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By Oken Jeet Sandham
Delhi’s Interlocutor to Naga peace talks RN Ravi’s attending the 26th General Conference of the Naga Students Federation (NSF) on May 14 at Khonoma is historic in many ways. First, he is the envoy of the Government of India to the Naga political negotiations. Two, his attending the 26th General Conference of the NSF at a birthplace of legendary Naga freedom fighter AZ Phizo is significant. Third, his coming to Nagaland softens the rigid stand of the Naga people who were initially opposed to his appointment as “Delhi’s Interlocutor” to the Naga peace talks.
Ravi is not new to the Naga political history. He retired as Intelligence Bureau (IB) Special Director in 2012 and soon after BJP-led NDA came to power at the Center last year, his appointment as Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) for a period of three years was approved. Surprisingly, within a week of his appointment as JIC Chairman, he has been appointed as Delhi’s “interlocutor” to the Naga peace talks.
Ravi knows internal security issues and nitty-gritty of the northeast insurgencies. And as he was chief of the premier intelligence club of the country, his primary job was to brief the Prime Minister of many vital issues, particularly security related matters, of the country.
Even Shyamall Datta, before becoming as Governor of Nagaland, used to attend even the meetings of the Center-NSCN (IM) because he was chief of IB. He was busy setting things right for smooth discussion of the NSCN-IM and the Government of India. He was present in number of talks between the leaders of the outfit and the representatives of the Government of India held at various parts of the world. Sending him right after his retirement from the IB as Governor of Nagaland by the then NDA Government under the Prime Ministership of Atal Behari Vajpayee was mainly to help expedite the ongoing peace process and see the grounds for strengthening the process and create peaceful environment. And it was no wrong choosing a high profile man who had vast knowledge on the country’s issues and problems to become Governor of Nagaland. It was rare having such a man who had the knowledge of the Naga issue as Governor, although he, as Governor, might have limited role to play but when he himself knew the subject of the ongoing peace process, it carried sense and those players in the theater could not undermine him.
Ravi was, however, critical of the Naga insurgents and peace process as could be seen from his past write-up which became the sore point compelling Naga civil societies to initially oppose to his appointment as “Delhi’s Interlocutor to Naga peace talks.” Pressures were mounted on the Government to such an extent that the Home Ministry had even forwarded a fresh proposal to replace him but it was turned down by the PMO. The rest is history.
But seeing his mind on the current Naga peace process after he spoke out at the 26th General Conference of the NSF at Khonoma and afterwards to media persons, he is rather in a tangle. Whatever he said was on the expected lines. Nothing new! Nothing extra! The least the people expected from his visit, of course, was that he would endorse Prime Minister Modi’s assurance of “time frame” for settling the Naga political issue in 18 months. This remark of the Prime Minister was even quoted on few occasions none other than by Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang.
Although the Nagas were stunned by Modi when he did not utter a single word on Naga issue while delivering his historic inaugural speech at the “Hornbill Festival” on December 1 last year at Kisama and the day was also coincided with the “Nagaland Statehood Day Celebration,” many simply thought that since he already had assured a “time frame” of solution to the Naga issue within 18 months, he might not have felt it necessary to mention in such an event. Even Zeliang was taking that way.
To me, precious time has been wasted on unnecessary issues. If there is a hindrance, then it has to be resolved. We have seen enough that confrontational attitudes have not worked while searching solution to the political issue. Such attitudes have only bred unpolitical problems compounding more to the issues. The Government of India has also failed to exploit the unprecedented positive outcomes generated by FNR’s consistent efforts. In fact, who could believe that members of the NSCN rival factions would form one team to play soccer against a team of Naga civil societies? Who could believe that the members of the NSCN rival factions would happily mingle with one another and have pleasant discussions across the table? The Naga people’s crying for “unity and reconciliation” is more than their yearning for “solution” to the Naga issue. For they know that without unity and reconciliation, no permanent and tangible solution will come about.
Many retired top Indian bureaucrats had already served as Delhi’s Interlocutor to Naga peace talks. Former Nagaland Chief Secretary RS Pandey, after his retirement from the Central Government, was also appointed as Interlocutor by previous Congress-led UPA Government. Although he placed his concept of “shared sovereignty” to solve the Naga issue, he was still cautious of giving any “time frame.”
Anyway, Modi is the only Indian Prime Minister who assured a “time frame” for the settlement of Naga issue. He is also the first Indian Prime Minister who did not utter a single word on the Naga issue while visiting Nagaland during “Hornbill Festival” last year.
Modi, BJP leader, is undoubtedly the most powerful Prime Minister with 282 BJP MPs in Lok Sabha, crossing half-mark of Parliament strength, besides allies joining his Government. And when he announced a “time frame” of resolving the Naga political issue with this strength, nobody disbelieved him.
The settlement of the Naga issue demands a “political will” from a strong Prime Minister backed by a strong Government. If all his actions right after becoming the Prime Minister are to be taken, he appears to be straight. Yet, his knowledge to the long-drawn out Naga political history appears to be not very deep.
But, what is “political will”? It not just the Prime Minister takes decision on certain issue but it is how he politically presents his political blueprint with realistic political approach to the issue for the benefit of its intention, usually for the public welfare. And before any such step being planned, he has to examine the outcomes from the process being presented by his Interlocutor and the Representatives from the other party.
It is really complicated but we need big hearts for big political concessions if we prefer “political will” for settlement of the “complex Naga political issue” once and for all. Time for pragmatism and not for losing our marbles!