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Naga leader plays federal card

Bangkok, Oct. 9: On the eve of the next round of talks in the Naga peace process at the Thai capital, Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), has proposed a bold plan to settle the issue.

It consists of negotiating a close and irreversible “federal relationship” with Delhi, recognising and addressing Indian security concerns and a step-wise and peaceful process for the integration of Naga areas.

All this, according to Muivah, of course hinges on India respecting the ceasefire and giving up its “treacherous” attempts to use the ceasefire extensions, in the hope of “attrition in our ranks” or under the illusion that over time “we would be weakened and worn out”.

He urged the Indian leadership to get on with the business of settling the Naga issue instead.

Describing the decision to seek a close federal relationship with India as “positive and bold”, the Naga leader said: “It has taken a lot of time for us to come to this conclusion. If the Nagas withdraw from this position, then you would once again have a situation that existed 50 years ago. Does India want that' Do Indian leaders not realise how far the Nagas have come today to settle all issues with them'”

“Today we have come up to your drawing room for peace talks. Don’t expect us to sit there forever. If India does not settle with us even now, it would be another failure of statesmanship,” the Naga leader argued.

Elaborating on the proposed federal relationship, Muivah said such an arrangement should guarantee “the distinct political and territorial identity” of the Nagas.

“For this we are prepared to explore an appropriate federal relationship made sacrosanct in an agreement that cannot be changed unilaterally by either side in future,” he said.

He explained that within the federal framework, “we can share the various competencies in such a way that they serve the interest of both New Delhi and the Nagas”. By competencies, Muivah means the subjects of governance that would define the areas of authority of Delhi and the Nagas.

The Naga leader said he “fully appreciated” Indian security concerns. “That is why we are suggesting that in the event of any external threat, the Naga homeland would be defended jointly by the Indian armed forces and the Nagas. As for the Nagas themselves, we would never be a threat to India. So which aspect of Indian security apprehensions have we not addressed'” he asked.

On the question of integration of the Naga-inhabited areas, Muivah’s proposal could eventually lead to a breakthrough.

Describing the desire of the Nagas to live together as both “reasonable and natural”, Muivah suggested a two-stage process for achieving integration.

“First, we want that the legitimacy of this desire should not be denied. Then, we can work together with New Delhi to implement this peacefully and in a time-bound manner. We are open to a dialogue with our neighbours if they also feel that the issue should be settled by trying to understand each other,” he said.

Muivah claimed that this was a “very reasonable” way of settling the Naga issue. He said: “It is the first time in our history that such a reasonable position is being articulated. We want the Indian government and people to understand this. It is simply not possible for the Nagas to go beyond this.”

However, almost as a matter of caution, he concluded by saying: “But do not make the mistake of taking our reasonableness for weakness. That would be a grave error of judgement.”

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