Promise of peace

Published : Jan 31, 2003 00:00 IST

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani with NSCN (I-M) leaders Isaac Chisi Swu and Tuingaleng Muivah (extreme right) at a meeting at South Block in New Delhi on January 10. K. Padmanabhaiah, the Centre's interlocutor for the talks, is on the left. - SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani with NSCN (I-M) leaders Isaac Chisi Swu and Tuingaleng Muivah (extreme right) at a meeting at South Block in New Delhi on January 10. K. Padmanabhaiah, the Centre's interlocutor for the talks, is on the left. - SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

In a landmark meeting in New Delhi with the Indian leadership, National Socialist Council of Nagalim (I-M) leaders agree on a cessation of the insurgency in Nagaland.

IN a dramatic turn of events in New Delhi on January 11, underground Naga leaders Isaac Chisi Swu and Tuingaleng Muivah, declared an end to the insurgency in Nagaland and vowed to stop the campaign against the security forces. Isaac Swu and Muivah, who were in self-imposed exile outside India for about 35 years, arrived in New Delhi from Amsterdam on January 8 to hold talks with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani in order to accelerate the peace process, which was started in 1997, and bring the curtains down on one of the longest-running insurgency campaigns in India. The two leaders were welcomed by over 150 Naga people, some sporting the traditional headgear and spear, at the airport.

After their talks with Vajpayee, Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes, Isaac Swu and Muivah, chairman and general secretary respectively of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN(IM), said: "There will be no more fighting between Indians and Nagas. That is the understanding we have reached after our talks with Vajpayee and other top leaders.''

The Naga leaders last met the Indian leadership in New Delhi in 1967. But the meeting with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi yielded no positive result. Isaac Swu and Muivah later held talks with successive Prime Ministers P.V. Narasimha Rao, H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral in various foreign locations such as Bangkok, Zurich, Geneva, Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur. Vajpayee has met them twice before - in Paris in 1998 and in Osaka, Japan, in 2001.

The Centre pursued the peace talks through its emissaries Swaraj Kaushal, former Mizoram Governor, and K. Padmanabhaiah, former Union Home Secretary. In 1997, a ceasefire agreement was reached.

Padmanabhaiah said Isaac Swu and Muivah had come to New Delhi for a dialogue "without conditions and their coming to India will undoubtedly accelerate the progress in the peace process, marked by a ceasefire sustained over five years in Nagaland and the lifting of the ban on the NSCN(I-M) on the eve of the visit of its two top leaders''.

There is speculation that the lifting of the ban on the NSCN(I-M) would facilitate its participation in the Assembly elections in Nagaland, to be held on February 26. Political observers believe that the NSCN(I-M) will not openly participate in the elections but may support a political front opposed to the ruling Congress(I). In that event, it may pose a serious challenge to Chief Minister S.C. Jamir. Before the talks, the Naga leaders visited Rajghat to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi.

Comparing the present dialogue with the 1967 talks, Isaac Swu said the earlier talks had made no headway because of the "lack of maturity'' and "not-so-realistic'' approach of the Indian leadership. "But this time,'' he said, "the leaders are sincere, mature and are trying to solve it realistically. The Prime Minister and all leaders are sincere. We had a very courteous meeting. The government is trying to understand the Nagas' history and the Nagas are understanding that of India... The fact that the government has acknowledged Nagaland's history is a good start for the dialogue. If the Government of India would respect the reality of Nagaland, the Nagas would respect the reality of India ten times more.''

The Nagas' major demands include bringing together all Naga-inhabited areas, including certain parts of Manipur and Assam, under a single administrative unit, and greater autonomy. Although both sides were tight-lipped about the issues discussed, the NSCN(I-M) leaders clearly indicated the broad framework on which the talks had revolved. They said the issue of bringing all Naga-inhabited areas under one administrative unit could be "thrashed out across the table by the two sides during the future rounds of talks". Muivah was more explicit and said traditional Naga-inhabited areas included the Ukhrul region of Manipur and certain areas of Assam. The NSCN(I-M)'s claim to Ukhrul was a birthright and the Nagas were not claiming territory that was not traditionally theirs, said Muivah who belongs to the Thangkul Naga community living in the Ukhrul region.

Muivah's remarks have already created ripples in Manipur, which is strongly opposed to any division of its territory. The challenge before the Centre, therefore, is to find a solution that is not only within the Indian Constitution but is acceptable to other northeastern States. For the NSCN(I-M), it will be difficult to sell to its cadre a proposal that does not include the assimilation of all Naga-inhabited territories into the existing State of Nagaland.

The Naga leaders have met leaders of different political parties, including Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi.

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