Politics

Nagas and India Will Remain Two Separate Entities: NSCN (I-M) Chief Muivah

Full transcript of Thuingaleng Muivah's interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire.

On October 16, in an interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, the general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) Thuingaleng Muivah revealed that there are still sharp differences that are separating the NSCN from the Indian government. He repeatedly and forcefully said that the Nagas will never be part of the Indian Union nor will they accept India’s constitution.

He said there could be no compromise on the NSCN’s insistence on a Naga flag and Naga constitution. “We have stood our ground on these two non-negotiable issues and we shall continue to stand till the last man standing”, he said. Muivah added that Naga organisations like the Naga National Political Groups or several civil society organisations, who are not insisting on a separate flag and constitution, are “traitors”.

In a 55-minute interview, the 86-year-old Muivah also sharply criticised R.N. Ravi, the interlocutor and Nagaland governor. He says Ravi has “betrayed” the NSCN. He said “he has thrown us away” and that he was acting at the behest of the home ministry.

The following is a transcript of the interview, edited lightly for clarity and style.

Hello and welcome to a special interview for The Wire. Five years ago when the government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – as it was then called – signed a framework agreement, it was widely believed that a solution to the 70-year-old Naga problem was just around the corner. But now, five years later, it seems the talks are at the brink of collapse. With me to share his side of the story, in an exclusive interview, is the general secretary of the NSCN, Muivah.

Muivah, let’s start with the statement your organisation put out on October 13, just three days ago. The statement says, “The road to a final deal has become ticklish as the sensitive issue of Naga flag and Yehzabo,” that’s the Naga constitution, “remains as the sticking point. We have stood our ground on these two non-negotiable issues and we shall continue to stand till the last man standing. NSCN shall be failing before God and before the Naga people if we stumble at this most decisive moment of our history.” I’ll come to the details in a moment’s time, but are these two issues potential breaking points for your talks with the government?

Yes now, the point is that most of the important points have been understood together. There is no confusion anymore between us because – allow me to tell you like this – when the Nagas went to meet Jawaharlal Nehru, unfortunately, he had no patience to listen to the Nagas. When the Nagas said, “We will not be under the Indian Union because our history is clear,” when the delegation members said that, he had no patience anymore and he replied, “Even if heaven falls, and the whole country goes to pieces, and rivers run red, yes, with blood, I will not allow the Nagas to be independent. It will be a matter of few days for the Indian armed forces to crush the Nagas.” That was what he uttered. All Nagas were totally surprised! You know, that was the beginning – and I memorised it.

So that was the attitude. So, when the Nagas refused to be a part of the Indian Union, yes, you know, countless troops were sent and operations started. How? And how they treated Nagas? Sorry. In the most cruel and inhuman way Nagas have been treated, but Nagas did not surrender. So, after fighting and after the – I mean, yes, condemnation of the Shillong accord and this and that – after fighting nicely and successively, more than twenty years, from your side, from the Indian side, an official declaration was made: military solution is no longer possible. It is not a law and order issue of India, it is a political issue of the Nagas and India.

Quite right, sir. In ’97 there was a ceasefire, in 2002 or 2003 the A.B. Vajpayee’s government accepted the uniqueness of Naga history and identity; since then, for 23 years you have been talking. In 2015, you had a framework agreement and everyone thought a solution is bound to follow. Today, you have issued this statement, which says that the sensitive issue of the Naga flag and the Naga constitution is the sticking point. So, tell me, is the flag and the constitution an issue over which the talks can break?

Hmm, you’re right, you’re right. You know-

Just be clear, sir. Can the talks break over the flag and constitution?

Of course. If those rights are ignored, you know, it is not acceptable to us, because – as we have told your delegation members very often – Nagas are not lost people. We have our history, we have our history, we have our right. Now, we have told them and, at last, they recognise, “Mr Muivah! Your history is unique, you were never under the Indians, either by consent of the Naga people or by,” I mean, “the force of the Indian armed forces.”

You’re saying the Modi government has accepted that the Nagas were never under the Indian people, you’re saying that?

Yes!

The Modi government has accepted it?

Huh?

