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“The Centre playing with the minds of the Naga people” - Ananya Dutta

Several rounds of peace talks have been held without a resolution

The campaign ahead of the February 23 elections to the Nagaland Assembly may be on in full swing with both the Capital and its most important commercial centre littered with pre-election publicity material. But for many the announcement of the elections itself came as a disappointment as the resolution to a peace process that has gone on for 15 years is yet to come.

“The Government of India had promised that there would be a settlement before the elections and now these elections have been announced. They (the Centre) are testing the Naga people time and again. Earlier there had been talk that there would a resolution from the peace process as a Christmas gift to the Naga people....They are only experimenting with the minds of the Naga people,” said Neingulo Krome, a human rights activist and a member of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR), an apex civil society group that has been working towards cessation of hostilities within the Naga tribes.

The State has witnessed a period of relative peace since 1997, when a ceasefire came into force, but in the 15 years that have followed the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muhivah) several rounds of peace talks have been held without a resolution.

Last year there were indications from both Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and the NSCN (I-M) leadership that a solution was likely before the Assembly elections. The failure to do so has emerged as a major issue in these elections even as each political party finds fault with the other.

In the course of the Congress’s election campaign, former Chief Minister of the State and senior Congress leader S.C. Jamir has often mocked the ruling Naga People’s Front (NPF) for failing to live up to its 2003 election promise of a resolution to the Naga political issue “in three months time.”

“Those three months has become ten years and we still do not have a solution,” Mr. Jamir said adding that the Centre cannot place its trust in Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio’s government, which has proved to be a stumbling block.

On the other hand, the NPF blames the Congress for failing the people on the issue. Addressing a rally at Dimapur Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said that his party had gone to the extent of supporting the Congress’s nominee for the Presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee last year in the hope of securing an early resolution to the peace talks, but nothing came of it.

Mr. Rio also questioned the Congress’s commitment on the issue pointing out that while his party’s manifesto devotes two pages to the Naga political issue, the Congress mentions it in only three lines.

Another member of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation, Akum Longchari, who is also the editor of a local daily The Morung Express, said that the impasse continues because the Centre wants to limit the dialogue to the negotiating table and not extend it further.

“The announcement of these elections goes a long way in showing how the Indian state views the peace process...The electoral system as it is not about engaging with issues, it is about the manufacture of consent for the powers that be,” Mr. Longchari said.

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