Calm before the storm ?

RECENTLY Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio said all 60 members of the Nagaland Assembly and two members of Parliament had declared they were ready to “dissolve” the present government to make way for the final stage of the long drawn “talks” between the Naga underground groups and the Centre. The idea is to form an interim government before the 2013 Assembly elections. The Centre has, however, reportedly shot it down.

Earlier this year, former Union home secretary GK Pillai was reported to have said that the final settlement of the Naga problem was expected sooner rather than later. Till now, there is no sign of any breakthrough. Key players – Naga rebels, civil society and the Centre — are keeping a low profile. There is still no concrete framework, or so it appears, from either side, including the civil bodies. A few vague terms like “economic development”, “packages” and “more autonomy in Naga areas” were all that has been forthcoming.

Could this be the calm before the storm?
 The fear of possible trouble and a law and order problem during the assembly elections were cited by Rio as the main reasons for an alternative arrangement. It may be mentioned that due to such fear of disturbance, the election to the civic bodies, due since 2010, has been postponed indefinitely.
Meanwhile, the Suspension of Operations between the Army, the Kuki National Organisation and the United People’s Front continues. The Kno leader’s recent reaction to the Centre’s non-commitment cannot, however, be underestimated. The NSCN(K) has reportedly termed the talks between the NSCN( IM) and the Centre as a “factional solution”.

Pillai had said that any “peace deal” had to be endorsed by all sections of Naga society, from gaon buras (village headmen) to civil bodies. This is to ensure that no one would turn around and say, after some years, that they were kept in the dark and hence would not accept the agreement.

In a statement, TL Angami, founder-advisor, Village Chief’s Federation Nagaland and caretaker of Naga customary law, reiterated that Pillai needed to be guided or led in the right direction to solve the Naga problem. Memories of burnt villages, people massacred and the rape of Naga women by Indian troops still remained fresh in the minds of gaon buras.

So far, the only progress has been an “alternative arrangement” — a key feature used by the all factions of the NSCN, the state assembly and civil society such as the traditional Naga apex bodies. What actually constitutes an “alternative” has not been spelled out – at least for the public via media reports. The supra state model/concept has been denied by both the NSCN(IM) and the Centre. While civil bodies avoid comment, other factions have brushed it aside as an NSCN(IM) agenda.

It would not be wrong to say that there is a shortage of intellectual input and a draining of ideas on all sides. One prominent factor that comes in, going by the latest series of reports, are Pillai’s comments on the changing socio-politics in neighbouring Myanmar. The Khaplang faction is also likely to look towards Naypidaw rather than Delhi, which would involve a separate arrangement for Nagas in Manipur.

Amidst the fast changing global scenario and the evolution of new perspectives, the transborder ethnic nationalities of North-east India are caught in the web of transition where the market is mightier than the pen and the gun. Pillai was quoted as having said that contacts between Nagas on either side of the border could continue through trade and commerce, referring to Manipur’s border outlet of Moreh.

The formula fits well with India’s emerging interest in Southeast Asia, wherein the North-east region serves as a strategic gateway. The Look East Policy, with development of the North-east region as one component, was evolved in the early ’90s. It is believed that this will improve India’s relationship with its immediate neighbour Myanmar and its emerging influence in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Emerging changes in Myanmar have also impacted the context of India, its policy towards the North-east and the world at large.

As it stands today, India’s main interest, both domestic and external, lies in economic advancement, come what may. In Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s words, the Lep is not merely an economic policy, it is also a strategic shift in India’s vision of the world and India’s place in the evolving global economy.
For the success of this vision, the eastern frontier region became important. It may be remembered that India’s has 1,643 km borders running along Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. On a practical note, such policies and economic imagination are far from realistic. Indo-Myanmarese border trade witnessed a diminishing trend from Rs 59.56 crore to Rs 7.54 between 1995 and 2001 (NEDFi report). Items at Moreh market are allegedly more illegal than legal goods, and are mostly third country products — Chinese goods, to be specific. Several proposed mega projects are still on paper, such as the Kaladan project, an agreement for which was signed in 2008, are yet to materialise.

Baladas Ghoshal of the Centre for Policy Research told this writer that India’s Look East Policy was mainly for extending linkages into Southeast Asia. According to him, the North-east is a bridge, but the main problem lies in underdevelopment of the region. Moreover, there was no blueprint for infrastructure development and the region did not have the capacity to take advantage of the role of being the mainland bridge, said Ghoshal.

Many renowned scholars on India-Myanmar relations are also skeptical of that country’s current position, observing that it would be too early to bank on its transition to democracy. Years down the line, the government of India should not look back and say it did not understand and, therefore, had not anticipated a mess.

The Statesman North East Page 
September 17, 2012

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