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Naga peace process may see a revamp

By G Vinayak in Guwahati
June 11, 2004 20:21 IST
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The change of regime at the Centre is likely to alter the course of the Naga peace process in the northeast.

Although the seven-year-old ceasefire between the Centre and the dominant Naga group, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), will continue, the new government is expected to be stricter in enforcing the ground rules of the truce.

The first hint of change came from former Nagaland chief minister and state Congress president S C Jamir. "The Nagaland PCC will project the 'real political issue' to the central leadership," he said in a statement in New Delhi.

Jamir, a veteran of Naga politics, was always against the "undue" importance given by the National Democratic Alliance government to the NSCN (I-M).

He favours unification of all Naga insurgent groups before any dialogue, a stand rejected by the Union home ministry under Lal Kishenchand Advani.

Jamir, who was recently inducted into the Congress Working Committee, may want to fine-tune the peace process.

For instance, he may want a politician to head the peace talks. So far, former Union home secretary K Padmanabhaiah has been leading the government negotiators. "What we need is a transparent and visible process of dialogue with the underground groups, a political process with a human face and to take the people into confidence. Such important matters cannot be left in the hands of retired bureaucrats having little understanding of the complex nature of the problem," Jamir said.

The ceasefire came into effect in July 1997 after two successive prime ministers -- P V Narasimha Rao and H D Deve Gowda -- met the top NSCN (I-M) leaders, Th Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu, abroad.

After the truce a set of rules was framed.

One of the terms was that the outfit's cadres would stay in designated camps and would not arm or train cadres of other outfits.

The security forces were also told to keep away from the cadres.

The NSCN (I-M) often broke the rules and continued to nurture smaller outfits across the northeast.

The security forces were, however, told to ignore the violations by the NDA government since Advani wanted to keep the truce going and project it as a showpiece achievement of his government.

The new government is likely to put a check on these activities even as it continues to search for a solution.

Jamir has alleged that the NDA dragged the dialogue for years without any tangible results. "The people have been kept in the dark about the outcome so far."

He promised that the Congress would take up the issue seriously to pave the way for an honourable and acceptable settlement of the Naga problem.

"As far as the Congress is concerned, we will continue to treat all underground brethren as an integral part of Naga society," he added.

Members of the recently constituted Bodoland Territorial Council will keenly observe the developments.

The BTC, an autonomous administrative structure under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, was formed after the Centre signed an agreement with the Bodo Liberation Tigers.

Over 3,000 cadres gave up their underground life late last year on a promise that the Centre would fund the development process under the BTC by providing over Rs 500 crore to the council.

The BTC, like the Naga peace process, was Advani's pet project.

Although the Congress-led government at the Centre is unlikely to scrap the accord, it is sure to go slow on its implementation, a fact that worries the BTC leaders. "We hope the new government will keep the continuity in implementing the terms of the pact since peace is everyone's priority," a BLT leader said.

Whether his wish is granted by New Delhi will be clear in the coming months.

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G Vinayak in Guwahati