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Difficult days ahead for Muivah

By:  Yambem Laba

The talks between the Government of India and the NSCN (I-M) have now entered the 22nd year and are said to have reached a final point. The Nagas are expected to be given the fruits of the final Naga Accord as a Christmas gift later this year. At the outset it needs to be categorically stated here that the NSCN (I – M) had given up hopes of total sovereignty as early as 1988 and this has not been the result of the protracted talks that have been going on.

That this demand was given up in 1988 itself was told to me by the late S. Khaplang when we had met in Thailand in 1997. According to Khaplang this was the main factor behind the split in the NSCN in 1988. He said that Muivah as General Secretary had convened a decisive meeting that year which was not attended by him and that the late Issac Chishi Swu was away in Kachinland at that time. That meeting which had also lacked the requisite quorum was pushed through and the resolution that was adopted was that the armed Naga movement for liberation which was launched by Angami Zapu Phizo who had raised the issue as early as 1947 and finally took to the jungle in the mid 1950s was going to change its ultimate goal. It was defined as “one step down from total sovereignty and one step up from the Suisha Plan”.

Suisha was a Tangkhul Naga Member of Parliament from Manipur in the second Lok Sabha. He was one of the major ideologues of the movement during the early days.

That split in 1988 was a major setback for Muivah. Many of his followers especially from amongst his Tangkhul tribe were killed and Muivah himself was saved by a timely warning from United National Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur. RK Meghen, supremo of the UNLF now in Guwahati Central Jail, told me that he had issused instructions to warn Muivah of the impending death threat to him from Khaplang’s followers.

And according to Lukhoi, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Manipur People’s Army (MPA), barely two minutes had passed after he had warned Muivah and he had escaped through the backdoor when the entire cottage where he was holed up was raked by a fusillade of bullets fired by the Hemi Naga cadres of Khaplang.

It however was Muivah’s achievement that he had built up the NSCN (I – M) almost from scratch making it the biggest and most organized armed groups in the North Eastern region earning for itself the sobriquet of being the “Mother of all Insurgent groups” in the Northeast.

Unofficial talks between the Government of India and the NSCN (I –M) had begun as early as 1994. That was confirmed to me by the late Rajesh Pilot, who was the then Union Minister of State for Internal Affairs, during his visit to Imphal at that time. Prior to that Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had utilized the services of noted Indian journalist Sanjoy Hazarika to offer India’s olive branch to Muivah and Company. Sanjoy flew to Bangkok and broke the ice. Formal talks between the two began in 1997. The talks hovered from the Hague to Davos to Bangkok and finally to New Delhi and Nagaland.

The NSCN (I – M) hired the services of some of the best possible negotiatiors, people who had been active in South Africa and elsewhere where conflicts were present. The devastating NSCN ambushes on the Indian Army ceased but their taxation on trade and commerce in Nagaland and Manipur has continued till date.

The dynamics of the Naga underground movement must be understood in the complexities of its composition. At best when we speak of the unique history of the Nagas, it can be said to be akin to that of the native American tribes often referred to as “Red Indians” where the Apaches are as different from the Cheyenne or the Cherokees and the Sioux and the only thread binding them was their hatred for the white settlers.

In much the same way, the Angamis are different from the Aos or the Konyaks and for that matter the Tangkhuls of Manipur, the tribe to which Muivah belongs, have more cultural and historical affinity with the Meiteis or the plainsmen of Manipur. And while the Nagas of Nagaland use Nagamese as a means of communication, the Nagas of Manipur use Manipuri or the language of the Meiteis as their lingua franca.

So, the dilemma before Muivah who hails from Manipur, was how he would explain his position to the population of the present state of Nagaland in the post – accord period. It was perhaps understanding this problem that he rushed through the process of signing the Framework Agreement in 2015 on which Issac Swu appended his signature from his deathbed. Muivah knew that no settlement with India could be arrived at without Swu’s signature on it, the latter being from Nagaland and belonging to the Sema or Sumi tribe.

And thus, sans sovereignty, the integration of the Naga areas of Manipur particularly into Nagaland to form Nagalim becomes almost a sine quo non for Muivah’s formal and official acceptability to the Nagas of Nagaland.

