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Naga roadblock: Is Muivah losing control?

POSTED ON APRIL 12, 2010

wasbir hussain
director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

"We had a comprehensive discussion and the NSCN-IM will continue the negotiation with the Government of India," the Naga rebel group’s general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in New Delhi on March 2. It appeared as if the peace talks between New Delhi and the NSCN-IM, which had resumed after a year, were on track. But, less than three weeks later, on March 21, addressing cadres and others during a function at the group’s truce-time base near Dimapur, Muivah said: “We will not accept any kind of imposition, we will accept only an acceptable and honourable solution.” He said no one can force the Nagas to accept the Indian Constitution.

When Muvah said “we will not accept any kind of imposition”, it became clear that New Delhi did present a formula for a possible solution to the Naga issue during the meeting this time. As the Government of India has made it clear in no uncertain terms that granting sovereignty and a greater or a unified Nagaland (integrating Naga areas in Assam, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh to Nagaland state) was out of question, the offer to the NSCN-IM must have revolved round greater autonomy. This writer was privy to an offer being fine-tuned by the Government that was to involve setting up of a territory-less Naga super-structure that would have Naga representatives from all around the region. It was to have enough financial powers to work for socio-economic development of the Nagas, not just in Nagaland, but in the region.

There is no doubt now that the NSCN-IM has rejected the offer, in case this was the one that was placed before it earlier this month. Even it the offer was something else, it had to be an offer of more autonomy. Whatever was the offer, Muivah & Co. have rejected it. Now the question arises: was any alternative offer placed by the Government before the NSCN-IM delegation without any informal attempts to feel the pulse of the outfit or some of the outfit’s leaders in advance? Going by usual negotiation practices, the answer should be in the negative. If any such idea was actually discussed, even if informally or casually, with some NSCN-IM leaders, why is it that Muivah had to adopt a tough posture yet again after landing in Nagaland? Question arises: is Muivah losing control over his group, or is it the hawks in the NSCN-IM who are actually calling the shots?

There is no doubt whatsoever that the Naga peace talks have once again hit a major roadblock. If this is a challenge for the Government of India, this is also a real challenge for people like Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu, the group’s chairman. It is a challenge for the NSCN-IM leadership because even if they want to resume their armed movement to mount fresh pressure on the Government, it may be difficult because it has been thirteen years since the two sides entered into a truce. For thirteen years now, its fighters have been living in designated camps, enjoying near domestic bliss. Moreover, there are other Naga rebel factions to be wary about, factions like the NSCN-K, which is waiting in the wings to assume centre-stage and project itself as the “true representative” of the Nagas. That the claim may be contested is another matter.

Pragmatism holds the key really---pragmatism on the part of both the NSCN-IM as well as the Government of India. One cannot lose sight of the fact that Indian electoral politics and democracy have flourished over the years in Nagaland with regular elections being held and the Nagas coming out in strength to elect their representatives. If this is not an expression of the faith of the common Nagas on the Indian Constitution, what is? The only silver lining is the writing on the wall---the Nagas want peace and an honourable solution to the Naga issue. To that extent NSCN-IM chairman Swu has given a reassurance when he said, “In spite of all the disturbances, our commitment to continue with the negotiation for honourable settlement through peaceful means remains unchanged.”