June 25, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/NSCN (I-M) General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah

While the situation in Manipur and Assam continues to be tense, the man at the centre of the cease-fire, Thuingaleng Muivah, chief negotiator and secretary general of the Nationalist Social Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) is keeping his fingers crossed. A court verdict in Bangkok, scheduled on Thursday, June 28, will decided whether he will be acquitted or released.

"If I am sentenced, I am ready to go to jail. But I feel my chances of getting acquitted are high," said Muivah, in an interview to Francis Adams at the Cheese and Cake House, a restaurant in the heart of Bangkok.

Muivah would not reveal where his next flight will be to. Surely not to India (he does not have an Indian passport and does not wish to acquire one), but he is definitely looking forward to the next round of talks with the Government of India, scheduled in August.

Of the numerous problems inherited from the days of the Raj, the Naga problem remains the most protracted one. The secretary general of the underground group spoke at length on the extension of the cease-fire in the Northeast without giving any hint of the pressures acting on him.

Was there any secret deal between the government and the NSCN (I-M) on the extension of the cease-fire, as was reported?

There is no secret (deal) between the Government of India and us. The declaration of cease-fire is more than three years old. If anybody is saying there was (a deal), it must be their own creation. The cease-fire issue has been open to all. So, there cannot be any secret motive in it. The purpose of the cease-fire was to create a suitable atmosphere to discuss the Indo-Naga issue. It was time we examined or explored a possible peaceful solution to it.

'We have come forward to stop the killings. There is no secret deal between the Government of India and us.'
Do you think the agreement for extending the cease-fire beyond Nagaland was a hasty decision on part of the Government of India? The earlier agreement did not mention the Naga-inhabited areas of the neighbouring states, but this did?

I think the Government of India took a very wise decision. They (GoI) and their generals openly declared that a military solution to the problem was not the right approach. But there should be a political solution to it. So we came out and talked. We are committed to the peace process.

When the Government of India asked for a cease-fire, we agreed because a suitable atmosphere must prevail. Without declaring a cease-fire, it was meaningless to say we were ready for a peaceful solution. The Government of India and the NSCN now have an understanding that we (the Indian armed forces and the NSCN forces) should not fight anywhere.

So, we have come forward to stop the killing and the fighting. This (the intention of both parties) needs to be appreciated by every sensible person.

What is the NSCN's response to claims that the extension of the cease-fire to other states also involves constitutional issues and serious law and order conflicts?

In that case, the Nagas will not respect us for accepting the Indian Constitution. It is not possible. Our people have fought for their freedom. If anything is going to be imposed on us, we will not accept that.

But the neighbouring states are up in flames and fear that the NSCN (I-M) will now have a free run in their territories. How do you see that?

The agreement is very clear. It deals only with the cease-fire, nothing beyond that. The declaration of a cease-fire is not against anyone and it does not deal with territorial limits. It is between two separate entities (representatives of GoI and NSCN, which is me) in which we have agreed not to fight in any part of India or Asia or anywhere. There is no reason for anyone else to interpret it more than that.

'The Nagas will not respect us for accepting the Indian Constitution. It is not possible. Our people have fought for their freedom.'
We have had a 100 per cent understanding with the Government of India on this issue. But if the other states say there should be no extension of the cease-fire, do they mean we are fighting Assam or Manipur?

That's a wrong approach. They should think with an open mind and not give rise to mistrust and scepticism.

What are the aspirations of the government of the People's Republic of Nagaland? And how is it evolving in the present situation?

GPRN was created out of necessity. It was a demand by the Nagas. Naturally, it deals with the Nagas from the administration point of view. It does not mean that the GPRN is very aggressive. Under tense situations, we needed to have a government of our own to survive. And we managed to do that. How could we have survived in the presence of more than 200,000 Indian armed troops in Nagaland? It is not a joke.

Our people have supported us throughout the 54 years of struggle. Their support has raised our confidence and we are sure it will be maintained in the future. We are not afraid of anyone. For the Indian government to say a military solution is not the answer, after 54 years of our struggle, is because it knows our people are with us.