While the Nagaland State Assembly had at least on three occasions resolved on calling for the merger of the adjoining Naga areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, it was only in 2001 that the NSCN made its first formal attempt to broach the idea using a Trojan horse. They were then able to convince then Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani to extend the areas to be covered by the ongoing Ceasefire between the two sides to all its areas of operation beyond Nagaland by inserting the term “without territorial limits” in its term of reference. While there was muted silence in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, the Meiteis of Manipur smelt a rat and rose up in a manner never witnessed before.

There was a complete breakdown of law and order and chaos reigned for three days during which the State Assembly building, the Chief Minister’s Office all Ministers’ residential buildings were burnt down. Eighteen people lost their lives even as it was rumored that the then Governor had taken refuge in the Army Cantonment in Leimakhong. That day, the 18th of June, is still almost a sacred day amongst Manipuris, who stood for the territorial integrity of the State.

Three days later Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told the media that “a deep misunderstanding seems to have occurred in Manipur”. The term “without territorial limits” was dropped from the terms of reference of the ceasefire between the Indian troops and the Naga militants. Muivah was back to square one.

The second attempt was in 2010 when he arm – twisted the Centre to urge the Government of Manipur to provide him with security and smooth passage during his proposed visit to Manipur. Muivah had not been home for over 40 years then. Instead of just saying that he wanted to visit his home and relatives in Somdal in Ukhrul, where he could have been choppered in, he wanted to make a grand re – entry into Manipur like Julius Ceasar after the conquest of Gaul. He had started his journey to Manipur at the head of a cavalcade and had planned public meetings in Senapati, Tamenglong, Chandel and Ukhrul to whip up Naga frenzy towards Naga integration. A highly alarmed Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh declared that Muivah was “persona non grata” in Manipur. He had all the entrance roads to Manipur blocked at Mao and Jessami and stationed the dreaded Mnipur Police Commandos with express orders to arrest Muivah should he dare to enter Manipur, with or without Z – level security cover. Unknown to many Naga watchers in the country, Muivah still remains a “Wanted Man” in Manipur carrying carrying a price of Rs 1 lakh on his head.

Dejected for the second time in ten years, Muivah returned to Hebron after having reached Viswema the last village in Nagaland before entering Manipur through Mao.

By this time it became clear to the Centre that the integration of Naga areas of Manipur and for that matter those of Assam or Arunachal cannot be on the agenda in the terms of reference with or without the Framework Agreement and began clearly stating that the territorial integrity of Manipur would not be compromised come what may. With Naga integration out of the question, Muivah soon propped up the demand for a separate Constitution and Flag for Nagaland in the final settlement and has even gone to the extent that without them he will not be able to ink the final agreement.

The Centre has categorically said “No” to this proposal. Muivah seems to be hemmed in by the fact that the Chief Interlocutor of the Government of India has also become the Governor of Nagaland and if after the accord, Muivah becomes the Chief Minister of Nagaland, he would still be obliged to call him “Sir”.

Even as the debate on a Naga constitution and Flag was going on, the powerful United Committee Manipur (UCM) which was born out of the aftermath of the 18th June uprising in 2001, had on October 1 ‘summoned’ an all political party meeting which included the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress. It had adopted three resolutions.

That the final Agreement shall not infringe on the traditional integrity of Manipur and even if the Government of India assures that the geographical boundaries of the Northeastern States will remain intact, anything which subsequently relates to the ongoing Framework Agreement cannot be taken up inside Manipur without the prior sanction and approval of the State Government and people of Manipur.

It also said no to the proposal of setting up a Pan – Naga or Cultural Provincial – territorial council or any arrangement relating to financial or ethnic – based administrative arrangement or any structural formation in similar fashion. It warned that if any decision by the Government of Manipur was contrary to the above three resolutions, the “People of Manipur shall take its own course to determine the future of Manipur”.

At 85 Muivah knows that his days are numbered and that he does not have the time to return to the jungles or the safe houses in Bangkok or the Hague. And 22 years of protracted talks have taken a heavy toll on his hardy Naga Army boys, they have turned from hungry wolves to fattened bears and have got used on the luxury of constructing and living in palatial villas and travelling in SUVS. The three – month – long gruelling trek to Yunnan Province in China which he had led in the early 1970s is but a distant and dimishing memory. And even if he decides to break off the talks with India and return to the bushes, he has nowhere to go.

