How does this round of peace talks address substantively the issues that led Nagas to take to arms?
It must be understood clearly that the confrontation between the Government of India and the Nagas was not at all started by the Nagas. The Nagas undoubtedly believed in the doctrine of non-violence and respected Gandhi's non-violent movement against colonial rule. They believed in his commitment to them: "Nagas have every right to be independent.. I do not believe in force and forced upon.. I believe in the brotherhood of man... Nobody will force you. Congress government will not force you to do that."
When Gandhi was told that Sir Akbar Hydari was threatening to use force if the Nagas would refuse to join the Union of India, Gandhi's response was: "Sir Akbar Hydari is wrong, he can never do that. I will go to the Naga Hills and let them shoot me first before a single Naga is shot."
Knowing such attitude of Gandhi, Nagas were confident that the problems between India and the Nagas could be solved through peaceful means. This was the position of the Nagas. But after the demise of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian leadership no longer adhered to his non-violence doctrine and refused to have any political dialogue with the Nagas.
Do you know when Mr Nehru visited Kohima in 1953 the Indian authorities refused to let the Naga people submit a Memorandum? The government of India was hell-bent on suppressing the
Nagas. They sent thousands of troops into Nagalim (Greater Nagaland) Indiscriminate killings began, hundreds of villages were burnt down and thousands of women were raped, the whole population was driven into the jungles. Finding no options, Nagas, had to fight back with any weapons they had at their disposal.
When a people have no means of asserting their identity and dignity, when they are denied of all basic rights to exist with self-respect as a people and to determine their own future, it becomes a serious issue and these compelling circumstances force them to defend themselves.
You must remember that when the Naga National Movement gained momentum under the leadership of Mr A Z Phizo, the Nagas openly committed themselves to struggle in accordance with Gandhiji's principles and philosophy of non-violence, non-cooperation and civil disobedience.
The Nagas even invited Indian observers to witness the plebiscite of 1951 in which 99.9 per cent of the Naga people voted
in favour of independence. In our long history, whenever we have had an opportunity, we have willingly taken part in political negotiations but each time the Indian government has tried to use the peace process to divide our people and undermine our movement forcing us to take up arms again. I hope the Indian government does not compel us to do so again.
Don't other states in the region have reasons to worry about Greater Nagaland? If not, why?
Our aspiration is that all Naga areas be integrated. I would like to remind you that this is not only the stand of the NSCN but also that of the Naga people. Despite the fact that all Naga areas are geographically contiguous to each other, they have been kept divided.
Therefore, there is no greater Nagalim; there is no smaller Nagalim either. Nagas live on their own land that belongs to them. Nothing less than that, nothing more than that. Nagas live in these territories from time immemorial.
These are not claims but facts. They will certainly continue to live in their lands forever but it is also a historical fact that Nagalim has been kept divided arbitrarily by the British and the Government of India.
The aspiration of the Nagas to live together is nothing unusual, but natural. This course of the Nagas does not adversely affect anyone, for Nagas are not going to take away anything that belongs to others. And more importantly, Nagas are not going to disturb the right of our neighbours who want to determine their own destiny. The Nagas will undoubtedly respect them. Will the neighbouring people respect the aspirations and rights of the Nagas? They have to find the answer. However, we are sure that better days will certainly come for the Nagas and our neighbours to understand together the best that is in store of them.
Being very much aware of our neighbours, during the consultative meeting in Bangkok held from 7th to 11th January 2002, we clearly and expressly recognized: "...the need for Nagas to be accommodative in our thinking to our neighbours, not ignoring their legitimate interest and apprehension."
What are the rights of Nagas that you want recognized and guaranteed by New Delhi?
The Nagas are only asserting for their dignity, self-respect and right to determine their own course of future. We are not demanding anything from India. It is only natural that we assert our rights to live united together and for the integration of our lands that is essential for the realization of our rights.
How do you propose these rights to be incorporated in the Constituion?
We are now having unconditional talks, so the question of these rights being inocorporated in the Constituion of India does not arise. Therefore, a honourable and respectful way of relating between the two entities can be provided if both the contending parties realise the natuiral necessity of interdependence. If India respects the reality of the Nagas, the Nagas will certainly respect the reality of India, even 10 times more. The settlement that comes out of the political negotiations will define the nature of the relationship between the two entities.
Don't you think other states and ethnic communities would be encouraged to raise similar demands.
Nagas have their own unique history and situation that has been recognized by the Government of India, which is different from others. The Naga people's aspiration for their rights is nothing unusual, but natural. One should know that revolution is not exported or imported. Basically, it is caused by the internal condition of the people concerned.
There are many who claim that your organization is not the sole representative of Naga aspirations? How do vou respond to such criticisms?
The Naga people want peace through a honourable solution that will respect the rights of the Nagas. No matter whatever might be the rhetoric, after the surrender in the Shillong Accord, the NSCN continued the Naga National Movement on the basis and spirit of our national rights and our unique history. We have stood firm on that principle and that is why the Government of India has come to the conclusion that they have to talk to us.
The peace process is for all Naga people and that is why we have begun consultations so that we do not fail. In our Bangkok Consultation in May 2002, 30 Naga organizations expressed their full support to the Indo-Naga peace process. When the situation allows we will go to the Naga people so that the aspirations of Naga people are respected and honoured in the settlement.
How is this current peace process that you are engaged in different from previous efforts?
The current peace talks are being approached by both entities in a more realistic manner, appreciating each other's position and difficulties. The Indo-Naga talks are based on mutually accepted agreements that the talks would be unconditional and held at the highest level of the prime minister and in a third country. This de facto recognition indicates the nature of political negotiations to be undertaken between the two entities. The term 'unconditional talks' means that the political negotiations would be carried on without going into the question of sovereignty of the Naga people as a pre-condition or the Indian State's insistence on a dailogue based on the provision of the Indian Constituion.
The Government of India's official recognition of the unique history and situation of the Nagas is of immense significance that will provide the basis for talks to proceed and we highly appreciate the Indian leadership for the depth they have gone into.
This process began after top military and political leaders of India understood that solution was not possible through military means, not by imposition, suppression or insult but by means of political dialogue and negotiations. The nature of the long-standing issue, therefore, requires a political solution.
Unlike the past, this time the Naga people are taking active role in supporting the peace process and contributing to build understanding and trust, which is essential for the resolution of such an issue, We have begun consultations with the Naga people and are committed to the fact that no settlement will be entered into without consulting and taking the opinions of Naga people.
(Full text of the edited and shorter published interview in the print magazine)