Narendra Modi has accepted it? That Nagas were never under the Indian people?

No. Among the negotiators, we have come and they agreed. They agreed.

 So, Ravi has agreed?

Yes, it is not Ravi but the Indian side.

Has agreed?

Yes, agreed because-

That Nagas were never under the Indian people?

Yes, they have admitted it is not a law and order issue of India. That is how they declared to the whole world.

Then tell me this, Muivah, is the flag and the constitution a breaking point? If the Indians do not agree that you can have your own constitution and your own flag, will the talks break on that?

If our rights are ignored, then we are being treated as lost people. That, we cannot accept. How can we accept, you know, this kind of attitude towards us?

So, you’re saying without a flag and without a constitution being granted to the Nagas, there can be no solution.

There can be no solution! Why? Because we’re not lost people. We have our history and our history is officially admitted from the Indian side also, “Your history is unique, you were never under the Indians – either by conquest of the Indian armed forces or by consent of the Naga people.”

For the record, tell me, what does the Indian side say to you when you say, “We must have a flag, we must have a constitution”? What do they say?

Well, they said, “Your history is unique.” So, since our history is unique, I mean, our constitution must be ours. We cannot out constitution or flag or this or that from others. It is our right to have.

That’s your position, what do the Indians say? What does the Indian side say when you say, “We must have a flag, we must have a constitution”? What is their answer?

Their answer was this, “Your history is unique. You are never under the Indians according to your-“, I mean, “own efforts or accord.”

But they will not agree? They will not agree to a flag or constitution?

No. The history is unique, this is the main point. Since the history is unique, solution must also be unique. Yes. Since our history is unique, the right to have our constitution, the right to have our sovereignty, this is up to us. Why should you ask from others? How is it that the Indians will have to impose this constitution and right on us? Why? How?

Unofficial Naga flag. Photo: Ch1902, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain

Let me put this to you. In August 2019, India revoked Article 370 as a result of which Jammu and Kashmir – which had a constitution, which had a flag – lost both. After that, how can the Indian government agree to give Nagaland its own constitution and its own flag? They’ve just taken it away from Jammu and Kashmir, how can they agree to it for you?

The issue, the problem, is that Nagas were never under the Indians and by virtue of what Indians will have to impose their constitution and their flag on us. We were not under them either by conquest of their forces or by consent of ourselves so…

So, your position is, “Because our history is unique, the solution must be unique and if the solution is unique, we must have a constitution, we must have a flag. What has happened to Jammu and Kashmir cannot apply to us.”

You’re right, that is our stand. Why? Because in the course of our long talks, they have agreed, “Your history is unique. Your history is unique.” So, solution must also be unique.

Let me put a problem to you. The NSCN, your organisation, is insisting on a constitution and a flag. The problem is, there are many other Naga groups that are not insisting on a constitution and flag – the Naga national political groups, several civil society groups – don’t worry if there is no Naga constitution, if there is no Naga flag. On this issue, the Indian government has divided the Nagas.

Now, you know, these are traitors. These are traitors.

Traitors?

Traitors! They are traitors.

You’re saying the Naga national political groups are traitors?

In most cases they are traitors. Okay, okay, the unique history is clear; how can they deny that? How can they deny that? Who are they? Who are they? They are the people who accepted sixteen point agreement which was rejected by the Naga people – we fought against it. So, how many years after that?

So, you’re saying to me, Mr. Muivah that Naga groups who are not insisting on a flag or a constitution are traitors? You mean that? Traitors?

They are all traitors. Those people are traitors. We have been standing for our rights, for our history since we were never conquered by the Indians – since we were never with them, as part of the Indian Union. How could you? How could you, the Indians, say that the Nagas will have to be under the Indian Union, or Nagas will have to be under the Indian flag?

So, you’re saying – as you said in your statement, till the last Naga is alive, you will insist on your own constitution and your own flag?

Yeah, we have to stand our ground! That is our history.

There is no compromise possible on this?

Well, the compromise, you know, that they brought – we don’t deny that, or we don’t totally reject that. Because, you know, they started finding out the way to make a compromise from the Indian side. Well, I will let you know. “Well, since Nagas have rights, your history is unique, solution must be unique, you’re right.”