Is the NSCN (I-M) taking any positive steps or initiating any moves to resolve the issue with the neighbouring states?

It is a surprise to us that some of our neighbours are taking an exception to it (the cease-fire extension). We can go and meet and tell them there is no danger to anyone. They were supposed to support us. During the curfew in Manipur, the BBC called up and asked me, "Mr Muivah, are you surprised at the situation in Manipur?" I said: "Very much."

'The declaration of a cease-fire is not against anyone and it does not deal with territorial limits.'
The Naga Hoho (Naga assembly) has told us that they will make an approach to the other states. The cease-fire does not harm them. If they have interpreted more than that we are sorry. We not only want a peaceful atmosphere with the Government of India, but also with people around us (the other Northeastern states).

How will the NSCN (I-M) discuss the issue of a greater Nagaland with the neighbouring states?

That may come up later during the process of negotiations. At the moment it is difficult to say because the issue hasn't come up yet. However, it may not be easy. It is here to stay and it will be the government. Without that our people will start questioning us. "What is your assurance? They’ll ask us."

Does the NSCN still procure arms from neighbouring countries? It is reported that it gets arms from the Myanmar military. Is it true?

We don't buy arms from Thailand, Burma or anywhere now. Before, of course, we took arms from China and Pakistan also. But now, since 25 years, we have not bought arms from any country. We did capture lot of arms from the Indian armed forces. For example -- at one company headquarters we captured, we got 127 pieces of very good arms. They were in fact our main source of arms supply.

However, they were not sufficient. The Indian armed forces are very strong. Every two, three kilometres there were military camps and their forces. In a big village, there are around 11 (camps). All that is coming down now.

So we fetched arms from the high seas and the international arms markets. These arms dealers are very advanced people. Even mighty nations cannot subdue them. The only thing was that our resources were very little. We could not buy the amount we desired. Advanced technology meant one piece of missile would cost millions of Indian rupees. It was not within our reach.

'The Nagas were never treated like human beings. There was no other way out for us than to fight.'
However, despite all difficulties we managed substantial stuff. We have put a halt to it because of the cease-fire. We have given our assurance to the GoI. If anything wrong happens, naturally, the solution will be back to square one. But, If India honoured its commitment, we had to from our side.

Personally, they (GoI) are convinced to seek a peaceful solution to the Naga problem. They knew they cannot allow their own people to be killed. They have become sensible now.

You and the other Nagas speak highly of Mahatma Gandhi and his approach to the Naga problem. Then, why did you resort to an armed struggle and not take the Mahatma's ideology of non-violence?

The meeting between our people and Mahatma Gandhi was one of the most important incidents in our history. He was a man of calibre and integrity. He had said: "Nagas have every right to be independent." He knew the Nagas and it was the happiest moment for us.

However, when Jawaharlal Nehru took over the issue, he said, 'The Naga areas are in no man's land,' meaning, anybody could have claimed it, China could have claimed it, India also could have claimed it.

The Nagas were driven away by this statement. If he were understanding, he could have done a lot to resolve the issue. The Nagas were hurt. Indians have got to know this. Nehru also said: 'It is a matter of few days for the Indian armed forces to crush the Nagas.'

If you were in my position, what would you do? Nehru sent troops. Villages were burnt down. Nagas were never treated like human beings. There was no other way out for us than to fight. We had no arms to counter. We had spears and daos and some primitive guns but we started fighting.

Then we had to look elsewhere to resist such policy. We have got used to this kind of life now. You can be exceptionally powerful, but truth cannot be suppressed.

You have easy access to the neighbouring countries.

We have access to many neighbouring nations and states. We are able to maintain that because we don't do anything against the laws of the country or detrimental to the society. We know Thailand, Myanmar, and China. We know how to respect our neighbours. This is a very essential part of our political policy.

Question of claiming territories doesn't arise: Muivah
Nagas flee Imphal, but police deny report
Advani denies move for Greater Nagaland

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