"We started talking on the highest level, without conditions and outside India"
The word "Naga" denotes a conglomeration of hill tribes rather than a single entity. This fact hence contests the real motives of Naga insurgent groups. Some of the major or mattering Naga tribes are the Ao,Rengma, SŸmi, Angami, Konyak, Lotha etc. Among these the dominance of three tribes viz the Ao, SŸmi and the Angami is undeniable.
The origins of Naga separatism can be traced back to the founding of the Naga Club, in Kohima in 1918 by a group of western educated Nagas. They even submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission asking the British Government to exclude the Nagas from any constitutional framework that they may be planning for India. However the protests made by the Naga Club were too mellowed and too far in between. The tone of protests began to change rapidly with the coming of Angami Zapu Phizo, popularly known as Phizo. He was one of the most dynamic leaders the Naga separatist movement had ever seen.
The Naga separatists got to know about modern warfare in the early-mid 1940's when India's northeast was the scene of an intense conflict between the Allied forces and the Japanese army. Phizo along with some other prominent leaders fought on the side of the Indian National Army (of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose) for Japan against the Allies. The war showed the Nagas that weapons could achieve what negotiations could not. The Naga insurgents would later use the arms dumped in the North-East after the WWII to fight the Indian security forces. In 1946 the Naga Club transformed into the Nagaland National Council (NNC), the precursor of the NSCN.
The NNC under Phizo's instigation declared Nagaland's independence from India on the 14th of August 1947. The Indian government was quick to suppress the revolt. Phizo was arrested in 1948 on the charges of instigating a rebellion. On his release, Phizo was made the president of the NNC in 1950. He used his new found status and clout among the hill tribes to gather their support to realize his dream of a sovereign Nagaland. It is widely believed that he even organized an unofficial referendum to substantiate his claims that the Nagas favored independence from India. His meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru in 1952 turned out to be fruitless as India showed no heart to address the question of Nagaland's independence. It was at this point that Phizo turned to armed rebellion to coerce the Indian government.
The Indian army marched to quell the rebellion, but Phizo escaped to East Pakistan and from there to London, where he remained till his death in 1990. But the armed rebellion was pursued by a section of the NNC. An agreement was reached by the Indian Government and the NNC in the year 1975. This came to be known as the Shillong Accord. However a section of hardcore militants in the NNC were disappointed with the NNC top brass signing the pact and they decided to go underground to start a more radical separatist movement. This led to the formation of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland or the NSCN in the late 1970s. The nucleus of the group which founded the NSCN included Isaac Chishi Swu, T Muivah and Khaplang. The NSCN started an underground Naga Federal government. It had a council of ministers led by a prime minister. The title given to the Prime Minister was "ato kilonser" and the ministers were given the title of "kilonser". The NSCN also got plenty of support in arms, ammunition, cash and other resources from the People's Republic of China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The porous borders, especially the one with Myanmar, meant that they could easily escape to foreign territory.
However the NSCN suffered from a split in the late 1980s and broke into two factions, the NSCN(IM) and the NSCN (Khaplang). The former is led by Isaac Chishi Swu and T Muivah, who are in support on Greater Nagaland by committing themselves as a Kacha Naga (duplicate Naga) mainly Nagas from Manipur while the latter is led by Khaplang who is against on that. Both Issac Chishi Swu and T Muivah are not originally Naga. Even though their communities go to hell after demanding Greater Nagaland and recognition of their communities as a Kacha Naga, their intension was to rule Nagaland one day after forming Greater Nagaland. However, the condition will be very vulnerable after Issac Chishi Swu and T MuivahÕs regime whether they are able to form Greater Nagaland or not. Now their tribal community in a situation of extinction from the world since after NSCN (IM) was formed. They destroyed their unique identities due to their opportunistic minds. NSCN (IM) is not only a terrorist of India but also the terrorist of their own indigenous tribes of Manipur especially, Tangkhul tribe.
