by Harihar Swarup
January 23, 2003, was an important day in the life of self-exiled Naga rebel leader, Thuigaleng Muivah. For the first time in 37 years the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) had decided to give up violence and talk of peace on the Indian soil. Muivah, along with the NSCN (I-M) Chairman, Isak Chishi Swu, flew to New Delhi, met the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and asserted “ we shall try to achieve the solution (of Naga problem) through peaceful means”.
Muivah and Swu again landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport on last Sunday to the tune of popular song — “By the blue streams of Nagaland” — by their supporters.
Once a fiery rebel, living and fighting in dense forests, Muivah was a much mellowed man when he and Swu met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and told him: “We have come to believe that a solution cannot be found in violence and blood”.
Pat came the reply from the Prime Minister: “We are prepared to walk the extra mile for a peaceful solution”. The Naga rebel leaders have already submitted their “secret” proposals which, they say, would be discussed threadbare to arrive at a peaceful and mutually acceptable solution.
Having spent a life-time in the longest underground movement in Asia, spanning over half a century, surviving attacks on his life and living through detention, Muviah is indeed a disillusioned man now. A close look at him and exchange of a few words bear testimony to this change.
There was time when he would slip to foreign countries, even hostile to India , to seek their support for the Naga underground rebels’ struggle. He even opened channels with China and Pakistan in his efforts to get arms and ammunition and also training for rebel cadres. Muviah, in fact, led the first 100 Naga fighters to the Yunan province in China for training. Naga rebels likened this to China’s legendary “Long March”.
Muviah had been for long years an assertive spokesman of the Naga rebels and impressed the late Chinese Premier, Zhou En Lai, by his tenacity to the cause. Those were the days when India-China relations were at the lowest ebb and Zhou used the Naga insurgents for fanning trouble in the North- East.
When New Delhi signed in November, 1975, the Shillong Accord with moderate Naga leaders, both Isak and Muivah were in China. They summarily rejected the accord and declared that their aim was to establish a Peoples Republic on Mao’s ideology.
Muivah and another leader of equal seniority, S.S. Khaplang, formed in January 1980 their own outfit — National Socialist Council of Nagaland-with the objective of carrying on the armed struggle against India and establishment of the Republic of Nagaland. Swu became the NSCN’s Chairman and Muivah General Secretary. Soon the organisation plunged into bitter infighting and culminated in an abortive attempt to assassinated Muivah. He escaped rather miraculously but several of the NSCA’s cadres were killed. That was the month of April, 1988. Muivah suspected the hand of Khaplang in the “dastardly” attack and this led to a split of the organisation and two rival bodies — NSCA (Isak-Muivah) and NSCA (Khaplang) — came into being.
Being the dominant group the NSCA (I-M) took to violence and in 1994 massacred 16 persons in a church and its guerrillas in December, 1996, boarded a bus in Guwahati and killed 30 . A ceasefire was agreed between the NSCA (I-M) and New Delhi in 1997, but did not make much headway as the guerrillas killed eight soldiers.
The worst came in November, 1999 when an assassination attempt was made on the life of Nagaland Chief Minister S.C. Jamir, who it was believed, was sympathetic to the Khaplang faction. Difficult times were ahead for the NSCA (I-M) as Muivah was arrested in January 2000 in Thailand while travelling on a forged South Korean passport. That was the time when peace talks had again started between the Naga rebels and New Delhi.
Even after the peace talks had begun, Muivah kept travelling to the countries hostile to India. He had visited Karachi amidst suspicious circumstances on a forged South Korean passport and false identity.
When he landed in Bangkok, he was caught by Thai custom authorities and immediately sent to prison. Later, he was granted bail by a local court but told not to leave the country. He was lodged in a hotel near the Bangkok international airport and two security guards were detailed to watch his movements.
Muivah, in a clever move, pretended to be ill and went to a hospital from where he managed to flee. He travelled to Hatyai, an airport in South Thailand, and carried another forged passport but he was nabbed again and sentenced to one-year prison term.
A deeply religious man and a staunch Christian, Muivah presently lives in Amsterdam but his living style is spartan; cooks his own food and washes his own clothes. He is also known to be a frugal eater. A bowl of soup and some rice in the morning and he can go on for the whole day on endless cups of tea. It was, therefore, paradoxical when a team of chefs specialising in tribal cuisines were flown to Delhi from Nagaland for him and Isak’s.
Muivah has now realised the futility of armed struggle and his dream of an independent, sovereign republic of Nagaland and come to the negotiating table. The outcome of the talks is anxiously awaited.