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|August 31, 2001||
The Naga solution
If it is transparency to which the National Democratic Alliance government is sworn, it should have made public the joint statement signed between former home secretary K Padmanabhaiah on its behalf and the secretary of the underground Nagas outfit, National Socialist Council of Nagaland. The statement should have been placed before Parliament by now because it was signed as far back as June 14, 2001, nearly two-and-a-half months ago. I reproduce it below because it can have a serious impact on the Indian polity.
Joint statement: In continuation of the ongoing peace process, a meeting was held on 13 and 14 June 2001, in Bangkok between the representatives of the Government of India and the NSCN and the following are mutually agreed upon:
1. The cease-fire agreement is between the Government of India and the NSCN as two entities
without territorial limits.
The word, 'entities,' says more than what is required. Entity is something that has a real and separate existence. In other words, the Government of India has put itself and the NSCN on an equal footing. Is this what New Delhi wanted to convey? When Deve Gowda fulfilled T Muivah's precondition that India's prime minister should meet the underground leader in a foreign country to kick off the talks, the prime minister accepted their demand. The NDA government followed the same road and had its meetings with Muivah in foreign countries -- in Bangkok and Amsterdam.
The NDA also agreed to the earlier government's formulation that the cease-fire in Nagaland would extend to Greater Nagaland which the underground Nagas claimed as their territory. The phrase, 'without territorial limits' is New Delhi's. It cannot blame it on anybody else, although it can justifiably say that it got the consent of the chief ministers of the states to which the cease-fire was extended to make the demand for Greater Nagaland good. Padmanabhiah, as he has explained in a press interview, is only a communicator. He does not go beyond his brief. In fact, Muivah's complaint is that Padmanabhiah acts like a post office, without giving any interpretation, additional information, much less any suggestion. It is a frustrating monologue, says Muivah.
True, New Delhi has deleted three words, 'without territorial limits' from the joint statement. Muivah is playing it safe and says the cease-fire is still alive. But he is looking for some other words to delineate Greater Nagaland. His faith in New Delhi is shaken but he wants to go on because he expects to have talks on 'substantive issues.'
The question that New Delhi has to ask itself is how far is it willing to go. The late Angami Zapu Phizo wanted independence and even Muivah has reminded New Delhi of Mahatma Gandhi's assurance that the Nagas could stay separate if they so desired.
Still, the fact remains that there has been a change of heart on the part of the Nagas in the last few years. Phizo wanted a status within India. Before his death in London in 1990, the year I was India's high commissioner there, his associate Khodao-Yanthan met me. He said Phizo had changed and wanted to settle the Nagaland question with Indian leaders.
Khodao-Yanthan was insistent on describing his nationality as 'Naga' in the visa application. The consular section was inclined to reject it on the ground that India did not recognise Nagaland as a separate nation. I intervened. I thought it was important that he visit India and meet political leaders. After living in London for three decades, he had lost touch with the realities; he might begin to face facts if he returned. By the time he reached Delhi, the VP Singh government had fallen.
I wondered if New Delhi's policy on the northeast has been realistic. Jawaharlal Nehru kept the area separate and secluded so as to preserve the culture of the people living there. The result was it was cut off from the mainstream, affecting not only emotional integration but economic and social development as well. The youth, in particular, felt alienated and many had taken to the gun in frustration.
The joint statement has described the problem as 'political.' That it is. All prime ministers and chiefs of army staff in the past years have acknowledged this. The late Jayaprakash Narayan, who had a serious go at the problem, said once in reply to a question that the problem was 'purely and simply political' and that Indian forces should 'go away right now.'
The proposal of former Lok Sabha speaker P A Sangma being the interlocutor has, therefore, not been liked by the underground Nagas. He has said again and again that the problem is that of law and order. It may be in certain ways after the violence has erupted. But that is the fallout, not the cause.
When even after the deletion of words 'without territorial limits,' Muivah is keen on the talks; New Delhi should push the process forward and discuss the instruments of governance to come to grips with the problem. He has said in an interview in Amsterdam: "We will not do anything that will be detrimental to India's interests."
Perhaps the time has come to discuss the specifics. Article 370 can pave the path to solution: a special status to Nagaland within the Indian Union. Muivah is said to be in favour of New Delhi handling the currency as it does in the case of other states. For some reason Muivah believes that if Nagaland does not have a semblance of foreign affairs and defence, the underground Nagas will not be satisfied. After all, they have defied New Delhi for the last five decades for total independence. There are 3,000 Naga youth equipped with the latest weapons. Once the question is settled, there should be no problem in absorbing them in India's armed forces. Muivah should have no fears on that score.
The underground Nagas will have to try and accommodate themselves in a pluralistic society. When Muivah can accept an Indian passport to travel to Amsterdam after his release from the Bangkok jail, he should be less squeamish in talking about a status within the Indian Union. It is no secret that Pakistan had offered him a passport, but he preferred India's.
Perhaps New Delhi can appoint one more person as interlocutor besides Sangma, after talking to Muivah so that he is acceptable to him. It will help accelerate the process of settlement. Ultimately, the underground Nagas have to be retrieved. This was precisely the reason why the talks with Muivah began in the first place.
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