Between Fire and the Frying Pan: Reviewing the Naga-Ceasefire

The Union Government’s decision to review the Naga cease-fire with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) is expected to bring some relief to the aggrieved populace in Manipur. It is a pity that the decision came only after protracted violence involving loss of innocent lives and property worth of crores of rupees including the State Assembly building. It merely reinforces the oft-repeated hypothesis that violence pays more dividends rather than the whispers of peace.

The protests, which marked the streets of Manipur, underlined the spontaneity of the Manipuris in rising united against the latest step by the Government of India to solve the Naga imbroglio. The participation of most sections of Manipuri society, professionals, students, women, non-governmental organisations made it appear that the Manipuris value the territorial integrity of their State and will not hesitate to wage a bloody war against the governmental edifice.

The NSCN-IM, after the agreement of13 June 2001 has reinforced its stand that any agreement between it and the Indian government has to extend to all the Naga-inhabited areas of the northeast. In view of the possible retraction from its commitment, the Government may now be forced to encounter a wave of insurgent activities by an irked NSCN-IM. In fact the recent interview of the General Secretary of the outfit, Th. Muivah, to the BBC in


is itself an eye opener. In the interview, Mr. Muivah issued warnings that his outfit would be forced to return to violence if the Union Government did not fulfil its commitment relating to the extension of the cease-fire to the Naga-dominated areas.

The Union Government prior to 13 June had maintained an undiluted position on the non-extension of the cease-fire to the other Naga-inhabited areas of the northeast. In the beginning of the year, the government managed to sign a revised set of ground rules with the NSCN-IM. It provided the security forces additional teeth in monitoring the movements, operations and extortion activities of the outfit. However, contrary to popular perceptions, the outfit, which seemed to have achieved very little as a result of the agreement, quietly managed an assurance with regard to the extension of the area of cease-fire at a later period. Even though the Government managed to delay the inevitable, the fast approaching date for the extension of the cease-fire with the outfit (in force since 1997) provided the latter an opportunity to mount pressure on the government.

Before that, the Union Government appeared to be treading a correct path by making peace in the State an all-comprehensive one. On28 April 2001 a cease-fire with the Khaplang faction of the NSCN was announced. Peace overtures to the Naga National Council-Federal (NNC-F) also seemed to be achieving positive results. However, at this point of time the NSCN-IM, the self-styled torchbearer of the Naga-cause mounted enormous pressure on the Union Government. On 08 May, it issued a two-week ultimatum threatening to call off the cease-fire unless the Union Government met its demand to extend the area of cease-fire. Within a span of ten days, on 17 May, Th. Muivah in a statement from


, warned of retaliation against government forces and declared a state of ’emergency’.

The Government, in its quest for peace, gave in to the pressure. It rushed the chief interlocutor K Padmanabhaiah to


, where he held two rounds of negotiations with the NSCN-IM leadership. There are reasons to believe that the outfit played its cards extremely sensible by not making a success of the dialogue process. Hence, any further dialogue had to be a climb down on part of the government, which threatened to take the outfit inches closer to its ultimate goal of Nagalim (Greater Nagaland). On 13 June, following another round of dialogue with the outfit’s leadership in


, it announced the extension of the cease-fire without any territorial limits.

In announcing the cease-fire, the policy makers seemed to have underestimated the sentiments of the Manipuri people in guarding their basic interests. They possibly chose the safer option of coercing law-abiding citizens into submission to a myopic policy decision rather than dealing with trigger-happy insurgents. However, events in the State caught the Government off-guard and the absence of a popular government in the State further complicated matters. The violence needs to be looked at in the perspective of the opposition of the people to an official approval of an unofficial attempt by an insurgent outfit to redefine the territorial demarcation of States. The silver line in the whole gamut of violence in the State is possibly the reassertion of the voice of people to ward off a sense of alienation, writ large after the announcement of the cease-fire extension.

The new problem, which now threatens the policy makers, is the backlash from the NSCN-IM. It is possible that the whole region will witness a new wave of insurgency on behalf of the outfit. However, it is perhaps prudent to muzzle a bunch of lawbreakers rather than alienating a large section of law-abiding civilians and thereby opening up multiple centres of dissension.