The Nagaland explosions

Putting politics before the peace process blows up in the face

Terrorists killed at least thirty people in Nagaland today, violating a ceasefire between Indian security forces and insurgents of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah faction) that has held since 1997. The terrorist attacks have come around the time the ceasefire rules was up for renewal.

Nagaland’s state government is formed by the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) which includes the BJP, and was widely supposed to have the tacit backing of the NSCN(I-M). The previous Central government, led by the BJP, also went relatively easy on the NSCN(I-M) and did not readily call the offside when NSCN(I-M) bent the rules of the ceasefire agreement.

The change in government in New Delhi and the installation of a Congress-led alliance changed the political dynamics in Nagaland. With the BJP out of power, the NSCN(I-M) was not particularly inclined to carry on its equation with the Nagaland state government and carried out some high-profile manoeuvres to signal to the new Central government that it still is the force to reckon with in Nagaland.

The local Congress party in Nagaland, sitting in the opposition benches, has its own ideas on how best to run the peace process. S C Jamir, the state Congress party satrap is in favour of uniting the NSCN factions — the breakaway Khaplang faction is based in Myanmar — and then pursuing negotiations with the combined NSCN. The Congress-led government in New Delhi was sympathetic to the approach of its local unit leading it to view both the Isak-Muivah and the Khaplang factions of the NSCN in similar light.

While it has been flexing its muscles recently, it is unlikely that the Isak-Muivah faction would want to rock the boat to the extent of setting off violent explosions of the kind that occurred today. But it may have decided to do so to pre-empt any change in the Central government’s strategy aimed at placing it on par with the Khaplang faction.

The Khaplang faction on the other hand would have been a likely culprit in the past, but given the Congress’ predisposition to reunite the NSCN factions, it has much to lose by being perceived as the bad boy. But then again, this may have been a show of strength reinforcing its position as an equal of the Isak-Muivah faction.

Whatever may be the case, there is a clear need for the Central government to show uniform resolve to continue the Naga peace process. That means the Central government seeking and keeping strictly to the terms of a ceasefire agreement. But right now, the onus is on the insurgent groups to prove that they are serious about continuing with the peace process. The NSCN(I-M) claims to be running a parallel government in Nagaland, in that case Messrs Isak and Muivah should not take the attacks on their ‘tax-paying’ citizens lying down and join the hunt for the killers.

Update: The National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NFDB), an rebel outfit operating in Assam state is being suspected of carrying out the attacks in Nagaland and Assam. The NFDB is close to NSCN’s Khaplang faction and has training facilities in Khagrachari and Tangail districts of Bangladesh. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi would do well to reconsider his offer of ceasefire with NFDB.