If Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s subtle and yet categorical message from Diphu in Assam on Thursday is to be understood, perhaps it was for Naga militants.
“Baaki jagaon mein bhi sthai shanti ke liye hamare prayas lagatar chal rahen hain, gambhirta se chal rahen hain (All across northeast, our sincere efforts are on to establish a lasting peace. Efforts are continuing, they are being pursued with all seriousness),” the Prime Minister said in Diphu located in the Karbi Anglong region, which shares a border with Nagaland.
While his reference could be seen from a general perspective for all militant groups, it was obviously more relevant for Naga militants and the state of Nagaland as the Naga peace parleys that began in 1997 are understandably at a final stage.
The Prime Minister said: “Last September in Karbi Anglong region, many organisations have decided to take the path of peace and development. In 2020 the Bodo Accord opened avenues for a lasting peace. In Tripura, the NLFT took the step towards peace. For two and half decades, there was a problem of Bru-Reangs That has been resolved also.”
Of course the Prime Minister did not dwell specifically or in details on the Naga issue, but his remarks have special significance for the Nagas and the state of Nagaland.
The Centre had last week deputed its peace representative A.K. Mishra, a former intelligence official, to visit Nagaland and interact with all stakeholders including NSCN (IM), its general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, NNPG leaders and also representatives of various social organisations and pressure groups.
N. Kitovi Zhimomi of NNPG (umbrella organsiation of seven Naga militant groups) is already keen to sign a peace pact and so he insists that the formality and the last stage in any talks should be tried in all sincerity.
Mishra has reportedly submitted a report to the Union Home Ministry on his return earlier this week.
Among other things, he has been categorical to NSCN (IM) that there is no question of revisiting the contentious issues of Flag and a separate Naga Flag.
While the potent militant group (NSCN-IM) does not want to compromise on Flag and Constitution, any government in Delhi would ever give up or even can afford to make any compromises on Flag and Constitution.
Modi’s visit to Karbi Anglong, which is in very close proximity to Nagaland, was largely aimed at giving a new momentum to peace and development in the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) region.
The fact that Diphu is hardly two hours from Dimapur in Nagaland also triggered speculation in certain quarters that Modi could make use of the opportune time to give a few critical messages to Naga groups and the common people.
“Brothers and sisters in last few decades you all have gone through tough and challenging times. But after 2014 challenges of the northeast were being constantly addressed and people are getting the benefits of development,” he said adding: “Today when people come to tribal areas of Assam or other states in northeast then people feel happy about improvement in situations.”
“Karbi Anglong or other tribal-infested areas in the northeast are firmly and constantly following the path of’ Vikas and Vishwas’ (Development and trust). We all are aware that our government have been working on the problems of these northeastern states. The problems can be solved we work as a member of your community As your brother and son, I have tried to understand all your problems,” he said.
The Prime Minister said he is more than glad that “people have also tried to make the government understand the problem more by your heart than brain”.
“When we all together look for solution all problems like family members, there is sensitivity, appreciation of the pain and troubles the locals have to undergo.
“Today, the entire nation is what watching that in last some years our work is showing results. Once upon a time, when people used to talk about northeast they were either on bomb explosions and sound of gunfire. Today we have thunderous clap all-around,” he added.
Of course the Prime Minister’s statement also dwelt around other issues.
He referred to the partial withdrawal of AFSPA from 23 districts of Assam and also other states including Manipur and Nagaland.
The Prime Minister said the days of violence and the sound of guns and blasts are gone from Assam.
Referring to the 400th birth anniversary of Lachit Borphukan, a commander in the erstwhile Ahom Kingdon, Modi said: “His life was an example of patriotism, and I salute him from the core of my heart.”
Modi also laid the foundation stones of projects worth Rs 500 crore in Karbi Anglong, which includes an agriculture college, model college and a veterinary college.
He also laid the foundation stone of the ambitious Amrit Sarovar project. The Assam government would develop 2,985 water bodies in the state for water conservation with a budget of Rs 1,150 crore.
Addressing the huge gathering, Modi said: “The enormous love and blessings you have shown to me will be returned with interest as development works.”
It may be pointed out Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio and his deputy Y. Patton (of the BJP) have indicated that things could take a more concrete shape by August 15 when India completes 75 years of Independence.
Even otherwise the country is celebrating Amrit Mahotsav and the Prime Minister is more often inclined to refer to the milestone.
It is only relevant that Nagaland, Naga communities and various groups operating both within the state and outside are taken on board in India’s onward journey towards greater glories.
A sizable Rengma Naga population reside in Diphu and the adjoining areas of Assam. Some Nagas in traditional attire enthusiastically attended the function and even danced merrily.
Besides Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and other Assam and Karbi leaders, the function was also attended by Assam Governor Jagdish Mukhi, who is also holding the additional charge of Nagaland.
(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. He is also author of books, ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ and ‘Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth’. Views are personal.)