In the wee hours of January 13, 2011 the octogenarian Chairman of the powerful Naga insurgent group, NSCN (IM)*, Issac Chisi Swu, landed in New Delhi, India’s national capital. He had flown in from Bangkok with his entourage and is believed to be here to take part in further talks with the representatives of the Central Government regarding the Naga Peace Process, a development which has not been formally announced by any official sources as yet and could have been the reason for most of the media failing to report it. It has been more than thirteen years since the NSCN (IM) has called a ceasefire and fifty six rounds of talks have taken place to find a solution to the knotty problem of Naga sovereignty and integration. Naturally, this isn’t the first time Swu has come to India. But this visit is markedly different.
For the first time, the NSCN (IM) Chairman is travelling on an Indian passport reported to have been issued to him recently. For the head of a political entity which has staunchly opposed Indian Union and held on to the gun for decades fighting to secede, this is a momentous decision.
Ever since Issac Swu, Th. Muivah and S.S. Khaplang opposed the 1975 Shillong Peace Accord and broke away from the NNC to form the NSCN, the most powerful insurgent group of India’s North East had kept the region on the boil and nurtured many powerful ethnic insurgencies till it agreed to a ceasefire which came into force on August 1, 1997. Like most other top NSCN leaders, Swu had lived in Bangkok, Manila and Amsterdam and had always travelled on a Bangladeshi passport. Not anymore. Swu arrived here with his daughter and family of another top NSCN leader Antony Shimray, all of who had been issued Indian Passports. The political significance of the development must not be overlooked.
In my essay Quietening on the Eastern front for the July 2010 issue of Pragati, I had made the following observations:
The fact that the ceasefire agreement has endured for thirteen long years, in spite of intermittent violations and grave provocations by both the sides, does not mean that the NSCN (IM) believes that ‘sovereignty’ through secession is a possibility through peaceful negotiations. Rather, it is an indication that the NSCN (IM) no longer considers secession an option. Neither the NSCN (IM) nor Mr Muivah himself can admit it in so many words, but the remark by R S Pandey, the Union government’s negotiator, after the latest round of talks that there is already a concept of ‘shared sovereignty’ attests to this. Even though it has not been articulated what this ‘shared sovereignty’ means, to those who can perceptively read what is left unarticulated in the politics of peace processes, it is quite clear that ‘shared sovereignty’ will certainly not include secession.
Acquiring of Indian Passports by the top NSCN (IM) leaders and their family vindicates what I had predicted. Even though it would be long before either the NSCN (IM) or the Central Government reveals anything, it is almost certain that a tentative roadmap for the peace process has emerged and both the parties are reasonably confident of being able to get it rolling. That is what gives Union Home Secretary GK Pillai the confidence to assert that there is virtually no Army deployment in Nagaland. It wouldn’t have happened without a certain level of trust between them, considering the fact that NSCN (IM) has a good number of battle-worthy troops stationed in Nagaland and runs a parallel administration through a well defined organizational structure down to almost the village level. There are still creases to be ironed out though, as indicative from issues such as Antony Simray’s arrest by the NIA sometime last year but this is still insignificant compared to that of the Naga integration.
In spite of the difficulties that apparently lie ahead, as I had also observed in the same essay earlier,
Compulsions for both the NSCN (IM) and the Indian government have ensured that the ceasefire endured for thirteen long years. These same compulsions will ensure that the peace process succeeds. It may take its own time though.
Disabusing two commonly held ‘misinformed’ notions:
First, there is a shade of misinformed opinion, that one should accept at one’s own peril, that a crackdown by the Myanmar Army and complete denial of sanctuary in Myanmar is what has kept NSCN (IM) committed to the ceasefire and the peace process. The reality is vastly different. Large swathes of territory in Myanmar are still rebel held, controlled by several powerful ethnic insurgent armies, and all the North East insurgent groups which maintain camps in Myanmar do so in these territories. The Myanmar Army has limited scope of launching offensives against North East insurgents as this could unnecessarily jeopardize the tenuous ceasefire that exists between the junta and these Myanmar rebel armies. That is why Myanmar has been able to do little to arrest North East rebels in Myanmar and not only NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) but a host of others from Manipur and Assam continues to operate out of it. If at all, credits must be given to our own security forces which have kept insurgency at a manageable level for more than six long decades, although the methods they adopted at times are certainly questionable. The compulsions for NSCN (IM) are more complex and insidious and had been dealt with at length in the essay mentioned earlier.
Second, even though no insurgency, be it the separatist variety or the Maoist one, is ever likely to succeed, rooting them out completely by military means alone is an illusion one would be safer not to indulge in. We simply do not have enough troops to deploy everywhere all at once and for an unforeseeable period. Prolonged deployment in multiple conflict zones have taken a toll on our paramilitary and Army formations engaged in counter insurgency or internal security duties. The ceasefire with NSCN (IM) has relieved a considerable burden on deployment and this shouldn’t be overlooked as insignificant. That we do not have an infinite reserve of troops is most acutely apparent to those who have to take the decisions on deployment at the highest levels and a cutback in deployment is looked upon as a welcome relief. Some of course have the luxury of dreaming troops out of thin air, but then, most such troops fights battles only in twitter.
*NSCN (IM) refers to the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Issac-Muivah) faction, the most well armed and powerful ethnic insurgent group in India’s North East. NSCN was founded after Issac Chissi Swu, Th. Muivah and S.S. Khaplang broke away from Phizo’s Naga National Council (NNC) opposing the 1975 Shillong Peace Accord. Later, Khaplang parted ways, and NSCN split into two the NSCN (IM) jointly led by Swu and Muivah and the NSCN (K) led by Khaplang, fighting the Indian Union and each other in equal fervor. Both the NSCN factions are in ceasefire now.