It has been more than a year since the Modi government announced the peace accord with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) to resolve the decades-old Naga insurgency problem. Today, the NSCN is back in the news with Naga outfits enforcing an economic blockade in Manipur, protesting Congress Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh’s move to create seven new districts months ahead of the assembly elections. Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju accuses Singh of making a U-turn on a “written” promise he made in 2011 that new districts would not be carved out without consultation. Excerpts from an interview with Rijiju:
How is the situation in Manipur? What steps are being taken to restore normalcy?
The situation in Manipur is disturbing and a lot of tension has been generated. The United Naga Council had called a blockade, and in retaliation the Meiti community in the Imphal valley has taken certain steps and some of the groups have targeted Naga communities living there. So, in some ways, it is becoming a difficult situation for all of us. But we have taken cognisance of the situation and various steps are being taken to restore peace. We are working out a way and sending officials, and certain consultation process is also on.
There are allegations that the Manipur chief minister is playing vote bank politics ahead of the assembly elections.
It is unfortunate that the state government is not taking due steps to contain the tense situation. The decision to create new districts has resulted in this particular crisis. During the UPA [United Progressive Alliance] regime, the same chief minister had given a written agreement in front of then Union home minister P. Chidambaram that new districts will not be created without consultation with all stakeholders. Now the chief minister has gone ahead with the creation of new districts and even posted district collectors there. This has created lots of problems.
What is the role of the Centre here?
We have no comment to offer on the creation of new districts or any administrative decision of the state government since it is their prerogative. Our concern is that any decision must be taken with due consideration of the prevailing situation and the local people must be taken into confidence. Manipur is already reeling under tremendous pressure and humanitarian crisis because of the economic blockade called by the United Naga Council, which is backed by the NSCN-IM. We urge both the Manipur government and the people in the valley as well as the tribals, especially the Naga communities, to forge some understanding. Dialogue is the only way forward. Violence is no way of solving any problem and will create further trouble....
While the NSCN is backing the Naga protests in Manipur, your government is holding peace talks with the outfit. Don’t you think the peace process will be affected with the fresh bout of violence?
We should not link the Naga peace process with the violence in Manipur. We want the peace process to carry on but, at the same time, no one should take advantage of the situation and derive political benefits. We have asked the security agencies not to allow any NSCN cadres to venture out of the designated camp and to enforce the ground rules.
What is the progress in peace talks with the NSCN following the Framework Agreement signed in 2015?
The progress has been quite substantial, but I cannot claim any success yet.... The Framework Agreement has been signed; both the parties—Joint Intelligence Committee chief R.N. Ravi, who is the government representative, and the NSCN-IM—are coming together. They are holding extensive talks and at the same time our interlocutor is taking the views of the various stakeholders to understand their issues. There are certain points that need to be agreed upon, so till that is done we cannot claim anything. But the progress has been smooth so far and we are very hopeful that in the near future a solution can be reached with some positive agreement from both sides.