So, you’re saying, on the flag and on the constitution there is no compromise. You insist you have to have both?

Yes. Now, allow me to say this. Since Indians have also agreed our sovereign right, our history being unique, yes. Then they said, “Yes you’re right, Nagas have rights. But Indians have difficulties, their own difficulties, and how to solve this?” That is what they started talking. So, we started talking, among the Nagas ourselves, “Since Indians have recognised our rights, our history, and our sovereign right also, we must also try to appreciate their difficulties.”

This must be done. Why? To come closer to each other. That must be done. That was the step we took and after some months, approvals came from your side, openly declaring: On the basis of shared sovereignty, we have to seek a solution. We have to seek a solution on the basis of shared sovereignty.

I want to talk to you about shared sovereignty. I first spoke to you about the flag and constitution and you made it clear that because Nagas have a unique history, they should have a unique solution. That unique solution is a flag and constitution; what has happened to Jammu and Kashmir cannot apply to Nagas. Let’s now come to the second issue which is this question of shared sovereignty.

The framework agreement of August 2015, between the NSCN and the Indian government, speaks of sharing the sovereign power and refers to the government of India and the NSCN as two entities. Explain to me how do you, how does the NSCN, understand the term ‘sharing the sovereign power’?

Yes, because our history is clear, we are sovereign people. Our history is clear, we were not under anyone. So, our sovereignty is ours. Because history should lay clear.

But what does the term ‘sharing sovereign power’ mean to the NSCN? How do you interpret it?

Since that is the proposal coming from your side, we also took the step they have taken seriously. Since they have recognised the unique history of the Nagas and our sovereignty also, we must also try and understand them. That is the step we took, okay? So, Indians will have to understand this. So, when the Indian authorities, some of them openly said that, “Well, Indians will have to share their sovereignty with Nagas, and the Nagas will have also share their sovereignty with India.” That must be the way to seek solution. That is the idea they started talking. Sharing with us. Okay, if it is so, since they have also become more rational, starting to respect the Nagas. We also took a positive step to understand and appreciate that.

I understand. Both sides, you’re saying, need to share sovereignty with each other. “The Nagas will share sovereignty with the Indians and the Indians will share sovereignty with the Nagas”. That I understand. But let me quote to you what you said on the fourteenth of August last year and, for the sake of the audience, I’ll point out your organisation considers August 14 as the Naga independence day. Now, this is what you said, I’m quoting, “The Nagas will coexist with India, sharing sovereign powers as agreed.” But then you added, “They will not merge with India.” What do you mean, “Nagas will not merge with India”? What do you mean by that “merge”?

No, we will not merge. Why? Because Indians are insisting on their own right? On their own right but to what extent can that be appreciated or acceptable to us?

But can you explain to me, when you say you will not “merge”, what do you mean by the word “merge”?

Of course, merge means we will not become a part of the Indian Union. We will not become.

You will not become part of the Indian Union?

No, we will not become part of the Indian Union.

You won’t be part of the country called India?

No, we will not become a part of the Indian Union and a part of the Indian constitution, a part of this or that. Because-

You said you will not be part of the Indian constitution?

How can we be under them? Even if, I say, if we are going to be a party or sharing sovereign right with each other, that has to be worked out.

But this is very important, so I’m clarifying it. You are saying to me you will not accept the Indian Constitution?

*Nods in agreement*

Is that right?

How can we accept the Indian Constitution?

If you don’t accept the Indian Constitution that means you won’t be part of India, you’ll be a separate country.

We cannot accept the Indian Constitution as our constitution. We cannot do that. Why? Our history is clear, our rights are clear, we were never under the Indians.

But if you cannot accept the Indian Constitution, you won’t be part of the Indian Union. Is that right?

We will never be a part of the Indian Union.

Never?

Never.

In which case, India and Nagaland, or Nagalim, as you call it, will be two separate countries.

You know, Nagas, their lands are not to be treated under the Indian Union. That must be clear, that must be made clear. Why? Because our history is unique.

