Camp Hebron (Dimapur), Dec. 28: The most influential militant organisation of the Northeast has a piece of advice for the recalcitrant Ulfa leadership: a dialogue without strings attached offers the best chance of an amicable settlement.
NSCN (I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah said during the course of an exclusive interview to The Telegraph that it did not make sense anymore to set conditions for talks.
'If the government publicly agrees to make the demand for a sovereign Nagaland or a sovereign Assam the core issue of the dialogue, there would be no need for further negotiations,' Muivah said.
Muivah's comments assume significance in the light of the Ulfa's rejection of Delhi's dialogue offer on the ground that the letter from the Prime Minister's Office ' delivered to the outfit through writer Mamoni Raisom Goswami ' did not mention the core issue of sovereignty.
The Ulfa had received moral and material support from the NSCN (I-M) during the first few years after its formation. The outfits fell out later and the Ulfa is now close to the NSCN (I-M)'s rival group, led by S.S. Khaplang.
Muivah said Delhi's mindset had changed and that was an encouraging sign for militant groups willing to start negotiations with the political leadership. 'It has realised the futility of using the military to suppress the aspirations of the people. For the first time in 50 years, the Indian leadership appears to have realised the importance of Mahatma Gandhi's message of non-violence,' the bespectacled insurgent leader said.
He credited former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, who passed away recently, with sowing the seeds of change. Recalling his discussions with Rao, whom he first met in Paris in 1995, the NSCN (I-M) leader said. 'He told us, 'I don't believe in force'.'
Muivah also recalled the sequence of events that ultimately led to the NSCN (I-M) and Delhi agreeing to a ceasefire and a dialogue.
'It was Rao's principal secretary who met us first in Bangkok in 1994 and held marathon discussions. That's how it began,' he said.
Rao later sent his then minister of state for internal affairs Rajesh Pilot to the Thai capital to meet the two Naga leaders. 'Pilot invited us to meet the Prime Minister in Paris in 1995. He was also very sincere and bold in his approach,' Muivah said.
He said Pilot's statement in New Delhi that past governments had not been sincere in finding a solution to the Naga problem was significant.