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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Can ULFA be brought for talks?

SILCHAR, Dec 8: ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa has reiterated before mediapersons that there “can be no dialogue without sovereignty being on the agenda,” and ULFA chief Paresh Barua has impressed on Rajkhowa not to compromise on the issue of a sovereign independent Assam, the very ideology behind the creation of ULFA.

Political analysts and insurgency – reviewers of Northeast favour the beginning peace process with the outfit against the backdrop of similar demands by  Laldenga of Mizo National Front (MNF) and Isac  Chishi Swu and Thuingelang Muivah, supremos of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM).

The MNF rose to rebellion in March 1966, 10 years after its formation, advocating secession from India and an independent status.

The Centre, however, initiated dialogue with Laldenga notwithstanding its untenable demands like a separate flag and constitution. At a stage, the rebel leader went on to say, “both sides, the government and the MNF, are armed. The war is on. I do not know what will happen.”

Despite hiccups, talks continued and in July 1976, Laldenga signed an undertaking under which MNF acknowledged Mizoram as an integral part of India and agreed to accept a settlement of the Mizo problem within the framework of the constitution.

Peace accord ultimately signed between the GOI and the MNF in 1986 has become a part of history and today Mizoram is not only the most peaceful but economically  advancing State in the region.

The six-decade-old Naga problem and the beginning of talks between the NSCN (IM) and the Centre from 1993 with declaration of ceasefire from August 1,  1997 has been through ups and downs. On many occasions continuance of ceasefire itself was  threatened. But the joint communiqué issued after the meeting on September 21, 2001 from Hague signed between K Padmanabhaiah, intercolutor, and Muivah left speculations behind when it read “both sides are positive and confident that with mutual trust and determination, an agreement for a final settlement can be alived at within a year or two.”

Though nothing tangible emerged, negotiations continue. At the two-day Hebron camp (Dimapur) conclave attended by nearly 6,000 Nagas, Swu and Muivah declared NSCN “has not compromised the sovereignty of Nagas while demanding integration of Naga inhabited areas.” Naga talks have been skidding and recovering. If the substantial issues could be resolved, about which enough indications are available, solution will not be a distant reality.

Quite relevant to Sheikh Abdullah in Kashmir, Zapu Angami Phizo in the then Naga Hills were the first to question the concept of “Indian Nationhood” as perceived by both India and Pakistan in 1947. Sheikh Abdullah was imprisoned for 20 long years before he accepted the concept and became the Chief Minister of Kashmir. Phizo, on the other hand, never accepted the Indian State. He died in exile in London, holding to his heart the concept of Naga nationalism and British passport. He returned home a dead man. In an ironical contrast effecting not only the Nagas but the entire Northeastern region, Chisi and Muivah, to be recalled, returned home as Indian citizens, holding Indian passports.

It is understood that sovereignty is no longer on the NSCN (IM) agenda in the peace talks with New Delhi.
On the issue of unification of Naga inhabited areas or greater Nagalim, some sort of concensus is building up. At one stage, Muivah demanded high price for peace pact as he sought separate citizenship for Nagas, their own currency and passports.

Viewed in the context of these developments of the past and present, the Centre could initiate dialogue with ULFA with sovereignty on the agenda. If Laldenga and Muivah could understand the  impractibility of solution outside the ambit of the Indian Constitution, Arabinda Rajkhowa and Paresh Barua could also be convinced.
Participation of people in democratic process by exercising their franchise in general elections in Assam and Nagaland like any other State is a mandate for an unified India.

Moreover, ULFA is now a divided house between hawks and doves. Besides, all the top 10 leaders of the outfit except commander-in-chief Paresh Barua are in the security dragnet.

Apart from Rajkhowa and ULFA deputy commander in chief Raju Barua, others who are in detention include vice chairman Pradip Gogoi, general secretary Anup Chetia, foreign secretary Sashadar Choudhury, finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika, publicity secretary Mithinga Daimary, cultural secretary Pranati Deka and ideologue Bhimkanta Buragohain.

According to sources, Anup Chetia is in Bangladesh jail. After initiating dialogues, Paresh Barua could be persuaded to join the peace process.

Once ULFA is on negotiation table, sincerity on the part of the GoI and the outfit can explore the avenue of amicable settlement to herald peace in Assam. THE SENTINEL

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