That I understand, but you’re then talking of a concept of shared sovereignty where Nagaland, or Nagalim, and India are two separate entities and remain two separate entities. This is what you mean when you say you won’t merge, you won’t become one country, you will be a separate country.

We are bound, so long as we are compelled. We are bound, you know, because we cannot place ourselves under anyone. The right of the Nagas, our history, must be respected. If they are going to respect ours, we’re glad to respect theirs also, but to what extent?

So, I’m just clarifying, you will never be part of the Indian Union, you will never accept the Indian constitution?

*nodding*

Yes or no?

Now, if you’re not respecting our, why should we respect yours? It’s not possible.

Once again, Muivah, this is the position of your organisation, the NSCN. But other Naga groups, the Naga national political groups, have taken a very different view of what is meant by share sovereignty. In a statement that the Naga national political groups issued on August 31, they say there is already shared sovereignty in the Indian federal system. They say sovereignty is shared between the states and the Centre along the lines of the Centre list, the state list, the concurrent list. In fact, that statement says, and I’m quoting, “In a nutshell, this is shared sovereignty.” So, for the Naga national political groups, sovereignty can be shared within the Indian constitution between the Centre and the states. They differ from you. Once again, they differ from you.

You know, that was not the decision of the Naga people. Right from the people, the Nagas have made their decision very clear; nothing of that kind has been, I mean, committed to the Indians, or to anyone.

So who do the Naga national political groups speak for, when they say that they believe there is already shared sovereignty within the Indian system? You want shared sovereignty from the outside, they say it already exists within the system. Who do they speak for?

You know, since the starting point needs to be cleared. Yes, were Nagas under the Indian Union or how? When? This must be the question because you are claiming that Nagas are under Indian Union.

But, once again, what I’m pointing out is just as Nagas are divided over the importance of a flag and constitution, your group insists on a flag and constitution; the Naga national political groups are not concerned, they don’t care whether there is one. Similarly, over this issue of sovereignty there is, again a divide. Your group insists that you will not be part of the Indian Union, that you will not accept the Indian constitution; the Naga national political groups are prepared to be part of the Indian Union, part of the Indian constitution. The Nagas are split.

You know, when you started respecting the Nagas, yes, we also started respecting your difficulties and your rights also, your history also. And that must be the way to respect each other and come closer to each other. But dictating your flag on us, and your constitution, and this, and that on us, that is not acceptable.

So, so just so there is- Just so there is clarity, I’m asking you to repeat. You will never be part of the Indian Union?

Well, so long as that is imposed on the Nagas.

What do you mean imposed? In what way can you accept being part of the Indian Union?

Okay, remember, remember, the question is why should we become part of the Indian Union if our history is clear?

So, you’re saying you will never be part of the Union?

We will never be part of India. If it is not, Indians are not respecting our rights.

Okay. I think I’ve understood, I was simply getting you to repeat it, I think I’ve understood you will never be part of the Indian Union, you will never accept the Indian Constitution.

*nods*

Yes?

Mhmm

That’s a yes?

Yes. That is, that is what Nehru dictated on us.

No, but I’m now talking about your position, forget Nehru. I just want clarity, cause it’s so important. You are saying you will never be part of the Indian Union?

Hmmm

Yes?

Yes, we are bound to talk that way, because how can we surrender our right to the Indians?

Okay, I’ve understood that. Let’s then come-

We cannot. Whether it is here on Earth or there in heaven, we will not surrender. Ours is ours, yours is yours, but the issue is – if you are going to respect the right of the Nagas, Nagas will respect the right of the Indians and how to come closer to each other-

You’re talking about respecting each other’s rights and coming closer to each other, but that is different from joining the Indian Union?

No, no according to the agreement, respecting each other, respecting each other’s rights, peaceful coexistence of the two must be there.

Peaceful co-existence of two entities. So, you’ll remain two entities? You won’t become one entity?

No, no, no, no. Two entities, peaceful co-existence.

Of two entities?

Yes

Okay. I’ve understood that. Let’s come to the third issue. Your demand that all areas that are Naga inhabited, but are presently outside the borders of Nagaland, must be merged and brought together, what you call Nagalim. But I put it to you, if the Indian government were to agree, it would create turmoil in Assam, in Manipur, in Arunachal Pradesh. It would create turmoil, you know that.