An interview with NSCN-IM Chairman Isak Chishi Swu at Bangkok
(Interview held on March 10, 2009 by Frans Welman)
Frans Welman: So we are here and in the midst of talks that seem to be delayed all the time. What is your perspective on that? For eleven years there has been talks but every time there is something small, blown out of proportion, which intervenesÉ
Isak Chishi Swu: Well, regarding the talks we have expressed all aspects of life, the philosophical aspect, psychological aspect, the political aspect and the traditional. We have explained everything to them during these twelve years and they have also understood the position of the Nagas. And because of that they have recognized the uniqueness of Naga History, which means that Nagas were never part of the Indian union and that we are from the very beginning different people, so we maintain that right of self determination
Frans Welman: Yes, that was one step in the right direction for the Nagas and that was some years ago but now we are years further again and what I, to my astonishment, read in the newspaper is that this new Home Minister Chitambaram, says unilaterally, oh we can talk but only within the Constitution of India. How do you see that?
Isak Chishi Swu: Yes, a person like him does not seem to know anything about the Nagas and about the talks also because we started talking on the highest level, without conditions and outside India so in a third country. That was the decision taken and we are going according to that, but he is putting condition if he says Õwithin the constitutionÕ we did not start talking in that way, so he is completely ignorant,
Frans Welman: But he is still part of the Government of India, he talks on behalf of the Government of India so the whole Government goes along with him?
Isak Chishi Swu: So, the Government of India would have to correct him, otherwise the talks between two nations, we are talking on the basis of two equal entities and on that line we are discussing and we are trying to establish a new relationship between India and Nagalim.
So, on that line we are discussing and if he draws back or somebody at the highest level then it is their mistake. If they go on like that then it will go derailed like this and so they are not realistic, their approach is not realistic we have to say.
Frans Welman: But this is after 12 years of talking they had time enough to become realistic
Isak Chishi Swu: Yes they have been given time enough to understand all these things.
Frans Welman: But then you have a rascal like Chitambaram who suddenly says something else. Conditions? He never heard of that, you know. Just do as we say, that is the essence of what he says?
Isak Chishi Swu: Yes, so that is completely wrong and they have to among themselves also they have to have a good understanding, but they donÕt pay attention and it will be delays all the time and on the highest level they have to discuss amongst themselves also and have to become very serious if they want the settlement. It is now 12 years and the longest in the world today, the negotiations, and they should also understand this:
Frans Welman: But if they donÕt what will happen then? I am saying this because you told me they were coming up with an interim proposal for a solution
Isak Chishi Swu: They said so and after they did again they retreated. They said they do not have an agenda to discuss, so in this way they are trying to piece things and are delaying the matter like this
Frans Welman: But how do you perceive that then?
Isak Chishi Swu: So, if they want to continue and delay like this and do not become realistic then they have to announce some other step which we cannot spell out now. We shall do it afterwards.
Frans Welman: I understand, but it looks like that after 12 years and after retreating all the time an ignorant person like myself would think that there could be hardly anything else than that the ceasefire would break?
Isak Chishi Swu: Well, the cease fire might break but from our side we think that we should achieve through peaceful means and we donÕt want to have armed conflict anymore, but they are becoming very provocative like the Assam Rifles and the IRB. These people are provocative and are trying to break the ceasefire also, but we are restraining ourselves so far.
Frans Welman: But what you are actually saying is that the Armed Forces, be it the Assam Rifles or anybody else, are trying to disrupt the situation so that Nagas are compelled to break the ceasefire?
Isak Chishi Swu: Yeah, yeah, that is what they want to do, but we restrain ourselves because we want to be reasonable and we want to be restricted to the problem so we continue to remind them also
Frans Welman: But the provocation really is that the understanding of the ceasefire by the Assam Rifles and therefore by the Government of India is wrong, because the ceasefire is between two parties
Isak Chishi Swu: Yeah, so that is why we address the highest Indian authorities correct these people, but they sometimes just neglect and these people come to take our post, our army post so we will be compelled to retaliate. Then there will be no more ceasefire when they start fighting
Frans Welman: How do you see the future?
