| Thuingaleng Muivah
Bangkok, Sept. 29: Strong linkages and bonds would be forged between Nagaland and India once a political settlement is reached, according to Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of the largest and most influential Naga underground group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) — NSCN (I-M).
The Government of India is currently engaged in peace negotiations with the group.
“The primary issue is to have the rights of the Nagas recognised and guaranteed, and then there is the possibility of establishing the soundest type of relationship between us. We have told the Indian negotiators that if they were to understand the Nagas, then the Nagas would not do anything that is detrimental to India’s interests,” the Naga leader said.
When asked about the details of guarantees that would be required to recognise Naga rights, Muivah replied that the “number one” issue was “the Nagas’ political right to decide their own fate”.
However, he immediately added: “This does not mean that we are not going to depend on India. No. We recognise the importance and the necessity of interdependence.”
This qualification clearly is a movement forward as now it is basically a question of defining the interdependence and linkages into a framework acceptable to both the Nagas and New Delhi.
However, the Naga leader was reluctant to go into details of the framework within which such interdependence could be defined or the possible division of competencies (i.e. who would handle which areas of governance). He only said: “Many things could be mutually agreed upon. But the basic issue is that the Nagas have to have the identity of their nation.”
Elaborating the point further, Muivah said: “When Indians can persuade themselves that the Nagas are not a danger to them, many things can be worked out. On our part, we recognise the truth that Indians are not our enemies. This is a big change.” However, he felt that India could not expect the Nagas to come “all the way through” without coming forward itself.
When asked how the Nagaland of his dreams would be governed, Muivah replied that the Nagas had their own structures and systems of governance. “So I think what is required for a democratic people to build a nation of their own would naturally be done from our side.”
Naga society may have had its democratic structures but the Naga underground can hardly claim democratic credentials — eliminating opponents over political differences.
When Muivah was asked how could those who spent the better part of their lifetime underground feeling self-righteous suddenly become democratic overnight, he replied: “No, it is not a question of democracy as such but of disunity in principles, maybe in strategy also.… But when those people who surrendered, accepting the Indian Constitution, attacked us, naturally we had to repulse them. In the name of democracy principles cannot be sacrificed.”
The NSCN (I-M) leader rejected the notion that he could some day sit across the table with the rival NSCN (Khaplang) group (named after its leader who is a Burmese Hemi Naga) even if there was pressure to do so from the Naga civil society and elders. “It is not simply a moral principle that is involved in the issue. It is the fate of the nation. So it cannot be that easy (to sit across the table).”
Muivah denied that the Khaplang group enjoyed support in some areas of Nagaland. He claimed that the offices of the Khaplang group were being run from the camps of the Assam Rifles and that “if they have influence among the people then they should be among the people”.
Was he willing to meet Nagaland chief minister S.C. Jamir' Muivah rejected the idea, claiming that Jamir was given to “telling lies, fabricating (events) and indulging in deception”.
When he was told that in a recent interview the Nagaland chief minister had suggested that he and his party would be willing to give up office for a settlement that could lead to peace, Muivah reacted by saying: “He may say that today but tomorrow he may say something else. He is a master of changing position and saying 100 different things. You may take him at his word but the past is clearer to us.”
However, he did not rule out the possibility of a broad-based dialogue with groups and organisations in Nagaland that might have opposed his organisation’s ways and policies in the past.
Asked what the meeting point could be with such groups, the Naga leader said: “There is no meeting point between those who believe in Nagaland and the rights of the Nagas and those who do not. It has become a big national issue. It is no longer an issue to be decided on the democratic principle. (But) If they have realised their mistake and are willing to cooperate with us, we are ready. We will forgive them. That is the meeting point.”