The arrogance of the Centre may prove costly for North East

John S Shilshi
Even the most vocal critics of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) would find it difficult to disagree that since Narendra Modi assumed charge of Prime Minister in 2014, the security scenario in states of North east region improved considerably.  While states infested with insurgency continue to witness stray incidence of violence, over all comparative figure release by the Ministry of Home Affairs showed remarkable improvement. Total number of insurgent related killings in the region, which stood at 6938 during the period 2008 – 2013, came down to 4338 during the period of 2014 – 2018, which included the fatality figures of civilians, security forces and insurgents. Improvement in the security scenario had also speeded up development activities in the region.
The biggest leap towards ensuring peace in the region during the first tenure of Narendra Modi however came in the form of reigniting fresh hope for a solution to the Naga peace a talk which was dragging on since 1997. R. N. Ravi, a 1976 batch IPS and former Intelligence Bureau officer, known for his deep understanding of north east affairs, including the Naga political dynamics, was appointed as the new Interlocutor to the Naga peace talks. Though the NSCN (IM) leadership wasn’t too enthusiastic about his appointment initially because he was viewed as someone who didn’t see the organisation in good light, he managed to break the perception with his businesslike conduct of the talks and passionate approach to the issues. With passage of time, the cordiality improved and talks progressed significantly, leading to signing of the Framework agreement on August 3, 2015.
Three things the Prime Minister mentioned during the signing ceremony–‘need to recognize and respect the uniqueness of the Nagas’, ‘need to retrospect on failure of India to understand Naga problems, therefore keeping them isolated and insulated’ and need for understanding each other in the ‘spirit of equality’ impressed the Naga leadership. In response, the Chief Negotiator for the Nagas, Thuingaleng Muivah, stated that if India was willing to take one extra step, they were prepared to take ten steps to ensure that the talks came to a meaningful end. The Signing of the Framework Agreement therefore was heartily welcomed by the Naga public with prayer services and devotional fasting programmes, seeking God’s intervention for success of the talks. In other words, there were positive vibes all over and the Nagas for the first time ever remained hopeful of witnessing an end to years of violence and bloodshed.
Within the NSCN (IM) too, the positivity was clearly visible, and in the hope of mainstreaming themselves sooner, many leaders, particularly second and third rung in the hierarchy who, till 2015/16 were using alias names and fake addresses for fear of being tracked down by the authorities, corrected their details and that of their family members. This was a clear sign of the usual skepticism making way for trust. However, this massive investment of good will seemed to have floundered. In August 2019 when the government of India, through the Interlocutor sounded an ultimatum of three months to the NSCN leadership for winding up the talks, all the good will and trust garnered over the last four years or so suddenly evaporated and every move of the government of India, including some well-intended ones began to be interpreted differently. Setting a time frame to conclude the talks was taken as a dictation by the Government, at the behest of a Home Minister who was not prepared to appreciate finer points associated with the talks. Therefore, despite the two sides agreeing to disagree on some contentious issues and formalized the deal, feelings of mistrust are very much visible and palpable.
In other parts of north east too, the BJP might have done away much of the influence it garnered during the last five years because of the Amendment to the Citizenship Act. No doubt the fears and apprehensions of people in the region about possible adverse implication of the Act remain central to their opposition. But the manner in which the Bill was fast tracked to become an Act even as the entire North east was burning has hurt the sentiments much more. The unusual hurry shown by the government has been viewed as clear sign of the Centre’s insensitivity to the concerns and feelings of people in the region. It has also been interpreted as a deliberate attempt to convey a message that the ‘louder you shout, the harder we shall hit’. The resolve to stand up against CAA has therefore hardened.
That the centre government is trying to limit the extent of opposition to the Act by categorizing states in the north east as non-ILP and ILP states is also evident from the act that it agreed to extend the Inner Line Permit regime to Manipur after years of lingering. But to everyone’s surprise, the opposition to the CAA have been equally vocal and explosives even in the ILP states. People have realised that the regime was not sufficient guarantee that their states would be protected from the danger of being swamped by migrants from Bangladesh. They argue that even as illegal migrants, several Bangladeshis had already entered the states and naturalized themselves as citizens by producing fraudulently obtained identity documents. Therefore, now as bonafide citizens, bypassing the ILP regulations by exploiting administrative loopholes would be easy and rampant. Also Christian dominated states strongly feel that the main objective of bringing in CAA was to distort the Christian majority, in whom the RSS/BJP could not lay the foundation for strong and committed cadres.  It remains to be seen how the centre government deals with this popular sentiments in days to come. Will it consider possible insertion of safeguard clause (s) to exempt the north east from the purview of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or will it continue to go with the cruel option of blacking out and tiring out through coercive tactics? Time will only tell. It will be unfortunate if the government of India thinks that measures applied elsewhere in mainland India can be replicated in states of north east as well. In case they do, the government and the BJP may live to regret the reversal of peace limping back to the region during the last five years or so. Most importantly, the subversive forces in the region shall rediscover a fertile ground to anchor the public to an undesirable shore. In fact, these recent developments might have already derailed the return of peace to the region to some extent.
(The writer is a retired IPS officer, now a strategic Analyst on internal security. Views expressed are personal)