New Delhi, Jan. 23: The Naga talks today hit a rough patch on the issue of unification of contiguous Naga areas, a key demand of the NSCN (I-M), but diplomacy ensured that the crisis blew over.
With Th. Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu, the two Naga leaders, readying to leave at one point, the talks hung tantalisingly on the edge. But Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga, called in at short notice, doused the embers of a damaging discord.
In faraway Kohima, the NSCN(I-M), however, struck an optimistic note, with the “Government of People’s Republic of Nagaland’s home minister”, V. Sumi, allaying fears of bloodshed after the “Naga problem is solved”.
At today’s talks, the NSCN (I-M) wanted to know if the Centre had hedged on the issue of merging all contiguous Naga areas into one administrative unit and what Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had told chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh.
The talks were salvaged around noon with the Centre reassuring the NSCN (I-M) team that it had not rejected its demand. The joint statement issued after the discussions reflected the delicate compromise worked out: both parties have decided on continuing the discussions, but no dates have been fixed.
“The NSCN raised the issue of the distinct identity of the Nagas and their stand on the unification of Naga areas. In this regard, the government of India representative clarified that there was no change in its stand on the scope of negotiations,” the joint statement said.
The NSCN (I-M) leaders were apparently told that no fresh assurance had been given to the Manipur chief minister on Tuesday. Highly-placed sources said the going today was “tough”, as the NSCN (I-M) had demanded a clarification from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The negotiating team comprising K. Padmanabhaiah, Intelligence Bureau chief K.P. Singh and others spent the better part of the talks explaining the Centre’s position.
Finally, Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga was brought in as the “peace broker” to ensure that Muivah and Swu did not walk out. Before the joint statement was signed, the NSCN (I-M) leaders met principal secretary to the Prime Minister, Brajesh Mishra. “The talks have gone very well,” Swu told reporters. Padmanabhaiah signed the statement on behalf of the government, while Muivah signed on the dotted line for his organisation.
“We have not touched all substantive issues but we have discussed some of them,” Swu added. Asked if the NSCN (I-M) was satisfied with the clarification given by the government on Ibobi Singh’s remarks, Swu said: “The government position is reflected in the joint statement.”
Asked if the NSCN (I-M) was prepared to lay down arms, Muivah said: “No way.”
The two leaders told PTI: “The matter has been clarified to our satisfaction, as we understand that no assurances were given to anyone in respect to the substance of the negotiations.”
“The main issue is that the destiny of the Naga people will be decided by them,” Muivah, the chief ideologue of the NSCN (I-M) said. “No we do not accept the Constitution of India,” Muivah said, answering to another question. Muivah and Swu are leaving for Amsterdam early tomorrow morning.
Keeping hopes of an amicable settlement alive, Sumi told The Telegraph: “Remember, there were differences between the Blacks and Whites in South Africa but Nelson Mandela avoided bloodshed through the Truth and Reconciliation Council. Once the issue is resolved, I don’t think there will be any problem.”
The senior NSCN (I-M) leader said: “If we think about problems we cannot move ahead. We will have to find a solution ourselves. We have to work towards a solution. In fact, our doors are open to all. Everyone and anyone can join us in finding a peaceful solution. We are ready to walk the extra mile for peace,” he said.