New Delhi, Jan. 7: “Peace does not come knocking on your door every day. We are faced with such a moment in history today. We should not miss the opportunity,” says Swaraj Kaushal, describing the peace negotiations between the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issak-Muivah) and the Government of India.
Thuingaleng Muivah, the general-secretary of the NSCN (I-M) and Isaak Chishi Swu, its chairman, are arriving tomorrow night for talks with New Delhi. These talks, which began in 1997, are being held on the Indian soil for the first time.
Kaushal, a former representative of the Prime Minister to the Naga talks, is hopeful that this process would lead to peace with the Nagas. A former Governor of Mizoram who played a crucial role in mediating between the Mizo National Front and New Delhi, Kaushal, now an MP, is an experienced hand at dealing with insurgencies.
He believes that only a settlement with the Nagas can lead to lasting peace in the Northeast. “If the present NSCN leadership promises something, I am sure it will stand by it. The cadres are with it. I am also confident that the Government of India will accept all genuine and reasonable demands. So my advice to my brothers Thuingaleng Muivah and Isaak Swu is to trust New Delhi because this quest for peace is genuine and sincere,” he says.
The Naga issue, according to Kaushal, has escaped settlement up to now because it was viewed by successive governments as a law and order issue. “Now it is recognised to be a political issue. Even the Naga leadership is convinced today that in democratic India, there is space for people of diverse views, cultures and ethnicities to prosper together. This is a major change.”
Kaushal is dismissive of the previous attempts at peace negotiations with the Nagas. Describing the 9-point Akbar Hyderi Agreement of 1947 with the Nagas as “vague”, he claims that “because of the confusion created by this one document, there has been so much bloodshed in Nagaland and the Northeast.” About the Shillong Accord, which led to the formation of the NSCN and upsurge in the underground movement, Kaushal says: “It was not an accord, it was a fraud.”
There were many attempts at the Naga settlement. “Men of great eminence and credibility like Jai Prakash Narayan (the Michael Scott Peace Mission) did their best. It is very unfortunate that those missions failed. I do not regret that. What I regret is that we described the Shillong Accord as the last document of peace which it was not. We should have made an honest attempt to negotiate with the Nagas instead of working for and depending on the Shillong Accord for so long,” he declares.
Kaushal also regrets that India did not make a serious attempt to settle the Naga issue with Phizo. “If only Phizo had not gone out of India or returned in time, I think we could have negotiated and solved this problem — just as we did with Laldenga,” he says.
But does not New Delhi have the reputation of going back on its promises' Had he not resigned as the Prime Minister’s emissary to the Naga peace talks because of this'
Kaushal surprisingly defends the government. “I am not important, the spirit of the dialogue is. And that has continued. Let us not forget that this problem has been there for the last 55 years. You can’t rush through these negotiations. I don’t think the pace could have been any faster. That the process has continued during the tenure of different Prime Ministers shows that it is an honest process.”
Kaushal admits that there are some difficult issues to be tackled in the negotiations. About the NSCN proposal for the integration of the Naga-inhabited areas of the Northeast, he says: “I have always maintained that the demand for Greater Nagaland is not anti-national. After all, is Maharashtra not demanding that Dharwar in Karnataka should be merged with it' Is Punjab not demanding Chandigarh and is Haryana not demanding the merger of Ferozepur and Abohar with it' Are these anti-national demands' In fact, the Constitution itself permits such disputes to be agitated before the Supreme Court.”
As for the question of preserving the cultural and national identity of the Nagas, Kaushal argues that such protection exists for all ethnic groups in the Northeast. “We can give the Nagas something better than sovereignty. Were not Ukraine and Belarus in the erstwhile Soviet Union sovereign' They had separate seats in the UN. But when they did not have the powers of even a state within the USA, what kind of sovereignty was it' What is important is a genuine democracy which empowers people and leads to their development rather than tokenism,” he argues.
Kaushal willing to go out on a limb, saying: “Mark my words — 18 months from now, you will see a peace accord with the Nagas provided the dialogue is kept going. There will be hiccups, the journey will be bumpy, but at the end of the day you will see light.”