But, you know, from that perspective you cannot argue with us. Why? Because our history, our lands are clear. The history is clear. We were never under the Assamese, we were never under anyone.

So you are insisting that Nagalim must be created by bringing together all Naga areas outside Nagaland?

You’re right, who divided us? By the Nagas ourselves? No. No, by the British.

But, but you insist that all Naga areas must be brought together?

Yes. You respect our right, Nagas will have to have their land right, we will also respect yours.

Now, R.N. Ravi, the interlocutor and also now Governor of Nagaland, in an interview in February to Nagaland Post said that the government is willing to consider, and I’m quoting him, “A pan-Naga Hoho, which is a cultural body with no political role or executive authority.” Secondly, he said, “The government would consider Naga regional territorial councils for Naga inhabited areas of Manipur and Arunachal, and these territorial councils would be part of the sixth schedule of the Indian constitution.” Is that acceptable to you?

That is in the transitional period. Step by step to reach the final goal, final settlement. We have to try to take steps. So, these are the steps in the transitional period.

R.N. Ravi. Photo: Prime Minister’s Office

You’re saying a very important thing and, in saying it, you are echoing what you said to me in an interview for the BBC program ‘HardTalk India’ in 2005, i.e, fifteen years ago. In 2005 you said you insist on Nagalim, the government must agree in principle but you’re prepared to give them time for implementation. Today, you’re saying the proposals by Ravi, in that interview to Nagaland Post, as a transition – as a first step – are okay, but it is only a transitional measure. Eventually, there has to be Nagalim bringing all Naga areas together.

You are right, you are right because we cannot leave behind other Naga areas. We cannot. You know, Nagas happen to be now, in some part of Assam, by themselves, of their own accord? No.

Tell me this. When you say to Ravi that these proposals are acceptable only as a transitional step, only as a way of getting to the final goal, what is his reply? What does he say to you?

Yes, he also agreed.

He agreed?

Yes.

He’s agreed that this is only a transitional measure?

The integration [of all Naga areas]. All Nagas, this is the history. So, this must be cleared.

But, you’re saying an important thing. You’re saying Ravi, the interlocutor, has accepted that these proposals – the pan-Naga Hoho, the Naga regional territorial councils – are only a transitional step, he’s accepted that?

Well, you know, why? Because the actual condition, the actual conditions, still we are facing, cannot be totally ignored. We have to meet the actual condition. Okay, now, let us sit together then.

So, your position is the same as it was in 2005, when I interviewed you for the BBC program ‘HardTalk India’. You’re saying the government must accept, in principle, the creation of Nagalim, but we are prepared to give them time to implement it; but now you’re saying they can even implement it in transitional stages. That is your position?

You know, that is how we have understood each other. You know, it has been officially accepted.

By the government?

By Ravi.

So, Ravi has accepted that this is only a transitional step?

No, no, no, no. Let me tell you this. Integration. All Naga areas must be integrated and this is their right.

And Ravi has accepted this?

Yes.

You’re sure?

TM: Sure!

Okay. I’ll take your word for it, it comes as a great surprise to me, but I’ll take your word for it.

You know, it is like this, you know, we have agreed in many ways. I mean, the committees, how many committees we have to create. All these things have been betrayed.

By whom? Who’s doing the betraying?

Ravi! Ravi is the one betraying. That is why we say, well, these are the understandings we have made, we have agreed!

Let’s talk about Ravi. We’ve already talked about three big issues where you have differences with the Indian government: flag and constitution was the first; sovereignty is the second; the third is this issue of Nagalim. Let’s, now, come to Ravi. He’s lost your trust and you have asked for him to be removed. Can you explain why? What has gone wrong with Ravi?

Okay. Are you inheriting Nagaland from the British, or from who? See.

But come to Ravi. Why has Ravi lost your trust?

You know, you have to ask him. Why? Because, we have had enough talks now. So, yes, yes, yes we have come up to this. How is it that he has to declare that within such and such time, within three months time, that agreement must be completed. After that, I mean, immediately after that, all the Naga areas must be included in the Indian Union. Under the Indian Union, they have to be. That is the ultimatum given last year in the – I mean the – last year.

