The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Naga leaders raise union cry Agenda set for next round

New Delhi, Jan. 10: The first meeting between deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and the NSCN (I-M) brass was warm and cordial, with the visitors again complimenting the sincerity of the Centre’s efforts to understand and resolve the Naga problem.

“We were warmly welcomed by the deputy Prime Minister,” NSCN (I-M) chairman Isak Chisi Swu said after calling on Advani in North Blo ck along with secretary-general Thuingaleng Muivah.

Although both sides were tight-lipped on the issues discussed, the NSCN (I-M) leaders clearly indicated the broad framework on which the substantive talks would revolve. Swu again praised the maturity of the Indian leadership and said the vibes with Advani were “very positive”. The meeting lasted 50 minutes.

Swu said the issue of bringing all Naga inhabited areas under one administrative unit would be “thrashed out across the table by the two sides when the actual nitty-gritty of the talks begin”.

Muivah was more explicit and said traditional Naga inhabited areas also included the Ukhrul region of Manipur and certain areas in Assam. He clearly spelt out that the NSCN (I-M) claim to Ukhrul was a birthright and the Nagas were not claiming territory that was not traditionally theirs.

Ukhrul is the home of the Thangkul Nagas, who have been living there for generations. The Meiteis of Manipur are unwilling to give an inch of their territory to the Nagas. Two years ago, feelings ran high in Manipur, and the Meiteis burnt and looted the properties of Nagas living in the valley.

“The Nagas have been living on territory belonging to Nagas. There is no question of forcefully living on land that does not belong to the Nagas,” Muivah told reporters. “I live in Ukhrul, I was born there, my forefathers were born and lived there. This land belongs to us. We are not living in the land of Meities.”

In an obvious reference to the Manipur government’s stand, he added: “This is our natural habitation, if others cannot accept this, there is nothing for us to do.”

Muivah, however, clarified that this issue was not discussed with Advani today. But he conceded that getting all Nagas under one administrative unit was an important element of the negotiations with the Indian government.

The secretary-general’s remarks could create ripples in Manipur and other north-eastern states with a sizeable Naga population. The challenge before the Centre is to find a solution that is not only within the Indian Constitution but is acceptable to other northeastern states as well.

For the NSCN (I-M), it will be difficult to sell a proposal to its cadre that does not include the assimilation of all Naga inhabited territories into the existing Nagaland. Its leaders hope the Centre’s acknowledgement of the “unique history and culture of the Nagas” is a good starting point for talks. “All other issues will stem from this central fact,” Swu said.

Asked what the NSCN (I-M) meant by its “unique history and culture”, Muivah said the Nagas had never really been a part of the Indian mainstream and had a distinct identity of their own.

“We have our own history and culture. Our history is very clear. We declared independence one day before India did in 1947. We were independent before India. Even the leader of India’s freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi, acknowledged our right to determine our own future,” he said.

Muivah added that when the Union of India was declared in 1950, the Nagas had refused to join it. He made it clear that the sovereignty of the Nagas was not negotiable.

The NSCN (I-M) leaders also ruled out any role in the Nagaland elections scheduled for February.

There has been speculation that they might back some candidates to ensure that S.C. Jamir’s Congress-led government does not remain in power. Jamir is the longest serving chief minister in the North-east.

“Under the present dispensation, there can be no free and fair elections in Nagaland,” Muivah said.

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