration against the centre was most visibly demonstrated in the successful imposition last June of a month-long blockade by a little known Naga student federation of the national highway that links Manipur with the rest of the nation. Having burnt its fingers once over the Nagalim issue that sparked off violent disturbances in Assam and Manipur, parts of which fall into the area traditionally claimed as Nagalim, the centre remains chary about the Nagalim issue, which forms the vexed crux of the

negotiations process. Though the talks may appear to have stalled, the NSCN-IM’s commitment to the process is not in doubt. The ceasefire has largely held in the last eight years and Nagaland remains one of the more peaceful states in the north-east. A comprehensive solution can be attempted by seeking to involve all affected states and groups in the region, preferably under the aegis of the North Eastern Council, a body that thus far has been concerned with devising economic assistance and development packages for states of the region. Perhaps, it needs to be given more teeth to effect solutions that, as recent history of the north-east bears out, must perforce be political in nature. m

Economic and Political Weekly June 10, 2006

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