So, you’re saying Ravi has gone back on what he has talked about and agreed with you. Is that what you’re saying? He’s gone back?

Ravi has openly declared, and the whole world knows it now, and so it was a total surprise to us: agreement is already signed!

This is why you say he has betrayed you?

Hmm?

This is why you used the word ‘betrayal’?

Yeah.

Ravi has betrayed you?

Yes! How many times he has betrayed us, you know?

There are two stories in the papers which explain why you are upset with Ravi, I want to put them to you one by one. First, it said, you are angry with Ravi because in a letter he wrote on the June 16 to the chief minister of Nagaland, he referred to Naga groups – presumably including yours – as armed gangs. Did that upset you?

Yes. He called us armed gangs, he called us terrorists. He called terrorists, we will not respect your statement also. So, he has thrown us.

He has thrown you?

Thrown us away, you know, all the agreement we have understood each other. Now, no more, where is he now? Why should we trust him? He’s not for a solution, he’s there to suppress the Nagas. He’s the co-leader of Nagaland now. Governor of Nagaland deals with law and order issues, not with politics. In our case, this is a political issue between the Nagas and India. So, at the highest level, P.V. Narasimha Rao, we have agreed with each other, since, “Mr. Prime Minister, you know, since you have also – from your side also – analysed the fact, the truth, of our history. So, you know, you said from your side this is not – I mean – military solution is not possible.”

Absolutely. Let me come to, what the newspapers say, is a second reason why you are upset with Ravi. It’s said that he has circulated copies of the framework agreement to other Naga groups like the NNPG, deleting the word ‘new’ from the sentence that says, “GOI and NSCN will provide for an enduring, inclusive, new relationship of peaceful co-existence of the two entities.” Explain to me why is that word ‘new’ so important to you?

‘New’ – the term ‘new’ – that is added, changed by him. Changed by him. That is why, afterward, we came to know it, so we were not happy with him. How is it that he has to go on betraying like this? New relationship. Now he’s changing like this and circulating to all the NNPGs and the Nagaland fourteen traps. That is how he has been playing, and has been used. By whom?

You tell me. Who is using him? Who is using him?

The government of India, the authorities of the Indian government, particularly the home authorities.

Home minister?

Because they say, Ministry of Home Affairs. The Ministry of Home Affairs, they used to issue the orders. So-

So, you’re saying – or you’re suggesting – that the home minister Amit Shah is putting Ravi up to this and, at his directions, Ravi is betraying the understanding reached with you?

Of course, you know, Ravi cannot act on his own. Indians, they have a government, their government is using them – using Ravi – but in what way? To solve the Naga political problems, or the problems of India?

Muivah, you have explained to me why Ravi has lost your trust; you have explained to me why you don’t believe in him; why you think he has betrayed you. But there’s another problem. Your organisation wants Ravi removed but, once again, the Naga national political groups, the Naga village heads, have gone on record to say they don’t want Ravi removed.

Na, na, na, na, na let us not try to fight this way. No, no. Political issue of two people, two nations. Come on, on that line, there’s a stop. Why? Why? Because that is the stand, you have that from your side also, that is the stand from our side also. So, the Government of India’s side, they changed now everything!

But you said a very interesting thing. You said this is a political issue of two nations. You see the Nagas as a separate nation different to India, is that right?

You’re right, you’re right because that is the history.

About ten days ago, it emerged that you wrote to the prime minister – I think on February 25 – saying that there was a serious deadlock and, you said, that the talks must now happen at the highest level, which I presume means the prime minister-

Yes, yes.

That they should happen without precondition, and that they should happen outside India in – what you called – a third country.

Sure, sure, sure. I said that.

 What reply did you get from the Prime Minister?

You know, we have not received officially [a reply from] the prime minister himself. We have not yet received.

Eight months, nearly, have gone by. You’ve got no official reply. Have you got an unofficial reply?

