Thuingaleng Muivah, GENERAL SECRETARY, NSCN(IM)
By Avalok Langer
FOR THE past six months, 76-year-old Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah, has been flitting in and out of India in search of a solution to the decades-old Nagaland issue. On 14 August 1947, the Nagas declared themselves independent under the leadership of then Naga leader AZ Phizo. Since then, they have been fighting what they perceive as an Indian invasion. At the moment, Muivah is in India for talks with the Centre. New Delhi and the NSCN(IM) used to hold parleys in locations outside India. Now, Muivah has agreed to talks within India. This is being seen as a positive sign. NSCN(IM) chairman Isak Chishi Swu has recently accepted an Indian passport. So, what’s cooking? In an interview in New Delhi, his first in over a year, Muivah tells TEHELKA that the Nagas are open to a compromise solution to end the protracted battle.
EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
On 23 January, on his return from Bangkok, chairman Swu accepted an Indian passport. Is this a sign of a breakthrough?
Well, passports are not the No. 1 issue on our agenda. Our main focus is the political problem and how to solve it. For Swu and myself, travelling in and out of the country on any other passport is not a problem and we have previously rejected Indian passports. But there is the question of expediency and respecting the sentiments of India. So the last time, on Swu’s return, we told them we won’t hesitate to use an Indian passport, but only under certain conditions. For example, allegiance to the Indian Constitution or to the Indian government is not applicable in our case.
But doesn’t holding an Indian passport, directly or indirectly, signify that you are an Indian? Every passport has a section labelled ‘nationality’. Doesn’t yours say Indian?
In our case it is ‘not applicable’. If India thinks we are Indians because we are now using Indian passports, that will not work. It is good that we respect each other; that is required for talks to progress. If the agenda is to show us as Indians, we will reject the passports. Sometimes, such confusion from a legal or political point of view can develop into something else. But this is not the issue.
The main issue is how much we can appreciate each other. If there is a rational approach, it must be respected. That is No. 1 and that should be the way to talk and handle the issue.
Starting in 1920, the Naga political struggle has had many milestones and demands, but today 13 years into ceasefire and talks with the Centre, what are the Naga demands at present?
It was made clear upfront that the Nagas are not demanding anything from India. Our history is clear, and right at the start of the talks we insisted on recognition of the facts of Naga history by the Indian government because we cannot have talks without any basis. It will amount to us demanding from India our independence and our sovereignty. But our independence and our sovereignty would be according to the facts of Naga history. Naga history is unique. It cannot be changed, it cannot be distorted.
The Nagas greatly respect Mahatma Gandhi because he respected the history of the Nagas. The father of the Indian nation had made it clear, “Nagas have the right to be independent. Why should you force the Nagas? I don’t believe in the use of force and the Nagas should have their independence.” We respect his wisdom. He knew that use of force solves nothing. But, unfortunately, after Mahatma Gandhi’s untimely demise, the leadership changed, and so did the rules.
‘If India thinks we are Indians because we are now using Indian passports, that will not work’
Jawaharlal Nehru had no patience for Naga history. He proclaimed, “It would be a matter of only a few days for the Indian forces to crush the Nagas. Even if blood flows and the sky falls I will not let Nagas be independent.”
Why? Nehru or his family, or the Gandhi family, did not make Nagalim. How can Indians think the Nagas are subject to the whims of a family? That is not possible, we don’t accept that kind of philosophy. This attitude hurt us in the past, and it still hurts us. Until Indians, particularly the leadership, understand the objective reality of the Nagas, there will be no solution.
It was only after five years of heated discussion, that the Indian government recognised the uniqueness of Naga history and the Naga situation. From there, we started respecting them.
We live in a world where right to selfdetermination is an international practice and the Nagas are no exception. So, to answer your question, we are demanding nothing from India. But if the term ‘demand’ is to be used, the Nagas are demanding that the Indian government be more rational in its approach to Naga politics.
Previously, the NSCN(IM) had suggested a federal structure as a solution. Could you please elaborate?
In this century, we know that no country is totally independent, and no nation is totally sovereign. Interdependence has become critical. If this is so, the Nagas will also try to understand the needs of India. The Nagas should have a position from where they decide what is best for them and it should be the same for India. If federalism is preferable to India and the Nagas, it will be a federation of India on one side and Nagalim on the other. While the terms of relations will have to be worked out, under no circumstance should Nagalim be treated as a state in India. That, we cannot accept.
You are talking of a federal structure between two sovereigns, India and Nagalim. Won’t that lead to a clash of sovereignties? Who will compromise?
Sovereignty belongs to the people. Both sides have to accept this. Sovereignty of Nagalim belongs to the Naga people. Sovereignty of India belongs to the Indian people. This must be accepted, but in what way? When we say negotiations, it naturally involves sacrifices from both sides. But if India says it is so mighty and starts dismissing the Nagas, thinking that we will be satisfied with a political handout, that will not be acceptable.
So we have given in our proposals. One of them is this: according to the uniqueness of Naga history, Nagas must have the right to exercise what is best for them, but taking into consideration the necessity of India. That is the only way some kind of special relationship can be worked out.
The NSCN(IM) often talks of achieving an honourable solution. What do you mean by that?
I would say that when we talk of the type of solution we have been sitting for, we say politically we cannot subjugate ourselves to others. That is one of the most important issues, something that is indispensable to the Nagas. In short, if the Indian government asked us to be a part of the Indian unit, that is not possible for us.
But then again if we are to be totally out of India, the government will not accept it. So we have to find a middle path. It will not be easy to outline it, but we have to. We want a solution that will last long, and honour it because it respects the wishes of both parties.
For example, we say, yes Nagalim can have a joint defence structure with India. Why? Because, if an external force were to raid and occupy Nagalim, it would naturally compromise India’s security. We know that interdependence is already there.
Nagalim’s security will involve the readiness of India to defend herself. How can Nagalim be the base for an external force to attack India? So, we must be rational and in the same way the Indian government must be rational. That is our approach. We have told them time and again, the Nagas aren’t your enemy.