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Naga Peace: ‘Finest Moment’, Tricky Job


wasbir hussain
director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

Yes, NSCN-IM chairman Isak Chishi Swu could actually be right in thinking that the “finest moment is at hand” now for the government and his group to reach a mutually acceptable solution to the protracted Naga problem. Is that the reason why Swu decided at last to get rid of his Bangladeshi passport and accept an Indian passport? Well, Swu did land in New Delhi before dawn on 22 January on his Bangladeshi passport but as was agreed earlier, the Indian authorities quickly handed him his Indian passport and it was with this document that he cleared immigration in New Delhi. Swu is in any case a man of Indian origin but had to roam the world with various passports, including his last, a Bangladeshi passport with an assumed name, because he has been the head of an armed insurgent group that is supposed to be seeking secession from India. Now that he, like his general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, is in India on Indian passports, the nationality question of the top NSCN-IM duo has got far more simplified. Yes, we can now assume that both have come round to accept the fact that they are after all Indians.

Muivah has been in Delhi as a host of the Indian government for a year now. It is fair to ask the question whether Swu’s arrival means that the NSCN-IM and New Delhi have narrowed down their differences and are within range to ink a deal. After all, Swu seems to be on a conciliatory mode. He made it a point to thank the “honourable Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh” for creating the right atmosphere to carry the peace process forward. In fact, the NSCN-IM chief said his group’s leadership was in Delhi to further the talks towards “concretizing a final solution.” We know what the NSCN-IM’s key demand has been and we also know that the group has not bothered to clarify in clear terms during the 14-year-long peace process with the Indian government whether or not it was sticking to its demand for an independent Naga homeland. We have heard the group talking of unifying the Naga inhabited areas in the Northeast with the State of Nagaland as part of its dream to have a unified Naga area and governed by a single administrative structure. In this backdrop, one was not surprised to find Swu not spelling out his group’s demand during the civic reception in New Delhi on Sunday.

One thing is clear, more so with the top NSCN-IM duo, Swu and Muivah, now accepting Indian passports, that the Naga rebel group has reached a point of no return. Swu and Muivah knows only too well that it would be next to impossible at this stage to order cadres of their group to return to the jungles and resume the bush war against the Indian state (that may be possible only if there is a split in the NSCN-IM and a new set of leaders emerge on the scene). Therefore, they are talking in a pragmatic manner and that is what Swu means when he says the “finest moment” has come to reach an honourable solution. But what is the magic solution that one can hope to see?

Muivah still appears to be a little more rigid on his stance. At least that is the impression one gathers from his public pronouncements. Even during Swu’s civic reception on Sunday, Muivah talked about the “uniqueness of Naga history.” We know what the NSCN-IM means by this — they argue that since the Nagas were never conquered by the British, the Naga areas should have been left to the Nagas for self-administration when the British had left in 1947 instead of being made a part of India or handed over to the Indians. In fact, the Nagas had made this plea before the Simon Commission in 1929 itself. But today, expecting the Indian government to recognize or act on this “uniqueness” is a bit too far fetched because despite the Naga insurrection, the Nagas have long integrated into the Indian political, electoral and social mainstream.

The question arises again — what could be the acceptable solution? At one stage, New Delhi was toying with the idea of a ‘boundary-less’ Naga superstructure where Naga representatives from around the Northeast, including, of course, Nagaland, would run Naga affairs in the region related to their development and uplift. The State of Nagaland will remain as it is and the boundary of the northeastern States would remain unaltered. An independent Naga homeland is out of question and so is the idea of a ‘Greater Nagalim’. Therefore, Swu and Muivah would have to settle for maximum autonomy for the Nagas within the existing Constitutional framework, and the formation of a Naga politico-administrative superstructure is likely. That may even be without a boundary. I would not be surprised if New Delhi comes up with sops for the Nagas in Myanmar, adjoining Nagaland (the NSCN calls it eastern Nagaland), by way of financial or infrastructural assistance in consultation with the military junta.

More than New Delhi, the NSCN-IM should be in a hurry to reach an “acceptable and honourable solution.” After all, all of a sudden, an organization called the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organization (ENPO) has come up and has raised the demand for a separate ‘frontier state’ comprising four districts in Nagaland —Mon, Tuensang, Kiphire and Longleng. Even Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio has taken note of this demand and expressed regret that a demand for bifurcation of Nagaland should have arisen at a time when the NSCN-IM-New Delhi talks are at an advanced stage for resolution of the Naga problem. So, time is actually ticking away for the NSCN-IM, and the ‘finest moment’ may not come again and again!

(courtesy: The Sentinel)