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Muivah’s Last Card: Is the NSCN (I-M) Looking for a way to exit the Naga peace talks?

NSCN/GPRN vice-chairman, Tongmeth Wangnao, addressing the gatherings.

NSCN (I-M) Supremo Th Muivah is not looking for an honorable settlement but an honorable pullout from the talks for he can always then say that the government was unwilling to concede the core demand of one people, one nation.

By Yambem Laba

The latest stumbling block in the ongoing 25-year-old Naga Peace talks between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim or the NSCN (I-M) to have surfaced –and apparently the first item on the (I-M) agenda – is aimed towards a unified Lim (land) of the Nagas.
It was for this reason that in 1992 the NSCN (I-M) had allegedly initiated the pogrom or ethnic cleansing of Kukis which had resulted in over 1,000 Kukis being killed. About 400 Nagas perished in Kuki retaliatory strikes. Thousands were displaced from their homes as hundreds of villages were laid waste. The group had orchestrated the move through the Naga Lim Guards, a move which gave rise to the mushrooming of various Kuki armed groups which today number over 30.

The Naga contention was that the Kukis were migrants from neighboring Myanmar and were occupying areas which originally belonged to the Nagas. The idea was to create a compact area of the Nagas but apparently it faltered when American Baptist Christian bodies prevailed on the Nagas, who are predominantly Baptists, to halt the slaughter of Kukis who also profess Christianity as their faith.

Preparation for talks had begun in 1994 when Rajesh Pilot was the Union Minister of State for Internal Security. The formal announcement came in 1997, and one of the main demands of the NSCN (I-M) was the unification of all Naga inhabited areas of Manipur, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh with the present state of Nagaland as a single administrative unit. The Naga Flag and Constitution were not on the cards then.

However, the fear of balkanization of Manipur began to loom large over the majority Meeteis of Manipur whose rulers had at one time held suzerainty from the Chindwin river in Myanmar to the Surma valley in present day Bangladesh. This fear had reached a fever pitch in 2001 when Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani announced that the ongoing ceasefire between the Indian Army and the NSCN (I-M) would have no territorial limits meaning it would also cover areas of Manipur. It was earlier confined to the state of Nagaland. To the Meetei people it was the first sign that Manipur’s 2000-year-old history was at stake and the territory might be broken up.

The crowds had started gathering by the evening of 16 June 2001 and reached a crescendo on the 18th of June when thousands from all sides converged at the capital, Imphal. The Assembly building was burnt down and also gutted were the Congress and BJP offices and residential quarters of Ministers. Not even the CM’s office was spared. Sections of the Manipur Rifles, the armed section of Manipur Police had refused to open fire and subsequently the CRPF was requisitioned and opened fire in which 18 people lost their lives. That day is still being observed in reverence where thousands gather every year to pay floral tributes at the memorial site at Kekru Pat in Imphal.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was at Breach Candy hospital in Mumbai undergoing a knee replacement surgery. On 19 June, Ashok Saikia, IAS who was the PM’s most trusted man rang up this writer and asked for a briefing of happenings in the State. I had simply told him that there is no governance in Manipur. A day later the Prime Minister addressed the nation through a Press Conference in which he said, “there seems to be a big misunderstanding in Manipur”. A day later the Government of India announced the withdrawal of the term “without territorial limits” from the ceasefire agreement.

Thereafter the Government of India had reiterated time and again that there would be no ceding of Manipur’s land or Naga inhabited areas to meet the demands of the NSCN (I-M). Then the focus of the group had shifted to demand for a Naga Flag and a Naga Constitution. This was followed by harsh exchanges between the then Governor of Nagaland, RN Ravi, who was also the Chief Interlocutor of the Government of India in the talks with the Nagas, and Thieungaleng Muivah, the Supremo of the group who are entrenched in Camp Hebron near Dimapur in Nagaland.

Ravi had insisted that the Flag and Constitution were never a part of the Framework Agreement signed between the NSCN (I-M) and the Government of India. This Framework was signed by Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu the Chairman of the (I-M) on his deathbed. Perhaps, Muivah understood that without Swu’s signature, the Agreement might not find acceptance amongst the Nagas of Nagaland as he himself is a Tangkhul Naga from Ukhrul in Manipur.

Muivah must have sensed the futility of talks with the Government of India and was perhaps preparing for a return to the bush. For a rapprochement began to be apparent when joint statements began to be issued by the All Naga Students Association (ANSAM) and Meetei Student bodies. Similarly joint movements were noticed between the United Naga Council (UNC), Manipur and Meetei Civil Society Organisations. Both ANSAM and the UNC are acknowledged frontal organizations. The Statesman had earlier reported the closing of ranks between the NSCN (I-M) and its former arch rivals, the United National Liberation Front of Manipur, the largest and oldest of the Meetei-based insurgent groups in Manipur today.

Then last week, Muivah dropped his bombshell on the Government of India and all those involved in the ongoing dialogue. On August 26, about 7,000 Members of the NSCN from Nagaland converged at the Agri Expo grounds at Dimapur and announced their stance. They said that the need of the hour for the Nagas is the fulfillment of the demand of “One people, one Nation”. They decried the stance of a few Naga leaders to confine the demands to the state of Nagaland, and to forgo the demand for a separate flag and a constitution in the name of a Naga solution.
Addressing the conglomeration, Q Tucco, Chairman of the NSCN (I-M) said that “Nagas are one wherever there are, one common goal , one issue”. He had also made a pointed response to the cry of the Naga public for a Naga solution saying ”we cannot give away our rights for the sake of the Naga solution and we can never compromise the Nagas’ rights”.

The gathering declared a five-point resolution at the end. The first was acknowledging the inalienable foundation laid by the founding leaders on the basis of the Naga Plebiscite held on 16 May 1951 which had led to the commitment to “one people, one Nation”. The second talked about rejecting any kind of repressive policies perpetrated upon Nagas by adversaries and their collaborators on the basis of arbitrary administrative boundaries. The third point stressed on standing by the Framework Agreement signed on 3-August 2015 for an early, honourable and acceptable solution. The fourth point pertains to denouncing any solution that “disregards historical and political rights of the Nagas through organizing another Naga People’s Convention.” The final point was about standing by the decision of the National Assembly held on 31 May 2022, to uphold and protect Nagas’ unique history and national principle.

Knowing that he has already ran into a brick wall on the question of a Flag and the Constitution, the octogenarian Muivah knows the question of a greater Naga Lim or greater Nagaland is perhaps his last card to the Centre. Deep in his heart, Muivah must know fully well that although belonging to the BJP, the Chief Ministers of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh will in no way ever agree to the breakup of their respective States. For it will not be only a political but personal harakiri for N. Biren Singh, Himanta Biswa Sarma and Pema Khandu.

From the looks of it perhaps Muivah is not looking for an honorable settlement but an honorable pullout from the talks for he can always then say that the government was unwilling to concede the core demand of one people, one nation.

(The writer is The Statesmans  Imphal-based Special Representative. This article was first published in The Statesman. Views expressed are his own)

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