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Even as a stalemate continues to dog the Naga peace process with no headway in sight, the development that has stolen the show is the coming over ground of a goodly group of insurgents from the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Saoraigwra) (NDFB(S). Billeted until recently in Myanmar’s Taga area abutting the Chindwin River, the group was part of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Khaplang) led United Liberation Front of West South East Asia (UNLFWSEA), a conglomeration of insurgent groups from the North East of India. The United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) which claimed responsibility for the four explosions that took place in Eastern Assam on 26 January 2020, the NDFB(S) and the Kamatapur Liberation Organisation are part of the motley grouping. With the coming over ground of most of the NDFB(S)—primarily the organisation’s leader, B. Saoraigwra—observers are of the firm opinion that the UNLFWSEA would soon disintegrate.

 

Such a development would also have a domino effect on the other important anti-India assemblage, the Coordination Committee (CORCOM) whose hunting grounds have principally been Manipur. Readers who recall the carnage of December 2014, when concerted attacks by the NDFB(S) resulted in the deaths of more than 76 people, would probably remember Bidai and Batha, the two dreaded Bodo terrorists who masterminded the senseless violence. Indeed, they too have come over ground (from their hideouts in Bhutan) and are presently in Delhi and in all probability would be a part of the agreement, albeit as observers, as would leaders of the All Bodo Students’ Union and the United Bodo People’s Organisation.The historic third Bodo Accord came about after 27 years of violent movement. The agreement paves way for a Bodo Territorial Region (BTR) and considerable economic (a whooping 1,500 crore rupees financial package has been earmarked for the next threeyears for the development of the BTR) and socio-cultural benefits for the Bodo people.By all accounts, 30 January 2020 would go down as amomentous day when all Bodo belligerent configurations unitedly swore to give up arms and abjure violence.

 

Indeed, the agreement that has been signed between the Government of India, the Government of Assam and the NDFB did not happen overnight. Protracted backroom parleys had to precede the manner in which the differing Bodo groups including the NDFB (Progressive), NDFB (Ranjan Daimary), NDFB (Dhiren Bodo) and NDFB (Saoraigwra) had to be brought together. Earlier attempts at piecemeal dialogues had repeatedlyfailed to achieve a correct resolution.But a determined government—piqued by the growing dissonance in the North East—wanted anall-inclusive course of dialogue, comprising all groups that had been characterising the belligerence among the Bodos. The rationale was simple: earlier attempts to cobble peace settlements had not borne fruit. A myopic dispensation had instead (as was the case of the undivided NDFB after the ceasefireof 25 May 2005) “permitted” its elusive chairman, Ranjan Daimary and the outfit’s 3rd Battalion to stay on in Bangladesh. It was this faction—despite the cessation of violence—that perpetrated one of the most heinous of crimes against humanity—the serial bombings of 30 October 2008 when 81 innocent lives were lost with at least 470 injured.

 

The new agreement thathas been inked in the North Block testifies the character terrain of the Indian state’s magnanimity to accommodate even the most recalcitrant of insurgent groups. The 27 January 2020 truce has promises to jump-start other flagging peace processes in the North East. Indeed, one had wondered about the future of the region with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) (NSCN-IM)-Government of India peace process showing no signs of progress. The NSCN(IM)continues to be adamant about its demand for the inclusion of all Naga dominated areas in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur to its Greater Nagaland “dream”. Indeed, after the demise of the organisation’s president, Isaac Chisi Swu, a Sumi Naga, on 28 June 2016, the NSCN(IM) has virtually become a Tangkhul organisation: its general secretary, Thuingaleng Muivah, is a Tangkhul from Manipur’s Ukhrul. Analysts have opined that Muivah would face both great embarrassment and peril if an agreement with New Delhi excludes the parish in which his tribe and he are denizens of. However, as was the case in 2001 when the NSCN(IM) ceasefire was extended without territorial limits resulting not only in deaths, but the burning down of the Manipur Assembly building, any “giving away” of land from (primarily) Manipur would be a recipe for disaster.

 

The NSCN(IM)-Government of India peace process would have to overcome countless other obstacles before the “mother of all North Eastern rebellions” can be quietened. The much touted “Framework Agreement” of 3 August 2015—in the words of former Union Home Secretary, G.K. Pillai—was no more than a “damp squib” and although the “architect” of the so-called historic agreement, R.N. Ravi was appointed the Governor of Nagaland on 20 July 2019, the fact of the matter is that there seems to be a measure of mistrust between the NSCN(IM) and Ravi, who the former termed as being “capricious and bossy”. Indeed, Ravi’s swearing-in gubernatorial address exhorting the youth of Nagaland to “awake, arise and set the moment for a resurgent Nagaland” seems to have not only fallen on deaf ears, but have reportedlyinfuriated the NSCN(IM) who recently threatened to resume violent armed conflict. The statement was made on 26 January 2020 in the wake of a reported National Investigation Agency (NIA) action which, according to the NSCN(IM) press release, was “deliberate rejection of the Framework Agreement principle wherein the sovereign rights of the Naga people to use its national flag and constitution has been officially acknowledged.”

 

On the other hand, the stressed mandarins of the North Block have much to be pleased about vis-a-vis the success of the agreement with the Bodos. The accord fell on the proverbial lap at a time when everything seemed to have been lost. It provided the breathing space,whichthe NSCN(IM) impasse was generating. Indeed, the Bodo agreement mightevenresult in better sense prevailing over headstrong groups such as the NSCN(IM).Buteven as relief was palpable in the corridors of the North Block (and in the jostle to pat themselves on their backs!) and as is the case with almost all such narratives, the real player remained in the shadows.

 

Avadhesh Behari Mathur, the interlocutor for talks with all the North East insurgent outfits (apart from the NSCN-IM) is one such quintessential player. A retired officer of the Indian Police Service of the 1975 Batch, it was really he who engineered the coming over ground of belligerents such as Saoraigwra, Bidai and Batha, paving the way thereby for asense of respite in India’s security establishment. Hidden away from gaze (it is learnt) that it was Mathur who had opened up secret channels of communication with the Bodo insurgent leaders. The tradecraft with which he undertook the course of action and succeeded was however, neither new nor novel for this one time Intelligence Bureau and Research & Analysis Wing officer. He had perfected it when he had brought over ground the Mizo National Front and the Tripura National Volunteers while he was still a young IPS officer. Indeed, modesty and a desire to remain unsung continue to array his oeuvre even as congratulatory tones chimeacross Raisina Hill and over the hills and dales of the “enchanted frontiers” that India’s North East is heir to.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.