Isak Chishi Swu: We are not afraid to fight, but that is not going to solve the problem soon. That will simply delay it. We want to reason and bring the solution soon and we believe that India also, they also have so many problems, so they should solve the problem which can be handled now. And so they must also try to be reasonable
Frans Welman: How do you actually see the future when they are doing all these delaying tactics while playing divide and rule and so segregate the Nagas. How do you see they can actually talk sense to you and sensibility?
Isak Chishi Swu: We still believe that they will also approach the problem realistically and come to understand each other, to have a close relationship between India and Nagalim.
Frans Welman: How do you see that relationship, do you see that as an independent relationship, or do you see that as a relationship within the Indian Union?
Isak Chishi Swu: No, no, no question of a relationship within the Indian Union, but we have been talking about how to have a new relationship. Like two entities and we have started together construction of that and they have started that also and on that line it will be going on, so we believe that they will also hasten.
Frans Welman: But I donÕt understand it you know, because when you really talk about this, a new relationship with two constitutions which are to a certain extent overlapping because that would mean that a close relationship would really be well articulated in both constitutions, that relationship right
Isak Chishi Swu: Yeah,
Frans Welman: That would mean if that is talked about how then can a Home Minister out of the blue say it can only be within the constitution? It is like an insult!!!
Isak Chishi Swu: Yeah, it is completely wrong and so the higher ups will have to correct him and should also tell him that he must talk according to the spirit of the talks.
Frans Welman: Yes, you and I think, that would be a normal thing to do, out of courtesy only because you have an agreement of which normally speaking both parties are being held to keep up. But this is not the case and I have not seen any retraction and how long is it now, more than a week after the publication? I have not seen any kind of excuse, I have not seen a statement of the Government, neither from the Prime Minister also on that the talks can continue and that the light mistake made by the Home Minister
Isak Chishi Swu: Yeah the talks will continue and in the next round of talks we shall take up this issue also. We shall question them Frans Welman: Yes, will you also finally be able to talk about the new relationship?
Yes, we continue it, so we shall have to do it.
Frans Welman: What do you expect of it?
Isak Chishi Swu: We are still expecting that they will also understand and if we do not feel they are able to continue then we donÕt talk anymore, but still we believe that they will also come to their senses and contribute to the success of the talks.
Frans Welman: You know I am trying to write a book on the decade of ceasefire and peace talks and I called it Between the Giant and the Dwarf. I do not want to diminish the Nagas, but if you have 200.000 armed military on the Small Nagalim soil, then the Giant thinks he can take on the Dwarf any time. And, it is doing that for all that time.
Isak Chishi Swu: From the military side we are not afraid of them and the military themselves realized that the military solution is out of the question that means so it must be through peaceful means, a political solution and they will have to give up that idea!
Frans Welman: They have to give up that idea, but already 12 years they are dwelling on that idea yes, because from 1995, this is when the generals spoke and this led to the ceasefire they are only trying to derail the talks, or stall the talks. It is something to become mad about you know
Isak Chishi Swu: We shall stress that to them also in the next round of talks that delaying tactics will not serve the purpose and they also have so many problems within themselves also and so it is better to solve as soon as possible, settle first we shall remind them
Frans Welman: Does the Hindu character have any role in this? I mean the people in Government are all Brahmans and they think that the tribal people like the Nagas are less than dalits that they find it difficult to talk to people who are so low. Does it play any role?
Isak Chishi Swu: I donÕt know how far they believe in, rely on their God. Of course on our side we believe that a miracle would happen, any time and Indian will also change their mind É through our God but if they believe in their God or not I donÕt know
Frans Welman: I am saying this because the Brahmans are the highest of the highest in the land of India considering socially speaking and religiously speaking, so that means, literally, that they look down on other casts. They are the highest caste and the dalits cannot even walk in their shadow, tribals, not even Hindus but Christians for that matter, they would normally not talk to at all.
