Mainland Fauxpas

It ranges between an editor of a "national" daily wanting to see ULFA camps in Shillong in the early '90s, to Swami Dayanand Saraswati of Coimbatore saying a few months ago in Guwahati, in what seemed to be his perception of the Nagas' eating habits, that he had heard that their state didn't even have crows, to Union minister of state for home Swami Chinmayanand calling for Naga unity, in Arunachal, a few days back. That, unfortunately, happens to be the degree of awareness that some mainland intellectuals and politicians are known to display when it comes to issues concerning the North-east, be it its geography, social habits or politics. Only Chinmayanand seems to have outdone himself, having recently visiting Tripura and meeting governor DN Sahay, and not the head of the elected government, and then saying that Chief Minister Manik Sarkar had never informed the Centre that insurgents from the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) had set up camps in neighbouring Mizoram, when the status, according to the state governement, is exactly the opposite. For now, Sarkar has said that Chinmayanand's remarks may have been a result of his not being aware of the position as he had taken charge only recently. Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister, meanwhile, responded to Chinmayanand's statements as being "unbecoming of a Union minister".

Chinmayanand's recent statements in the region have been attributed to a "singular lack of homework" on his part. In Arunachal Pradesh, for example, the Union home minister, while addressing a BJP rally on July 11 in Khunsa, the headquarters of the Tirap district, questioned the justification of the state government launching 'Operation Hurricane' to flush out Naga insurgents "when the Centre was trying to bring about peace with Naga insurgents through dialogue". "The Union minister did this without realising the fact that we had decided to launch the operation after consultations with the Union Home Ministry's Coordination Committee on Security on May 12," says Kabang Borang, home minister, Arunachal Pradesh. Militants belonging to both the Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) have become increasingly active in Arunachal Pradesh, says Borang. "Recently they killed the circle officer of Namtok." What Chinmayanand did not seem to be aware of either was the fact that all the states in the North-east have from the very beginning opposed the extension of the cease-fire with the NSCN to states beyond Nagaland. Manipur, for one, witnessed violent protests against the Centre's initial extension of the cease-fire with the NSCN to that state as well. A number of people were killed in the police that followed. "We cannot tolerate activities of the NSCN in our state," says Borang. The Arunachal government now plans to write to all newspapers and the Centre to appraise them of the actual status of affairs as opposed to what Chinmayand believes, he says.

Not to mention the Union minister's call for Naga unity in Arunachal. "We have never been a part of Nagaland and we will never give an inch of our land to any greater Nagalim," says Borang. "And the same can be expected of all other states in the region." What Chinmayanand seemed to have ignored was the fact the issue of a greater Nagalim that the NSCN demands should include all Naga-inhabited areas in the North-east under one administrative unit has also been vehemently opposed by the other states of the region. Any extension of the present cease fire with the NSCN (IM) to “contiguous” areas beyond Nagaland is viewed as a de-facto acceptance of Nagalim by the states bordering Nagaland.

Chinmayanand's statement in Agartala, meanwhile, came in the midst of a controversy that has seen Tripura and Mizoram trade charges of allowing militants to use their respective states as a base to launch attacks on the other. While Sarkar has made available a list of camps which he says the NLFT operates in the Mammit district of Mizoram, the state's chief minister, Zoramthanga has refuted all such charges, instead saying that militants of the Bru National Liberation Front (BLNF) were using Tripura as a base to carry out operations in Mizoram. Reacting to the Union minister's recent statement about the Centre being unaware of Tripura's problems, Sarkar said that the chief secretary of his state had written to the Union Home Ministry about the militant camps in Mizoram on June 4 and on August 12, 2002. "The correspondence was done well before Chinmayanand came to the Union ministry,' Sarkar said.

By Pranab Bora and Amit Ray Chaudhuri(newsfiledelhi@hotmail.com)