You know, after having agreed on many issues, approaching from political angles; of history of the two nations, two peoples. So since it is a political issue between the Nagas and the Indians, it must be settled at the highest level – prime minister level – without any precondition. That was the first point we agreed upon. Yes, Narasimha Rao also said, “Yes, yes.” So, the venue of the talk will have to be outside India, somewhere in third countries. Yes, yes you’re right.

No, no, no. Political issue is a political issue. This political issue, which has been agreed upon by the highest [level] – prime minister – has all been betrayed. And, now, the Ministry of Home Affairs is dictating to us now. Ravi is dictating to us. Now, he’s the Governor of Nagaland, now he’s dictating to us. Is that the way, huh? Is that the way? This is the problem! The problem is not with us, but with the Indian government, you know? That is why we said, “You are not for a solution.”

Modi with NSCN (IM) leader in 2015. Credit: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with NSCN (IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah in 2015. Photo: PTI

Let me put this to you, it is almost impossible to believe that the prime minister himself will conduct the discussions, and it’s almost impossible to believe that he will agree to the discussions happening outside India. In which case, what will the NSCN do? If he refuses to talk to you directly, if he refuses that the discussions should happen outside India, what will your organisation do?

Sensible people should not expect that the Nagas will say, “Yes, yes,” to the diktats of the Indian government. No, the Government of India must respect, according to what we have agreed … but like Nehru, like Morarji Desai, “Without any compulsion we will exterminate the Nagas.” That is how they used to utter. See? The same thing is being repeated. Of course, to that kind of attitude, Nagas will bow down? No. No. We’ll stand to the end. Yes, our history is our history. India needs to read [this] history. If they will respect us, we will also respect them. That is now the position.

Muivah, I have to ask you this, I’m asking you bluntly. Are the talks about to breakdown and collapse? Have you reached that point?

No, you know, if the Indians would continue to impose their will on us, yes, Nagas will not bow down to the Indians, no. So, that must be the end, that must be the end. And are you to blame us if this thing happened?

So you are seeing the end of the road? You are seeing the end of the road?

Haan, you are right, you are right. That is why we have given our words. Yes, since we have understood each other and our history is also unique and our right is also as you have admitted.

I’m asking you one more time for clarity, this is so important. Is the NSCN close to walking out of the talks? Are you close to saying, “This has gone on for twenty-three years, we’re not making progress, bye-bye”?

Okay, if Nagas are to go on saying “yes, yes, yes” to whatever Ravi says, is that the way? To our solution? Yes, come on.

So, if Ravi does not change his position, you will walk out of the talks?

No, we are compelled. We are compelled. You are imposing on us.

So, you will be compelled to walk away? You will be compelled to walk away?

Yes. What we cannot eat, what we cannot swallow, if you compel us to do that well, we’ll have to vomit it out. So, do you want to blame-

The blame, you say, will be on the Indian side?

See, see you’re imposition is wrong.

Let me put this to you, is there a danger, if the NSCN walks away, that the government will do a deal with the other Naga groups – the NNPG, the civil society organisations, the Naga Hoho, the apex body of Naga tribes? Are you worried that if you walk away, the government will do a deal with the others and your group will be the odd one left out?

Remember, remember what we have told the prime minister, and Ravi, and the Indian polities also. You know, we have clearly stated, to them, again and again, “Since history is this, since our right are this, and since your position is also this.” Yes, yes, yes, they have come.

Let me ask you this-

No. You know, yes, yes they have come. But now where are they? When did three months time [to complete the agreement come]? You have to-

Let me ask you this. You have said that if the Indian side does not start accepting your requirements and your demands, you will be compelled to walk away. How much time do you give the talks? Are you prepared to carry on for another four months, five months, a year? Is there a time limit?

How long, how long you are prepared to agree [with] or to respect the right of the Nagas?

But, but you’re losing patience. How long more are you prepared to continue the talks before you feel, “We have to go”? How much more time do you give the talks?

You know, within this time, you know, we have to finish this-

How much time-

All the Nagas-

When you say, “withi-

No, no, no, no all the Nagas will have to be in the Indian Union. That ultimatum is not from us, that is from the Indian side. How long will they go on imposing on us like that?

