Modi-Shah Losing The Northeast Script

Police deployed at Lalilapur police patrol post in Cachar district bordering Mizoram following the interstate border clash, on July 28. Photo ANI

All eyes are on the bloody encounter between Assam and Mizoram police that left six cops dead and nearly sixty injured. That this happened within 48 hours of their chief ministers meeting Union Home Minister Amit Shah is bad enough. That the two state government are still sparring , threatening cases and commando action, complicates the problem.  As one commentator said on a Hindi TV channel — ” Dilli ki koi nahi sun raha”( Neither side is listening to Delhi).

The agreement between Assam and Nagaland to pull back their police forces and monitor their disputed border from the sky (through satellites/UAV) is a relief , but nowhere is the Modi government’s failure more glaring than in carrying the Naga peace process to its logical conclusion — a final settlement to bring closure to seven decades of violent insurgency .

Much hope of an early settlement to India’s first ethnic rebellion was raised with the signing of the August 2015 framework agreement between the Indian government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland ( NSCN).  Five Christmas have passed and sixth is just months away. But no breakthrough is in sight and both sides are blaming each other for failing to arrive at a final settlement.

The NSCN, which demands a separate flag and a Constitution for Nagaland, argues that there demands are  logical and flows out of the concept of ‘ shared sovereignity’ that was agreed in the 2015 Framework Agreement.

But how can the Modi government agree to give Nagas a separate flag and a Constitution after what they did in Kashmir two years ago ? 

Delhi’s interlocutor for the Naga peace process ,R N Ravi, has complicated matters by occasionally suggesting an agreement could be signed with the smaller NSCN factions, leaving the powerful Muivah group out. 

His supporters argue the Muivah faction is predominantly made up of Manipur’s Tangkhul Nagas like Muivah and his commanders, Atem, Phungting and the rest. The Naga problem is seen by them as predominantly a Manipur problem.

Nothing could be far from truth. Leaving the China-trained Muivah and Issac Swu out of the 1975 Shillong agreement was a huge mistake . They not only sustained the Naga insurgency but also mentored rebel groups across the Northeast. 

Muivah was the first rebel leader of South Asia to be trained by the Chinese in 1966-67. When Beijing, upset with Delhi’s growing bonhomie with Washington,  may be looking to create fresh trouble in Northeast , it will be downright silly to leave the 6000-strong Muivah group out of a Naga settlement and sign it with factions whose strength is in hundreds, not thousand.

The failure to end the Naga imbroglio after 24 years of negotiations reflects adversely on the ability of the Indian state to resolve festering problems politically.  But never in these 24 years did one witness a breakdown instead of a breakthrough. That such a breakdown, surely a backward movement comes at a time when Assam’s border problems with four other states are multiplying , is cause for worry.

Add to this scenario the breakdown of order in neighbouring Myanmar, where reports point to use of northeastern rebels by the Burmese army against local resistance forces and refugees. Which means India’s hope of Burmese military pressure against Northeastern rebel groups has all but faded.

Possible Chinese encouragement and Burmese use of these insurgents may help revive their sagging fortunes at a time when ethnic passions are rising over disputed borders with Assam, which the tribal states see as a Big Brother.

The Modi government needs to act decisively on all the three issues.
It needs to explore setting up a boundary commission to resolve the border problems , it needs to find ways to take forward the Naga peace process and consider a peace mission to Myanmar to touch base with all stakeholders for a peaceful resolution to restore Burmese democracy. Without a peaceful and stable Myanmar, Modi’s ‘Act East’ is just a cliche. – India News Stream

(Subir Bhaumik, a former BBC and Reuters Corresponden, is author of five books on India’s North-east and its neighbourhood. The views expressed in this article are the writer’s personal)

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