Isak Chishi Swu: But they cannot practice that in the International Community. They do that only to themselves, but internationally they cannot use that practice
Frans Welman: That is true perhaps,on the other hand internationally Nagalim is considered to be part of India
Isak Chishi Swu: No, never and India themselves recognized the uniqueness of Naga history to the whole world and even the British people said that is correct, so international community understands now the position of the Nagas and the Indians themselves have spelled it out
Frans Welman: If the International Community really understands this it would also recognize the nationhood of Nagalim. It would have done that and it could still do it
Isak Chishi Swu: It will take time so we need lobbying everywhere, all over the worldÊ we need lobbying and make the nations understand our position and because of them we have our support centers like Society forÊ
Threatened Peoples, Iwgia, Kwia, we have a Naga American Council office in Washington DC and The Naga International Support Center, Mr. Frans Welman, in the Netherlands. We have a support Center in South Korea also and in London also Mr. Timothy and with the parliamentarians for self determination, PNSD. That is why the International Community must also understand us carefully
Frans Welman: Yes, to carefully understand that, even if it is understandable as you say and they have understood, it is another step to recognize a nation with a a country which is now considered to be a domestic problem by the International Community, a domestic conflict.
Isak Chishi Swu: So, it cannot be called domestic because we have never been part of India from the time immemorial. We were different people and we donÕt have anything in common whatsoever, so the International Community must also come to know it.
Frans Welman: The United Nations do not recognize you as a nation
Isak Chishi Swu: Not yetÉ., but we have attended UN conference, we have attended the Working Group of Indigenous Peoples under the sub-commission for Human Rights and Boutros Boutros Gali himself circulated through the world that there is a human rights situation in Nagaland
Frans Welman: You are still in the same boat as Timor was before. Timor was part of Portugal, later of Indonesia and it took Timor quite a long time to become sovereign too, they were also part of the UNPO. And Timor was not recognized by the International Community but only after much pressure and so what has to be done internationally?
Isak Chishi Swu: Lobbying, we continue to lobby and we are a member of UNPO. There is a unanimous resolution by the UNPO to send the secretary general of UNPO to lobby for us in UN and so we have 58 nations in UNPO; all are speaking for us informing other people and in this way the UNPO would have to take up also as their responsibility
Frans Welman: Do you want the UNPO to lobby perhaps for a third party participation in the talks?
Isak Chishi Swu: Yeah
Frans Welman: Because when I mentioned the Giant and the Dwarf you cannot expect a Giant to be talking to a Dwarf on an equal level if there is no medium in between, because they just wipe you out. They can do anything they like if they want to
Isak Chishi Swu: We are active in the USA also we have our Naga American Council in Washington DC. That office is working hard to contact the president. We submit our report every three months and send it to the Security Department in USA so they know everything about the Nagas
Frans Welman: But are you out to find ways and means for a third party in the talks, to expedite the talks or to make them more credible since the Indians then cannot go back on their word as all is written down?Ê Because one of the complaints you have is that Indians go back on their word even when they have agreed to something
Isak Chishi Swu: Yeah, that is why we need a third party intervention. That is very important; because the Indians will say something and will lie so that is what we need, third party intervention
Frans Welman: So that is a resolution of the Government of Nagalim, third party resolution?
Isak Chishi Swu: From the very beginning we discussed this. When we discussed with the Prime Minister of India we decided to start the talks at the highest level, without any condition and the venue would be outside India so in a third country and the third party intervention we shall discuss later on when the time comes. So, now the time has come.
Frans Welman: Now the time has come you think. Do you think they will oblige?
Isak Chishi Swu: We have to tell them!
Frans Welman: Yes, you have to tell them, but do you think they will oblige, because whenever there were talks there were only a short press release sometimes, but never what has been in the talks has been made public, not even to the Indian public
Isak Chishi Swu: But of course Michael van Walt used to be there always. He is actually not a third party but in that sense he used to be there, as a kind of witness that the time has come to discuss and third party intervention has become essential.
Frans Welman: And that has been decided by the Government of Nagalim?
Isak Chishi Swu: Yeah, yeah
Frans Welman: Thank you very much