A step towards peace

Print edition : July 20, 2002

A reshuffle within the parallel, underground government run by the NSCN(I-M) in Nagaland is likely to aid the process of dialogue with the Central government.

THE ongoing peace talks between the Government of India and the outlawed National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) seem to have taken a positive turn as a result of a reshuffle in the parallel, underground government run by the NSCN(I-M) in Nagaland. A new "cabinet" was formed after an oath-taking ceremony was held on July 1. The Centre's special emissary, former Union Home Secretary K. Padmanabhaiah, was sent to Amsterdam on July 8 to meet NSCN leaders Isaac Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, who have been living in exile.

Immediately after the formation of a new "ministry" the "Government of the People's Republic of Nagalim" declared that it would carry the peace process in Nagaland forward and described the present style of functioning of the government as "out-dated". This, observers feel, indicates a flexible attitude which could help solve the 50-year-old Naga problem.

NSCN(I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah and chairman Isaac Chishi Swu, a file picture.-RITU RAJ KONWAR

The parallel NSCN (I-M) government has been functioning in Nagaland for over 10 years with a full-fledged cabinet and all other trappings of a legally constituted ministry. It is significant that the reshuffling took place before Padmanabhaiah left for Amsterdam for what many people feel could be the final round of peace talks that would be held with the NSCN top brass outside the country.

The five-year-old ceasefire agreement between the Government of India and the NSCN(I-M) got a boost on December 8 last year following a meeting between Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and the NSCN leaders Isaac Chishi Swu and Muivah at Osaka in Japan. Prior to the Osaka meeting, Muivah and Isaac Swu, the "Prime Minister" and the "President" respectively of the "Government of the People's Republic of Nagalim" met Vajpayee in Paris.

After the formation of the new 51-member underground "ministry" the "Government of the People's Republic of Nagalim" said that it was committed to "carrying forward the peace process in Nagaland through mass participation",but had decided that it would maintain "full military preparedness for any eventuality". The formation of the "ministry" was a follow-up to the NSCN(I-M)'s decision to lift the "state of emergency" that was declared last year. The "ministry" includes six kilonsers (cabinet ministers), 25 deputy kilonsers (ministers of state) and 20 tatars (members of Parliament representing different tribes). After the swearing-in ceremony at the Tangkhul church in Wungran village near Dimapur, the new "home minister", A.K. Lungalang, said: "The NSCN(I-M) is fully committed to unity and reconciliation of all factions of Naga outfits, and this government shall willingly go the extra mile to achieve this." A message sent by Isaac Swu was read out on the occasion.

Lungalang said that the process of bringing about unity and reconciliation would be "within the parameters of national principles". He said that his government would explore every avenue to reach out to the grassroots level and spread awareness about the need to strengthen the ongoing peace process through mass participation. He said that "we must give way to a more systematic method of administration". Lungalang stressed the need to "streamline tax collection" and initiate steps to check "over-taxation". Members of the new "cabinet" urged NSCN (I-M) activists to check extortion.

Besides Lungalang, the "cabinet" includes Q. Tuccu (defence minister), K. Hurray (finance minister), Johnny Lamkeng (information and publicity minister), Vaison Pou (religious minister) and Hevukhu (minister without portfolio).

Before leaving for Amsterdam, Padmanabhaiah said that he had met Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to take necessary instructions on the basis of which the three-day talks with the NSCN leaders were to be held. The talks would focus on the ceasefire and efforts to bring about lasting peace in Nagaland, he said.

Informed sources said that there was a strong likelihood that the next round of talks would be held in India. During his meeting with the NSCN leaders in Osaka, Vajpayee invited Isaac Swu and Muivah to visit India. They are reported to have told the Prime Minister that it was he who should remove obstacles such as arrest warrants that prevented them from visiting Delhi. Besides, they pointed out that their organisation was a banned one. "We have no problems about visiting India, particularly when Vajpayee himself has invited us and expressed his sincerest desire to settle the Naga issue. What we need is a congenial atmosphere for talks and negotiations," they said.

The Nagaland government has withdrawn all criminal cases that were pending against Isaac Swu and Muivah, including the one relating to the armed attack on Chief Minister S.C. Jamir's convoy. The move to withdraw the arrest warrants is seen as an attempt by the government to facilitate the continuation of peace talks in Delhi. The last round of talks was held between the Centre's emissary and NSCN leaders in Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile, there is tremendous pressure on the NSCN(I-M) leaders from different Naga groups to settle the decades-old insurgency issue and restore peace. The Naga Hoho, an apex body of all Naga tribal councils, has launched a "reconciliation campaign" throughout the State. The Naga Hoho, which believes that the settlement of the Naga problem is not possible without the unity of the 52 Naga tribes, has initiated the campaign in order to help end the clashes between the different extremist groups operating in the State and to bring together all Naga sections, particularly the underground outfits, for the "greater cause of rebuilding the Naga family and ending years of blood-letting." The Church in Nagaland, which plays a significant role in the State's tribal society, has for years been making efforts in this regard without any apparent success.

Over the years, the situation has only worsened, with sharp and almost irreconcilable differences emerging among the extremist underground outfits. This has led to the killing of hundreds of members of these groups, besides innocent people. Perhaps, more militant Nagas have died fighting among themselves than at the hands of the "Indian occupation forces". However, the Hoho's efforts are different from those of the Church in that it is a people's initiative, or at least that is what the body claims it to be.

At its first convention to launch the "Naga National Reconciliation Move" in Kohima on December 20 last year, Naga Hoho president M. Vero said that for the Nagas the need of the hour was to come together to "share, discuss and consult with grace to absolve their past mistakes and begin building a new future based on peace, hopes and truth through a process of healing and compassion." The convention was attended by about 10,000 Nagas from Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar, irrespective of their ideologies and affiliations. The Naga Hoho ensured that most of the tribes of Nagaland's faction-ridden society were represented at the convention. According to an estimate, about 50,000 people were killed in the past 50 years either in the factional clashes or at the hands of militants and security forces.

Naga society has always remained divided along tribal lines. Even today, a section of the Nagas in Nagaland do not consider the Tangkhul Nagas - Muivah belongs to the Tangkhul tribe - of Myanmar as Nagas.

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