Updated: September 22, 2021 10:11:41 am
After months of deadlock, the Centre Tuesday resumed talks with the NSCN-IM, the largest Naga rebel group, with Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma meeting the outfit’s secretary, Th Muivah, for a closed-door discussion in Dimapur.
Tweeting about the meeting with “NCSN-IM representatives”, in which Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio was also present, Sarma said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah were “committed to ensure ever-lasting peace in the North East” and expressed hope of “concrete results” soon.
Rio told reporters in Dimapur that Sarma — also the convenor of the Northeast Democratic Alliance, a grouping of major parties of the region, led by the BJP — conveyed the Union Home Minister’s message to NSCN-IM leaders. “Amit Shah ji has expressed his happiness again to resume the talks and conveyed that a solution should be found at the earliest and that the government is open for discussion… Whatever had gone wrong, (we should) forgive and forget and move ahead,” Rio said, adding that the talks were “positive”.
A PTI report from Kohima quoted NSCN-IM leader R Raising as saying, “We have never had talks with political leaders… But we have to, if they are assigned by the Central government.”
The meeting comes days after the transfer of R N Ravi, the Centre’s main interlocutor for the Naga talks, as Nagaland governor. One reason for the talks getting stalled was the strained relationship between him and the NSCN-IM. The meeting also follows the official formation of an all-party government in Nagaland, to jointly push for an early settlement of the Naga problem.
While the Centre is yet to officially declare the new interlocutor, Rio indicated that it could be former Intelligence Bureau (IB) special director A K Mishra, who assisted Ravi in the talks. A source said Mishra met Muivah separately in Dimapur Monday, and that Sarma had also met the former IB officer.
Rio said he had handed over a letter by the Union Home Secretary to the NSCN-IM as reply to their two letters to the Centre, on February 25, 2020, and June 12, 2021. “It said that A K Mishra is being authorised to resume talks with the NSCN-IM. The letter also mentioned that the Prime Minister is keen to resolve the Naga issue, so that peace, tranquillity and economic activity can take shape for the growth of the state,” said Rio.
An NSCN-IM leader told The Indian Express that they expect Ravi’s departure to help the talks and that Mishra was not new to the Naga issue. “A K Mishra has been posted here since 2009. So he can carry on with his efforts. We expect that the talks will be better now,” he said.
Asked about the significance of Tuesday’s meeting, the leader said he couldn’t comment much on it since it was closed-door where he was not present. However, he added, “Of course, we are expecting fruitful talks with government representatives and Mishra to finalise long-pending issues without delay.” He said this would be possible if the difficulties of the two sides are “respected”.
The Naga movement is considered India’s longest-running insurgency. In 1997, the Centre had signed a ceasefire agreement with the NSCN-IM. In 2015, renewed negotiations had begun between the NSCN-IM and the Modi government. Since then, seven other Naga armed outfits, under the banner of Naga National Political Groups, have joined the talks.
While formal talks have been over since October 2019, a final agreement remains elusive, with the NSCN-IM holding on to its demands for a separate Naga flag and Constitution.
In early 2020, Ravi had written to CM Rio, criticising the law and order situation and alleging “rampant extortion and violence”, with “armed gangs” running parallel governments, “challenging the legitimacy of the state government”. The state government had said his assessment was not “factual”.
Later, the NSCN-IM had said that Ravi had “created imbroglio in the talk process”, describing his role as interlocutor as “disparaging and dismal”.
Sarma also held separate meetings Tuesday with the National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and BJP legislators to discuss the new political developments in the state.
On Monday, Sarma had said in New Delhi that Home Minister Amit Shah had authorised him to hold preliminary talks with ULFA, and said he was also “partly involved” in the peace process with the NSCN-IM.
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