But how long are you prepared to keep waiting for the Indians to change, how much more time are you prepared to give the talks?

You are right, we have taken almost all the possible steps. So, yes, yes, yes, signed, admitted, okay. So, where are they now? Are we betraying them or they are betraying us?

But the one thing you’re not telling me is how much longer you’re prepared to continue talking? Is there a deadline by when you’ll say, “This is enough, I’m going.”

Okay, 23 years now talking, talking, talking. Have we not had the patience to solve the problem? Have we not had the patience?

So, when will patience run out? Are you prepared to-

Patience towards the Indians? You want that then [that the talks] should continue even 100 years from now. How?

But the danger is, if you walk out then the government will do a deal with the other groups. I’ve named the other groups. Then you will be the only party left out.

If you bring those people who were – who had accepted already to be under the Indians. If you are using them to undermine us, sorry, sorry, we will never listen to them.

My last question. You won’t tell me when you will stop talking. But you are indicating that you’re getting to the end, you are indicating that you could be compelled to leave, but you won’t tell me how much more time you’re giving the talks.

Yes.

Let me ask you this. Whenever the talks end, whenever the NSCN walks away, will you resume the violence and the fighting? Will we then go back to the situation before 1997?

Okay, you know, you need to ask that question to the Indian government. On our part, we have had enough patience. So up to this also, we have tolerated. But the ultimatum – last year’s ultimatum – given to us, “You must accept this agreement.” This order, and all the Nagas must be under the Indian Union. They have declared. Did you not hear that? That ultimatum?

But I’m asking a different question. I’m going to repeat it because it’s important. How much more time are you prepared to give these talks before you get fed-up and leave? How much more time are you prepared to keep talking?

We are still having patience, waiting, waiting, waiting. How long they want us, to keep us waiting?

So, you have not, as yet, run out of patience?

Hmm?

You have not run out of patience?

That is not up to me but that is, you know, according to how they behave.

And what happens when you do run out of patience? Will the NSCN go back to fighting? Will the insurgency – as the Indians call it – begin again? Will we go back to the situation before the 1997 ceasefire?

Okay, you know, have we not had the patience? Now, it has come to 23 years, have we not had the patience?

Okay.

You want still, how many years?

I’ve asked you these two questions repeatedly, in many many different forms, I’m just pointing out that, for good understandable strategic reasons, you are not prepared to tell me how much more time you are willing to give the talks and you are not willing to tell me what will happen if you walk out, whether the fighting will resume or restart. These are two answers you do not want to tell me.

You’re right, you’re right. But don’t expect that Nagas should wait for the Indians even 100 years more, still. Please, don’t do that. Nagas will not accept that. We have had enough patience. We have had, taking positive steps – even to live together, to have this co-existence of the two, we have come. Is this not a sensible step?

Okay. Muivah, I thank you for this interview. I thank you for making three or four things crystal clear. I’m repeating them for the audience, because I think they’re very important. You said that a separate Naga constitution and a separate Naga flag cannot be compromised on – these are essential. You said that shared sovereignty does not mean you will accept the Indian constitution, you will not be part of the Indian Union. You are also saying that you are prepared to give the Indian government time to create Nagalim, as a transitional measure, the proposals made by Ravi are acceptable but only as a transitional measure. And finally, you’re saying it is important that the talks happen directly at the highest level-

Hmm, yeah

But although you are running out of patience, you haven’t completely run out of it as yet, that you’re not at the stage where you’re walking away.

Okay, but have we not had the patience in the past 23 years now? Do you think Indians have the patience? No. We have the patience, we have the patience. Unique history and this, this, this, agreed. But now, we have to live under the Indian Union, that is the ultimatum given-

And that you’re not prepared to do.

Well, if the Indian would come and impose like this, are we to worship them? No. We will not worship them. Nagas have Naga rights. Now, we will respect yours, you – from the Indian side – you also respect ours, then that is the meeting point. So, respecting each other to come closer. So, peaceful co-existence of the two entities. But now, who is betraying? Who is giving the ultimatum? Betraying? It is from your side, not from our side.

Muivah, we’ve come to the end of this interview. Thank you very much for talking so openly to me, thank you.