Assam CM says he ‘cannot mediate’ in Naga issue

In a virtual royal snub to the Nagaland Core Committee comprising state ministers and legislators, Assam Chief Minister and NEDA convener Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Wednesday that “I don’t think I can mediate in such a big issue”.

“This (Naga insurgency-political problem) is a big complex issue. The Government of India has already nominated A.K. Mishra to negotiate with the NSCN(IM) and find out a solution that is acceptable to everyone,” Sarma said a day after the Core Committee invited him for a meeting in Dimapur on Thursday.

The key panel is headed by Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio of the NDPP and comprises BJP leader and Deputy

CM Y. Patton, former Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang (also NDPP) and NPF leader K. Azo Nienu.

However, Sarma maintained that at the “political level” as the NEDA convener, he keeps on interacting and

meeting the leaders of BJP, NDPP and NPF in Nagaland.

Rio is heading the NDPP-BJP-NPF ‘opposition-less’ government in the state where Assembly elections are due by Feb-March 2023.

“We keep on talking because all are NEDA leaders. But my role is limited — only to interact with our

NEDA partners and not beyond,” Sarma said.

As reported by IANS, a powerful section of Naga leaders — both state level politicians and underground — were not happy with the Core Committee trying to bring in a sitting Assam Chief Minister in the parleys.

After the Core Committee announced inviting Sarma for a meeting in Dimapur, within a few hours words spread that the NSCN-IM has once again decided to stick to its “sort of non-negotiable” demands of a flag and a separate Constitution.

“Does Himanta Sarma have a magic wand, and if so, Chief Minister Rio and Deputy CM Patton of the BJP should announce it formally. Then we will not complain,” a senior Naga leader had said.

“An issue which could not be solved by Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi, how can Himanta Sarma play a positive role,” the leader asked.

Sources said, “The delay games are deliberate and visible and it gives an impression that even the Core Committee is trying to adopt a longer and time-taking road map.”

“Enlisting the help of Assam’s sitting Chief Minister, whose only credential is being the chairman of NEDA,

appears ridiculous,” the Naga leader had said, adding, “Are some people taking taxpayers’ money for granted?”

In fact Sarma’s stand is very logical and has a basis.

In 2000, the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had mooted the name of former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma as the new negotiator. The then Assam Chief Minister and Congress leader Tarun Gogoi had strongly opposed the move, saying no active politician from the northeast should be part of such an exercise as the Naga issue is very complex and sensitive and has implications in various other states in the region.

One source has stated that “peace emissary A.K. Mishra does not have anything new to offer, and the Core Committee said recently that we do not know many detailed matters being discussed between the NSCN-IM and the Centre”.

This only exposes sheer helplessness and limitation of the Core Committee, which was directed by Home

Minister Amit Shah to “do homework”.

The Core Committee’s meeting with the Home Minister in Delhi on May 18 was almost a flop show.

A section of BJP leaders have already pushed the idea of President’s Rule seeking that the Neiphiu Rio-led regime should ‘step aside’, as articulated lately by no less than the state’s Deputy CM, Y. Patton. The NNPG has also called for the resignation of the Rio ministry.

It was revealed that Shah had a detailed discussion with Naga leaders, including CM Rio and Deputy CM Patton, in Guwahati and clear “instructions for a roadmap” were passed.

Thus, the four leaders of the Core Committee — Rio, Patton, Zelang and Nienu — on May 18 discussed only “developmental and disaster management issues” with the Union Home Minister.

The government sources said the twin demands of flag and Constitution were raised by NSCN-IM only after

October 31, 2019 when officials claimed formal talks were already over.

Informed sources said the ‘homework’ for the Core Committee meant it had to convince the NSCN(IM) leadership

to give up the twin demands of flag and Constitution.

But the May 31 meeting of the NSCN-IM makes it clear the Core Committee could not convince the militant

organisation, especially its leader Thuingaleng Muivah.

In his presidential address, Q. Tuccu, Chairman of the NSCN-IM, told the ’emergency assembly’ of NSCN-IM: “How can we forfeit the Naga national flag and the Naga Constitution in the name of Naga political solution?”

In a representation addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the apex Naga Tribal Council (NTC) President Toniho Yepthomi and General Secretary Nribemo Ngullie said that two-and-a-half years have passed since the dialogue between the Centre and the Naga political groups “officially culminated on October 31, 2019” and hence now a peace pact ought to be inked at the earliest.

(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. He is also author of books ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’. The views expressed are personal)




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