20 April 2024 09:52 AM



Our North East Is Dangerously Close to Slipping Away From Central Control

MUMBAI: Our traditional apathy to the North East happenings, even on serious national security situations, was evident when scant interest was shown by our media when Manipur Chief Minister Orkam Ibobi Singh was attacked by Naga rebels. This incident took place on 24 October, 2016 while he was visiting Naga majority areas in his own state.

One report said that his helicopter was fired on at Ukhrul helipad as he was stepping out. In the firing a Manipur Rifles soldier was injured. The CM retraced his steps and flew back. Another report said that the CM could not travel by road from the helipad since the Naga mobs obstructed his way.

This astonishing media disinterest would not have been so, had the Chief Ministers in any other insurgency affected states like Chhattisgarh or Jammu & Kashmir were obstructed or fired upon while traveling in their own states. This serious incident was not important enough for some national dailies to be printed on front pages on October 25th. Predictably no follow up stories or analysis were published by national dailies nor were the usual boisterous TV debates held.

Some media reports had clearly identified the attackers as from National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM). I did not however read any official version from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) who should have taken cognizance of it since “peace talks” were going on with NSCN (IM).

The Manipur based “Sangai Express” (October 27) said that the State Home Department had sent a detailed report to the MHA on the attack by NSCN (IM) but MHA had not reacted. This did not prevent leaks from central intelligence agencies on October 25 blaming the Chief Minister for visiting these areas despite advance intelligence about the possibility of such attacks. The reports also talked about the “displeasure” of T.Muiva (Leader of NSCN-IM) on CM’s visit.

Does the responsibility of our Central Government cease with mere intelligence alerts when Article 355 of our Constitution clearly stipulates that it is the responsibility of the Centre to protect states from external aggression and internal disturbances and “to ensure that the government of every state is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this constitution”?

On August 3-4, 2015 a “historic peace deal” was signed by Government of India with the NSCN (Isak Swu - Muivah faction), the largest of the Naga insurgent groups. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had then announced that it did not just mark the end of a problem, but the "beginning of a new future."(emphasis added) He said: "We will not only try to heal wounds and resolve problems, but also be your partner as you restore your pride and prestige”. Press reports at that time had said that NSCN(IM) had represented that they “needed to retain its weapons to ward off attacks from rival NSCN factions led by Myanmar-based SS Khaplang and Khole Konyak”. That meant that they would use the weapons only defensively and not for attacking Manipur CM.

It was automatically presumed that any such peace deal would be within the Indian constitution. Our Constitution does not recognize different sovereignties like, say, the United States of America, but only one sovereignty of the whole of India. But this impression was shattered by Muivah himself when he announced on August 15, 2015 on the “Naga Independence Day” at Hebron, their capital: “Have we given up the sovereignty demand? No, we haven’t. It is clearly stated in the agreement that both sides respect the people’s wishes for sharing sovereignty. We have to work out to what extent to share our rights to sovereignty. We will have sovereign right on our respective competencies.”

Muivah continued: “Some people with vested interest have been saying that we have given up the demands for integration and sovereignty. Nagas have the right to be integrated. There can be no solution without Naga integration. The Government of India has said the issue of integration will have to be worked out. Let us see how this is done.” In other words they would not rest content unless other Naga areas in other states like in Manipur are merged in what is called “Nagalim”.

There would have been no problem had these aspirations of Nagas were discussed and insisted upon through negotiating tables. But the problem comes when one party takes up arms to prevent a constitutional head of state from discharging his functions within the borders of his responsibility. In such a background Government of India’s silence on this incident is deafening. Are they passively acquiescing at the redrawing of boundaries of N. Eastern states as demanded by NSCN (IM)? Aren’t we going back to “War Lordism” which was endemic in pre-Revolution China?

NSCN (IM) is issuing more and more aggressive media releases on their rights to impose taxes in their “areas”. On October 31, 2013 a rally of 10,000 was organized in Dimapur by the Action Committee Against Unabated Taxation (ACAUT) to protest against taxation by unauthorized groups. NSCN (IM) warned the organizers against such efforts. The latest warning to ACAUT was conveyed through “The Morung Express” (June 17, 2016) asserting IM’s rights, quoting several reasons including the “3rd August Framework Agreement” with Government of India. Have the NSCN extended their taxation area already to Manipur by staging the 24 October 2016 attack?

These are dangerous portents to national security in our sensitive N.East region. There will be no end to this type of de facto carving of separatist blocs in this region if we acquiesce to this aggression. History reveals that even in 1951 the Manipuri Nagas did not join Phizo’s call for independence or plebiscite. They were not included in the ‘unified Nagaland’ proposal of the Naga Peoples’ Convention (NPC) in 1957. The error occurred in 1964 when the Indo-Naga cease fire was extended to Ukhrul, Mao and Tamenglong. However even in May 1970 the Manipuri Nagas who visited New Delhi under the banner of “All Tribal Delegation” to demand a separate state of Manipur chose to remain with Manipur instead of joining Nagaland.

This demand is aggressively made by Thuingaleng Muivah, a Tangkhul Naga from Manipur since Tangkhuls are the core of the Naga army under NSCN (I-M).He uses his military force to silence other Nagas. Let us not forget his close contacts with China in the past as vividly described by Bertil Lintner in his classic “Great Game East: India, China and the Struggle for Asia’s Most Volatile Frontier”.

Thus while our energies are disproportionately concentrated on our Western border, chunks of our North East area are slipping out of our control even under the BJP government that promised strong measures to preserve our territorial integrity.

[The writer is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat and author of “National Security & Intelligence Management-A New Paradigm”]