Centre firm on Naga truce

NEW DELHI, JUNE 16. Notwithstanding the reservations voiced in Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura, the Centre is firm on going ahead with the June 14 ceasefire extension agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah). It does not share the apprehensions being voiced in the neighboring States.

This was the message that the Assam Chief Minister, Mr. Tarun Gogoi, heard when he met the Union Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani, and Home Ministry officials. Mr. Gogoi was given a patient hearing but was told that most of his apprehensions were misplaced and that the Centre was sufficiently alert and adequately equipped to see to it that the ceasefire extension did not become a source of mischief.

Mr. Gogoi was also told that nowhere in the June 14 ``agreement'' should be read any promise or endorsement of the idea of a ``greater Nagaland'' that the NSCN(I-M) had been demanding. The Advani-Gogoi interaction has probably sensitised the Centre to the apprehension entertained in the other northeastern States on this count. However, Mr. Gogoi's was not the only voice of dissent. Another visitor, a ministerial colleague of Mr. Advani, Mr. Chaoba Singh, Minister of State for Food Processing Industries, handed over to the Home Minister a letter demanding the withdrawal ``of extension of the ceasefire with the NSCN(I-M) in Manipur and in other areas of the northeast''.

In an unusual note of dissent, Mr. Singh told Mr. Advani that the NDA's common minimum programme had made a commitment to the territorial integrity of Manipur and the other northeastern States. This promise, according to Mr. Singh, stands negated by the ceasefire extension. ``The NSCN(I-M) could be the sole beneficiary who may build up their organisation, utilising the time of ceasefire, in the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur. All the districts, including the four valley districts, in Manipur are inhabited by Nagas. This may subsequently lead to the demand for a greater Nagaland and territorial division of Manipur,'' writes Mr. Singh.

Mr. Singh, who is also the president of the Manipur State Congress Party (C), has written to the NDA convener, Mr. George Fernandes, demanding an urgent meeting of the alliance to discuss the extension of the ceasefire and its ramifications.

At the same time, the Home Ministry judgment is that much of the protest against the June 14 agreement is inspired by political considerations. In Manipur, the truce has been denounced by all political outfits and individuals who felt outwitted by the Centre's decision to impose President's rule in the State.

Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura feel that they have been bypassed by the Centre in a decision that affects them. This line of argument appeals to political parties as well. For instance, the central committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said that ``it is most unfortunate that the Vajpayee Government has decided to extend the four year-old ceasefire with the NSCN(I-M) for another year, extending it to the entire northeast without consulting the State Governments in the region''.

The Centre also knows that the implementation of the ceasefire in the entire northeast would be a problematic exercise, especially if the State Governments were less than enthusiastic about the truce. Nonetheless, there is a strong feeling that an artificial ``crisis'' is sought to be created, and the Centre has no option but to stand firm.