Bangkok, Sept. 30: For any settlement of the Naga issue to be permanent, the approval of the Naga people would be necessary, according to Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah).
Moving away from the phase of an armed struggle, the Nagas, according to Muivah, were now entering a stage of political negotiations for a settlement with New Delhi.
At this stage, it was important to involve the people and keep them informed of the developments. This was precisely what his organisation was doing by holding consultations with a wide cross-section of the Nagas, he said.
“I asked the people for help — to give us the benefit of their suggestions and criticisms so that we avoid making mistakes. After all, we are responsible to the people and we can neither move ahead of them nor leave them behind. So we need to consult them constantly,” the Naga leader said. Three such consultations have already been held with representatives of Naga civil society organisations, including the Naga Ho Ho (a representative body of the various Naga tribes) and the tribal elders.
Muivah felt that only through such consultations could the Naga people understand and debate the peace process that the NSCN (I-M) had entered into with the Indian government.
“This is the only way and the people have come to understand this. We can only feel sorry for those who do not want to appreciate our sense of responsibility towards the people and the regard we have for them. But those who appreciate this process naturally serve (the larger interests of Naga society) with us,” he said.
The underground Naga leader praised former chief ministers Hokishe Sema and Vizhol who had come to visit him in the Thai capital after the latest round of peace talks with New Delhi. “We praised them for their effort. We told them that it was an act of great wisdom for them to come out like this in their last days showing such great concern for the Naga problem. We also told them that if there were any difficulties in the peace process we would inform them so that together these difficulties can be overcome,” Muivah said.
He described the “sense of responsibility” being shown by Sema and Vizhol towards the settling of the Naga issue as “admirable”.
The underground leadership, he said, had told the duo that they would meet again.
After the meeting, Hokishe Sema said he had pressed the NSCN (I-M) leadership to hasten the peace process. Sema said: “We are old people and we want to solve the Naga problem in our lifetime. So we told them to hurry up and finalise the solution. No obstacle should come in the way of a settlement — a smooth sailing is required. They explained their aims and objectives to us so that we could brief the people back home.”
Sema said the NSCN (I-M) leadership “should spell out the points of settlement, share their views with the Naga people and come to an understanding”.
He argued that the Naga problem concerned all the Nagas and, therefore, “the settlement has to be in the name of all the Nagas and that is why they (the underground leaders) are meeting us.” However, he clarified that neither he nor Vizhol had “any points of difference with them in their approach”.
Vizhol, the elder of the two former chief ministers, also voiced similar sentiment. “I have also been telling them to settle the issue.” But he refused to go into details of their discussions, smiling puckishly and saying: “That’s a secret.” Why was that a secret' “It is secret because it is secret,” he replied enigmatically.
However, before going to Bangkok, Sema and Vizhol, along with Naga elders D.K. Zeliang, Dr J.H. Thumra and I. Zeme, had met the Prime Minister, the home minister, Sonia Gandhi and several other political leaders in Delhi. Vizhol had apparently told Prime Minister Vajpayee that if the government went ahead with holding the Nagaland Assembly elections in spring next year, then Naga unity would be affected and their attitude towards the settlement would be disturbed.
The Prime Minister had apparently asked Vizhol, “Do you want the settlement before the elections or after'” He and the others with him had said the settlement should come before the Assembly elections.
On the issue of a quick settlement Isak Swu, the chairman of NSCN (I-M), felt that if the government of India was willing “then the problem can be solved by next March as from our side we are prepared”. When this time-frame was put to Muivah, he laughed and said: “You must have pressed Swu very hard for him to say that. I don’t expect things to happen so fast. But happen they will.”