By ALONG LONGKUMER
Many months back I had interviewed General (Retd) Thenoselie, a former comrade-in -arms of senior leaders like Isak Chishi Swu, SS Khaplang, Th Muivah and General Khole. At that time, the work being done by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) was only beginning to unfold. I remember there was an air of expectancy as well as skepticism in the minds of many ordinary Nagas. The public mood at that time was a mixed one—optimistic with a yearning for a new day and yet cautious, knowing the familiar stories of failure. It was indeed therefore uplifting to listen to the old General and his story of hope, a belief in a better future for the Naga people. But he also knew that time was running out for the likes of Khaplang, Swu, Muivah, Khole and himself. During our conversation I recall uncle Thenoselie appealing perhaps for the last time to his fellow comrades “to reason together” and unite. “We can go to Delhi in one voice. We can achieve our goal once we are united in our purpose”, an upbeat Thenoselie remarked evoking the same spirit of ‘Yes we can’, which helped propel Barack Obama as the first ever African-American to the White House.
At that time, who would have thought that the voice of reason could ever triumph or sanity return and that peace would become a reality. Today, that story of hope is being written in gold letters and every day has become a renewal of the spirit—to heal the wounds of the past and to look to the future with greater confidence. And what is encouraging at this point of time is that the signatories to the covenant of reconciliation (the two NSCNs and FGN) have demonstrated up till now the much needed courage of conviction to work towards this objective—to reason together—keeping in mind the need for unity of purpose to achieve the common goal and a shared future. It should be noted that the current reconciliation process has produced several remarkable outcomes. Some of the positive political outcomes coming out of the reconciliation process are as follows:
• June 14-15, 2009—Isak Chishi Swu, SS Khaplang, Brig S Singnya sign historic covenant of reconciliation
• August 25, 2009—Joint Working Group (JWG) comprising of members from the three groups NSCN (IM), NSCN (K) and FGN constituted with main task of facilitating a meeting at the highest level
• September 10, 2009—Ato Kilonser (Prime Minister) of the Khaplang led NSCN Kitovi Zhimomi speaking at a public function in Suruhoto (Zunheboto Dist) clearly mentioning that they have no immediate intentions to start dialogue with the Indian Government till the Nagas unite and speak with one voice
• September 22-25, 2009—Declaration of Commitment by the NSCNs & FGN groups pledging to cease all forms of offensive activities in Toto.
• September 27, 2009—Commander-in-Chief of the Naga Army (NSCN-IM) publicly states that Nagas cannot afford another internecine war.
• September 28, 2009—JWG comprising NSCNs & FGN rejects any form of ‘conditional package offered by the Government of India to the Nagas.
The point wise outcome mentioned above is self explanatory. However the significance of each outcome should not be missed out in understanding the progression of the reconciliation process. First, the historic “Covenant of Reconciliation” jointly signed by Swu, Khaplang and Brig Singnya has really been the pace setter—the buckle or the center piece that holds the reconciliation process together. And the inclusive nature of this covenant is stated in the appeal made to other Naga groups to “join them in reconciling with each other”. Secondly, the formation of the Joint Working Group is I believe the precursor to a future ‘national government’ and a vital piece of ornament in the reconciliation process. The groups must be encouraged to work together on common agendas. Thirdly, the September 10 statement of Kitovi Zhimomi is an important outcome because he was making a significant policy decision that the Khaplang group will not start a dialogue with Delhi till Nagas unite and speak with one voice. This set to rest some amount of confusion and speculation. Next, the image of leaders from various groups—Gen. V S Atem, Azheto Chophy, Zhopra Vero, Somba Chang, Wangtin Naga etc.—holding the common flag would have warmed many a Naga heart. And that this was not mere symbolism alone was demonstrated through the ‘Declaration of Commitment’ by the three groups pledging to cease all forms of offensive activities in Toto. This is definitely a breakthrough.
