Deadlock in Naga talks

Published : Jun 20, 2003 00:00 IST

The latest round of peace talks between the Centre and the NSCN(I-M) ended in a deadlock as the government is unable to concede the demand that the unification of all Naga-inhabited territories in the northeastern region be placed on the agenda for future negotiations.

WITH the exiled Naga leaders Thuingaleng Muivah and Isaac Chisi Swu demanding that the agenda for future negotiations with the Centre include the unification of all Naga-inhabited territories in the northeastern region, the latest round of peace talks, held on May 23 in Bangkok, ended in a deadlock. The meeting between the Centre's chief interlocutor, former Union Home Secretary K. Padmanabhaiah, and Muivah and Isaac, general secretary and chairman respectively of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah), or NSCN I-M, took a jolt as the Naga leaders, for the first time, refused to hold talks with a bureaucrat and demanded the appointment of a political negotiator. However, after much cajoling, they met Padmanabhaiah and K.P. Singh, Director of the Intelligence Bureau, but indicated that that would be the last time that they would hold talks with bureaucrats.

Padmanabhaiah, who has been a part of the peace process since its inception and has built a good rapport with those involved, is reported to have made it clear to the Naga leaders that the Centre is ready to replace him with a political leader if they agree to come to India for the next round of talks due in June. The relationship between Padmanabhaiah and the NSCN(I-M) soured after he was quoted by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) mouthpiece as saying that all members of the outfit would be disarmed before a formal accord is signed. Padmanabhaiah's statement is supposed to have prompted Muivah to reassert that "the Nagas will never lay down arms, freedom and territories".

On January 8, Isaac and Muivah, who were in self-imposed exile for almost 35 years, arrived in Delhi from Amsterdam 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. When the substantive dialogue with the NSCN(I-M) began in Delhi, the Indian negotiators wanted the less intractable issues to be addressed first and matters pertaining to Naga territory and identity discussed at a later stage. Enough confidence was built between the two sides for the NSCN(I-M) leaders to visit Delhi and meet the political leadership.

After a fortnight-long stay in Delhi, Muivah and Isaac went back satisfied that the peace process was moving forward. Before leaving Delhi, they declared an end to the insurgency in Nagaland and vowed to stop the campaign against the security forces. After their talks with Vajpayee, Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes, Isaac and Muivah said that there would be no more fighting between Indians and Nagas and that was the understanding they had reached after the talks. However, in subsequent interaction, the Indian negotiators did not come up with any substantive proposals, and the NSCN(I-M) leaders began doubting their sincerity. They suggested that the integration of Naga territories and preservation of the Naga identity be discussed first. Clearly, it was impossible for the Centre to agree to the NSCN(I-M) demand for the creation of "Greater Nagaland" or "Nagalim", which will comprise Nagaland as well as the Naga-inhabited areas in the adjoining States of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh are strongly opposed to the proposal.

TROUBLE began with the extension of the area covered by the ceasefire between the Government of India and the NSCN(I-M), which has existed since 1997. The truce was to be operative only in Nagaland but the NSCN(I-M) demanded that it should be operative in all Naga-inhabited areas of the adjoining States as well, since "these are also Naga areas". Padmanabhaiah went to Bangkok in late 2002 and entered into an agreement on behalf of the government with the NSCN(I-M) that the ceasefire would extend to all Naga-inhabited areas, including those in the bordering States. The reaction from these States was on predictable lines. Manipur witnessed violent demonstrations. Padmanabhaiah rushed to Amsterdam to meet Muivah to seek a suitable change in the agreement. He could not achieve a compromise, and the stalemate continues.

During the latest round of talks, the NSCN(I-M) leaders took a firm stand that keeping the Naga territories divided and talking of solving the Naga problem was an insult to them. "We told the Indian government whatever be the efforts to bring about a solution to the Indo-Naga issue, if the unification of Nagas is not done, there will be no solution whatsoever. We have made it clear. So long as Indian armed forces are there in Nagaland, we need to have arms,'' Muivah is reported to have told Padmanabhaiah. He said that the Nagas would never lay down arms, freedom and territories. "At the moment, the crux of the issue is unification. If the government can understand our position, we do not need to hurt them. If they refuse to understand us, the question of referendum will come," Muivah told mediapersons after the talks in Bangkok.

Informed sources have confirmed that the NSCN(I-M) leadership based in Kohima has been preparing the ground for an organised demand for a referendum on the issue relating to the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas. The NSCN(I-M)'s deputy kilo kilonser (`home minister'), V. Horam, who is in hiding, issued a statement that Isaac and Muivah had made it clear that this demand was "not negotiable". Horam said that his outfit had no objection to holding talks anywhere, provided all substantive issues were on the agenda. Horam quoted Muivah as saying: "Delhi should understand that the masses are with us on the issue of integrating Naga-inhabited territories. If the Government of India continues to be indecisive on the issue and ignores our genuine grievances and demands, we shall be forced to go in for a referendum."

Meanwhile, admitting that the Naga problem was a "complex issue'', Padmanabhaiah said the government was moving in the right direction.

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