At Last, Naga Rebels Talk In One Voice

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Underground groups agree to form a single government and work for a common future. But there are hurdles, says Avalok Langer

Common ground Rebel leaders pose with the Naga flag after the peace talks
Common ground: Rebel leaders pose with the Naga flag after the peace talks

Seated in a green chair, a young Naga rebel explained his life’s calling in between sips of tea, “My grandfather and father were both Naga national workers. If needed, my son will also join the movement. But I do what I do so that a solution comes in my lifetime and my son will have a better life. The next generation should inherit the Nagaland of our dreams. That is why we fight.” In the uncertainty of conflict, hope is what fuels an army.

However, what was once a people’s movement in the early stages, the Naga political struggle has lost its way. Internal splits have created seven underground governments claiming legitimacy and collecting ‘tax’, internal conflicts have led to bloody fratricidal wars and the talks seemed to be going nowhere. Frustrated Nagas wanted change and now there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Held in: the last week of August, the top-level meeting of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation brought together Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Swu of the NSCN(IM)
Held in the: last week of August, the top-level meeting of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation brought together Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Swu of the NSCN(IM)

In what is being seen as a watershed moment, Naga underground groups have agreed to form a single government. Held in the last week of August, the top-level meeting of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation brought together Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Swu of the NSCN(IM), Gen Khole and Kitovi Zhimomi of the NSCN(KK) and Brig. Singnya and Zhopra Vero of the NNC/FGN.

“The groups have reconciled their differences and agreed to look towards a common future,” explains an observer. “They felt that multiple Naga governments collecting multiple taxes was adversely affecting the Naga people. The need of the hour was political unity, so they agreed to one government, one tax and one army for the Nagas.” For the time being, the collective government will be known as the Naga National Government (NNG).

The decision to form a single government with a single tax has given Nagas new hope, which was reflected in a recent weekly poll conducted by the Morung Express. Eighty-two percent voted in favour of the decision.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done. Though a high- level commission comprising members from each group will work towards the formation of the NNG, questions about integration and sovereignty remain. While many groups still stand by sovereignty, Muivah’s recent stand has been that “no country is sovereign in the real sense of the word. It is the age of inter-dependence”.

As for the integration of all Naga-dominated areas, the Centre has maintained that “all concerned states will be consulted”. Underground sources suggest that, “We will have to adopt a phase- wise solution and this is Phase 1.”

In a closed-door meeting, all leaders agreed that sovereignty and integration of all Nagas is their ultimate desire. That could be why the statement issue reads that any “interim arrangement will be outside the purview of the Indian Constitution” and not “solution”. Multiple sources suggest that the talks between the Centre and NSCN (IM) are working towards a “Constitution within a Constitution” as a possible solution. While a solution with the Centre is slated to come by 2011-end or early next year, there is a theory that the 2013 Assembly polls will not be held and the collective government, which is to be formed, will come to power.

Meanwhile, Myanmar-based leader SS Khaplang has withdrawn from the reconciliation process and boycotted the NNG. Senior NSCN(K) official Wangdin Naga says that he has told the Centre that, “a solution without Khaplang is only a comma, not a full stop. You need to involve Khaplang for a lasting solution”.

Though the decision to form a single government has revived hope, it remains to be seen if the groups can work out their differences. Nagas can rejoice in the historic step taken by their leaders and continue to hope that one day peace and normalcy will return to the Naga hills.

Avalok Langer is a Correspondent with Tehelka. 
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