With Myanmar already shutting its doors on Indian insurgent groups and China a lost horizon now, Muivah seems to have been trapped. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi may even be tempted to look at a Kashmir type of solution to the Naga problem and simply surround Camp Hebron where entire who’s who of NSCN (I – M) are holed up. In the evening of his life, Muivah’s new Nagaland may not quite see the dawn he once dreamt of.

(The writer is The Statesman’s Imphal based Special Representative.)

5 comments

  • Athokpam
    Athokpam Friday, 11 October 2019 06:48 Comment Link

    This all happens when meiteis ignored the existence of nagas in Manipur.Had the meiteis learnt to CO-exist with other communities this could have been avoided.Even to these days we hear meitei leaders say “there is no nagas in Manipur”.what if a naga says “there is no meiteis in Manipur “ they are only in kangleipak or moirang?

  • A U Meetei
    A U Meetei Wednesday, 09 October 2019 22:20 Comment Link

    Its a lost cause for the Meeteis as no leadership as strong as Mr Muivah came forward. Further such writeup may sound believing but then India govt is going ahead by giving autonomy to Nagas of Manipur who control 60% of areas in Manipur.

  • Pukhrambam
    Pukhrambam Wednesday, 09 October 2019 22:18 Comment Link

    From a distance: In the US how Nagaland for Christ played out, later Nagalim for Christ was played out by NSCN-IM.

    In early 1990s, I was shown a picture of Nagalim, before the internet started, in a publication of NSCN-IM by some friends of Manipur Nagas (Tangkhuls mostly). This map is shown in red color, and covers the entire area of Manipur (except some parts of Manipur valley and Churachandpur, which were in yellow color), parts of assam, arunachal and burma (myanmar). To this, I said that it will not work to my friends because (i) India and Myanmar are two different nations; difficult to negotiate simulaenously, (ii) Assam, Arunachal and especially Manipur will not accept this map because their territories are encrosed, (iii) a few weeks earlier, I was shown a movie of the Kuki-Naga conflice, which showed grusome pictures of killing - men, women and children - hands tight behind, mostly in Kuki villages. So, I mentioned that Kukis will not accept this map. There is overlap with their interest as well, (iv) Most NSCN-IM leadership is from the Tangkhul tribe of Manipur, so at Kohima and Dimapur, the Nagaland tribes (Sema, Ao, Angamis, etc.) will not accept Tangkhul dominance in their own territory. This was also followed by anti-Tangkhul riots in Kohima, Dimapur and other places of Nagaland, (v) the Zeliangrong group is equally strong as Tangkhuls in Manipur and parts of Assam and Nagaland. So, they will not take Tangkhul leadership and dictate. Most Zeliangrong regions came under the K-group and now ZUF (Zeliangrong United Front). Above all, Meiteis at Manipur valley strongly oppose to disintegration of the Manipur state, which existed before India was born. These were.are some of the complicated equations for the Christ for Nagalim and NSCN-IM proposed Naga integration or Soverign demand. Any state demand based on religion and socialism is not a favored topic in the 21st century.

    Then, why Indian Government propsed a Cease Fire with NSCN-IM in 1997. This story come from Europe and America. NSCN-IM managed to enrole itself with the UN unrepresented peoples organizaton in Europe. The tactical propaganda at that time was that the Indian Hindu army is killing Innocent Naga Christians in Nagaland/Nagalim, a majority Christian state. This was widely propagated in the Southern Baptist Belt in the US in Churches by Tangkhul Christian leaders, which Church Pasters took it for their words. Some prominent Church leaders became vocal and, later, Southern US congressmen got involved in stories about atrocities against Christains in India.

    This was the time, when India was trying to establish Economic ties with the US and President Bill Clinton. In 1990, India was about to go bankrupt, economy meltdown, had no money to pay salaries for government employees. So, liberalization process was begining with Prime Minister Narashimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. This process was stopped by the US congress (mostly republicans from the South) because of presumed atrocities against Christians in India, particularly in Nagaland. This India-US trade ties was going nowhere. For India, Russia is falling down - itself in economic shamble, China is growing fast while India got tangled with Pakistan.

