In 1980, disputes over the Shillong Accord saw Isak Chisi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and SS Khaplang break away from the Naga National Council, which was fighting for Naga sovereignty, to form the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). However, the unity among the trio didn’t last for long and eight years later, the outfit spilt into two. With the real reasons for the split known only to the big three, Nagaland was divided between the factions. With neither group ready to change its name, the media dubbed them NSCN (Isak Muivah) and NSCN (Khaplang) to put an end to the confusion. Though the debate as to who is the real deal rages on, the media-assigned suffix will have to do for now.
In a frank chat at a police guesthouse on the outskirts of Dimapur, Ceasefire Supervising Board (CFSB) supervisor Wangtin Naga, secretary Kideon V Zhimomi, and Kilonsers (ministers of the NSCN(K) parallel government) C Singsong Kuki and Jack Jimomi explained the ambitions of the organisation. Excerpts from the interview:
What motivates you? Is it Naga sovereignty?
KUKI The situation in Nagaland is a case of invasion. Like the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan, we were invaded by India. We are fighting for our historical sovereignty. We are fighting to bring all Nagas under one administrative umbrella. On one front, we want to consolidate all Naga-dominated areas of India (Nagaland and the Naga majority districts of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh) and simultaneously, we are trying to bring the Nagas of Myanmar under this umbrella (Northern Myanmar is Naga dominated) to create a Naga homeland.
Why do you have a socialist tag in your outfit’s name? Does it have anything to do with Chinese support or communism?
The socialism we are talking about refers to the role played by the people in a traditional Naga society. Historically, the Nagas have followed a form of direct democracy where all decisions are taken collectively through a vote; the power is with the people. The ‘socialist’ in our name has nothing to do with communism; it is based on the collective decision-making of the Nagas. (Even today, decisions are taken through organisations such as the Naga Hohos and village councils).
How does your organisation generate funds?
NAGA As a government of the people, we collect taxes. We collect house tax, we tax government employees (15-25 percent of their salaries), we generally collect 2-3 percent from contractors per project, but never more than 5 percent, and of course, we receive donations. Everyone identifies with the cause. They know what we are fighting for and they have no qualms about making voluntary contributions.
I have heard many stories of extortion. Does that happen?
KUKI In a family, there is always some black sheep. Our government has not issued any such directive that allows extortion. It is done at an individual level.
Do you undertake any developmental work?
NAGA The international border with Myanmar has been arbitrarily created. It divides the Nagas and therefore the situation on either side of the border is drastically different. The Burmese Nagas are very backward; they have no water, no electricity, no government machinery to look after them. It is the NSCN(K) that looks after their welfare, their education, the church and their medical treatment. It is our soldiers who interact with them directly and look after their basic needs.
Are you able to cross into Myanmar easily?
It is an open border and we are able to move across freely (Rumour has it that the NSCN(K) controls the Naga section of Myanmar and not the Burmese government).
Many say that reconciliation between the factions is imperative. The ceasefire with India has been there for 13 years but the people are caught between warring factions.
NAGA When a husband and wife are not on good terms, it is always the children who suffer. Though the atmosphere of the 18 September meeting of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation was positive, reconciliation is only possible if the groups understand the meaning of it and realise that no one group represents the people. The Nagas have changed a lot. Today, we are aware and educated, and the people can no longer be taken for granted. Leaders need to be sincere and stop using reconciliation as a tool to gain political mileage. Reconciliation is about leaders coming together and giving up their authority to the will of the people. No one is superior or inferior. The process has to be inclusive. Otherwise, we won’t be able to move forward.
‘Factional leaders need to be sincere and stop using reconciliation as a tool to gain political mileage. No one leader is inferior or superior’
What is the best solution for the Naga issue?
KUKI Let us not talk about a solution at this juncture. The aspirations of the Nagas are well known. A solution is possible only if the Indian government is interested in understanding the heart, mind and soul of the Naga people, rather than imposing a solution on us. They need to look at the issue from up close, recognise and understand the ambitions of the Nagas before coming to the discussion table. Why can’t they discuss sovereignty? What is the big deal in discussing this? Is the Indian government so insecure? Simply offering a (financial) package is not a solution.
The movement has been out of the jungles for 10 years. As development slowly creeps into Nagaland, do you feel that your cadres will return to the forests if the ceasefire is lifted?
JIMOMI The issue of Naga identity and sovereignty predates the idea of development. If the present peace process with the Indian government fails and they lift the ceasefire, all 100 percent of the cadres won’t return to the jungle. The support is there and slowly we will grow and become even more powerful.
If you don’t mind me asking, I am sitting here in a police guesthouse talking to four underground members. How is it possible?
NAGA Well, basically right now, we are under ceasefire and being the CFSB supervisor, I have access to the guesthouse and therefore we can meet here. But, do you think that there is any real difference between us and the police? It is just that they can’t point their guns at India, but their aspirations are the same.