But what really set things apart though was the September 27 speech of the Commander-n-Chief (Longvibu) of the Naga Army (NSCN-IM) Lt Gen NG Markson VC (on the occasion of National Agony Day). Firstly unlike the recent declarations coming out of the reconciliation process, this one was hardly visible and almost subtle to the point that not many people would have read or understood its significance. The Army General stated point blank that “Nagas cannot afford another internecine war” and send out to fellow comrades the message ‘to reason together’. Should we be reading too much into this? Well for one, it is rare for the military establishment to make such kind of statements. We should in fact look at it as another welcome outcome of the reconciliation process where an Army Chief offers a conciliatory gesture. This is a paradigm shift. It should be welcomed and reciprocated by other groups. And finally the latest most visible political outcome coming out of the reconciliation process is the Naga groups taking a united stand by rejecting any form of ‘conditional package’ offered by the Government of India. This is indeed a clear indication of the forward movement taking place in the peace and reconciliation process among the Naga national political groups.
In all the political outcomes what is most encouraging is that the JWG comprising of the three erstwhile warring groups have actually started to take their own decision on some very important and substantive issues. This shows the improved trust levels and the fact that the groups are slowly taking ownership of the reconciliation process. All these are healthy signs which need to be further strengthened on the ground, at various levels and across the board by way of taking confidence building measures. As much of goodwill as possible has to be generated to keep the engine of reconciliation running.
And it is for this reason that for the Nagas groups, the next step in the reconciliation process—the proposed meeting at the highest level becomes all the more important because unless the Naga national workers regroup themselves, there is less likelihood of Nagas getting an honorable deal from the Indian State. Not only this, any delay in coming together will allow vested interest elements to try and fill in the power vacuum which will lead to further division and mutual suspicion among the Nagas. Further if Nagas want to avoid falling into the familiar bait of the so called ‘packages’ and financial largesse, which can easily distract and blind us, then wisdom demands that the Naga national groups come together quickly and take control of the political process. This will ensure that the peace process is not hijacked by circumstances like it happened in the case of the 16-Point Agreement. It will be worthwhile to mention here of my earlier conversation with General Thenoselie who was struck by the fact that it was the State politicians and leaders who manipulated their way into bargaining peace deals with Delhi although it was the national workers who had all along kept afloat the “national struggle” or “freedom movement”.
As for the Common Naga Platform (CNP), it is unfortunate that the good intention of initiating such a platform has run into opposition especially from the Naga groups. This is not surprising because in the first place the basic objective of the CNP was itself a flawed one. There is nothing wrong in bringing together ‘Naga over-ground groups’ as envisioned by the CNP. But there is something unacceptable about the objective, “negotiating with one Naga voice with India”. It is obvious that negotiation is best left to the Naga political groups. There is no need for the CNP to be so ambitious to claim a role for itself which as a matter of fact it should not get into. For several decades now successive State governments and the Naga civil society groups have acted as facilitators to the peace process. And this has continued to be acknowledged as a matter of policy even by the present Chief Minister who has in fact assured time and again (as did the former Chief Ministers) that the State government will pave way for a new political dispensation. This being the stated position of the past and current state leadership, cutting across party lines, it was therefore misplaced on the part of the CNP to actually assign to itself the role of negotiation which is best left to the national workers. But it also means that the Naga factions must regroup themselves without further delay in order to take up its assigned role in the Indo-Naga peace process.
There is a need for synergy among all the different players that make up Naga civil society and polity. It also lends to reason that we have to take a step by step approach. Goals have to be prioritized accordingly. In that sense one should not discount the CNP. Its time and role will come at a later stage. But for now our priority should be reconciliation of the Naga factions. And the crucial role of bringing together the warring groups is being undertaken by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR). Its job is not complete. Bringing in the CNP at this juncture is akin to putting the cart before the horse. Let the factions reconcile and come to some form of meeting point first. Once this is done, the FNR will have to naturally move into the background and allow the Naga national groups to come to the fore and negotiate with one voice before the Government of India. The important role of the CNP will come in at this juncture when all out support of the Naga public will be required to push the case for an honorable political settlement acceptable to all Nagas. The point is, let us follow a systematic approach. For the moment let us nurture the ongoing Naga reconciliation process and encourage more political outcomes to emerge out of this process. The rest will follow in its own time. We need to remain patient.
(The above article is purely a personal analysis of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinion of this newspaper) Morung express