    What to do - clever/cunning Indian mind started operating. Let us call NSCN-IM as the mother of all insurgents in the NE and they be invited for a cease fire and peace talk. To this, NSCN-IM insisted that the talk be held in a foreign land and at the Prime Minister level with no precondition. India convinced Mr. Muivah and his company to come to India and begin talks within India. Muivah accepted the offer. Then, in 1997 after the cease fire and peace talk designed, the US congress is informed that there will no killing and problems will be dissected via a political talk. And, India got what its wants with its IT advantage in the new US economy in the last 2 decates while the talks are going on like Ramayana and Mahabharata epics. Within this period, India's economy began to rise and now no country in the world can dictate India any further what to do. Its important is recognized in the new World Geostrategic Alliances. India continues to talk and talk and wait for the UG leaders to get old and gone - two are no more. Mr. Muivah is not getting younger, health issues are coming up.

    Nonetheless, give Mr. Muival and the Tangkhul leaders give their brilliant leadership among the Nagas that they had for such a long time.

    Now that India is a friend of IM and other Naga groups are attacking IM leadership. To keep the different Naga tribes together, an enemy has to be created. Whoelse - the Meiteis. The new slogan was changed from India Hindu army is killing innocent Christians to Meiteis are snatching Naga's land in Manipur. Nagas have a unique history - they are not under any entity but are independent nations. This propaganda was aimed at Nagas of Nagaland and for the Nagaland State Assembly (politicians) because they have no clue about Meiteis and they had nothing to do Meiteis. So, they were fooled by IM for a few years. But, with internet and social media becoming wide spread in Nagaland, many Nagaland youths started realizing the IM trick on them. Slowly, this propaganda also became less effective. Now, what to do with the Naga tribe of Nagaland and their 6-7 combinded UG groups.

    NSCN-IM said that it is Muivah who brought India to accept the unique history of Nagas (whatever it means) and respect their sovereignty and agreed to make the Framework Agreement for solution (it may be translated as Framed work for IM by India). So, other Naga groups are not mandated by the govt of India and Nagas. They are irrelevant in such talks. On hearing this, the Nagaland UGs came out with such statements that (i) Sovereignty and Integration of Nagas are out of the Framed work by India, so what the Nagas of Nagaland have to do with the talk; (ii) With the abolition of 370 from Kashmir, India is not going to give a similar agreement for Nagas (separate consitution and flag); (iii) therefore, Nagas of Nagaland should have a separate agreement with India, which will be better than the Shillong 16 points agreement; (iv) what about the demand of ENPO to get a separate Frontier Nagaland state or province. So, the story has become square ONE, UNO NUMBERO. What next. Ravi is now sitting as a Governor of Nagaland, and he has constitutional duty to work for the Indian Government and make sure that the Nagas in Nagaland follow the Indian Constitution. His aim was to dissolve Nagaland state assembly in the pretext of nonfunctional and make way to pass a Naga resolution at the Parliament in New Delhi.

    Finally, whatever the final decision, it will affect Manipur alone or mostly. Like in 2012, if the talk ends up in disturbing Manipur territory or administration, the Manipur valley particularly will be burning again. So, a BJP govt in New Delhi and one at Imphal have to navigate rough currents wisely. The center knows what reaction will be in Manipur.

    This is a short narrative from a distance, what is seen. India is able to clamp down Kashmir for 66 days without any communication and transport and the whole world is listing to India without a raising a voice, except for Pakistan as usual. In Nagaland or Manipur, no outside entity is going to interfere, so it is soley going to be an internal and local issue that needs to be tackled cleverly - with a stick and carrott. That is what India is hoping to achieve. PM Modi thought that the Kashmir issue will be done quickely, and then Naga issue will be folded soon. Unfortunately, it is not happening either at this moment.

    Makhadi screen da oina yengbiro....

  • S, Jugeshwor Singh
    S, Jugeshwor Singh Wednesday, 09 October 2019 20:11 Comment Link

    Great !! A beautiful write up which open many close eyes,

  • Bhagat thokchom
    Bhagat thokchom Wednesday, 09 October 2019 19:45 Comment Link

    Beautifully written with facts n figures...kudos to brave heart yambem laba

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