Peace but no common ground


The six-month extension of the ceasefire between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) from July 31, contrasting with the customary one-year extension since the signing of the truce in 1997, speaks of the hurdles that have come in view in the Naga peace process. The intense negotiations held in New Delhi between January and June 2005 ended in an impasse. The demand for a shortened truce extension, which came from the NSCN (I-M), seems to be an expression of its unhappiness over the lack of substantive progress. After more than a dozen rounds of talks between the NSCN (I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah and representatives of the Centre, as well as several informal discussions between him and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister Shivraj Patil, it is clear the two sides are nowhere close to resolving the main insurgent demands: `sovereignty’ and a `greater Nagaland’ carved out of ethnic Naga areas in neighbouring States. Making a hostage of the eight-year-old truce, which has brought tremendous relief to the people of Nagaland, is not the rational way of arriving at a settlement of the dispute.

True, the NSCN (I-M) no longer speaks about sovereignty. This is not without significance. However, the new demand for a “special federal relationship” outside the framework of the Indian Constitution is virtually a proxy for the secessionist demand. In a BBC interview, Mr. Muivah made a case for a confederation-like arrangement that would give Nagas control over everything other than defence, foreign affairs, communication and finance (plus a say in the first three areas insofar as Naga interests were affected). On the other impossible demand, Mr. Muivah has not budged an inch. Although the NSCN(I-M) is not directly involved in the continuing Naga blockade of Manipur over the Ibobi Singh Government’s declaration of June 18 as “State Integration Day,” it has exploited the protest to underline the urgency of the demand for integrating all Naga-speaking areas in the North-East in one entity. The Naga leadership must realise that the Centre can concede this demand only at the cost of setting off explosive conflicts over territory in Manipur, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh. The silver lining is that just before Mr. Muivah left for Amsterdam, the city of his self-exile, he put aside his impatience and placed on record his faith in the United Progressive Alliance Government’s commitment to a peaceful solution in Nagaland. He also promised to return for more talks. The hope is that the NSCN (I-M) leadership, which is scheduled to confer with various shades of Naga opinion on the developments in the peace process in Bangkok in the coming weeks, will reiterate its preference for talking over fighting, even if no basis or common ground has been identified for resolving the substantive issues.

Wednesday, Aug 03, 2005

The Hindu Editorial


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