IN THE face of dozens of piercing gazes, the young Naga journalist, struggling to hold back tears, said: “For the sake of healing and the future, all who have committed wrongs in the name of the Naga cause, whether underground or not, must be held accountable. But, right now is the time for reconciliation.” The occasion was the ‘Sitting Around the Fire’ conference in Delhi on 25-26 March, to discuss the way forward for the reconciliation process of the underground groups (UG). With a reconciliatory mood spreading amongst the Nagas, Bodos and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the logic seems to be unless the UG factions unite, a lasting solution with India cannot be achieved.
Factional violence in Nagaland reached a peak in 2007-08 with the NSCN(IM) and NSCN(K) locked in a battle for dominance. With thousands orphaned and widowed, a group of Nagas stepped in to put an end to the internal clashes. In February 2008, Reverend Wati Aier started the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR), a non-government initiative to bring the warring factions together. The ongoing clashes in Tirap in Arunachal Pradesh between NSCN(IM) and NSCN(K) put the internal reconciliation and the Indo-Naga peace process in jeopardy. The postponement of the FNR’s ‘meeting at the highest’, pegged as a breakthrough moment, has forced them to admit the process of reconciliation has stagnated. “Today the Naga people have become indifferent, they don’t care anymore. They need to realise that while the underground leaders are doing what they can, the onus is on the people to push them towards reconciliation,” says Akum Longchari, an FNR member. “At the same time, the groups need to realise reconciliation is not the language of the weak. It is the only way forward.”
This reconciliation effect has spilt over into neighbouring Assam. Both the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and ULFA seem eager to hold internal talks before talking to the government.
A two-day national convention in November 2010 following the harsh treatment of arrested commander of the NDFB’s anti-talks faction, Ranjan Daimary, by the authorities was the first step. An umbrella organisation, the Bodo National Conference was created to carry out a three-point agenda. First, to stop all fratricidal killings. Second, to unite the Bodo people, and finally, to jointly work towards a goal. From the indications, the process seems to be moving in the right direction. Feelings echoed by Anjali Daimary, sister of the arrested commander: “Ranjan has always maintained that he has been fighting for the Bodo people and if they want talks, he will talk. The process is on and we hope we can bring the groups together and continue to work for our people.”
The Naga peace process has spilt over into neighbouring Assam. The ULFA and NDFB are set for talks
The rebuilding process amongst the ULFA factions is still at a nascent stage. A meeting slotted for 10 April is to allow the two sides (pro- and anti-talks) to find a common ground. Top ULFA leaders, recently released from jail, have agreed to unconditional talks. Although the active Paresh Baruah group is yet to agree to peace talks with the Centre, a breakthrough could be reached soon.
While the underground groups of the Northeast move towards peace and reconciliation, many feel the onus is on the Centre to think out of the box. Instead of fighting over past differences, the need is to start by coming to a consensus on a shared future.
Avalok is Correspondent with Tehelka