For a man on a mission of reaching out to his people, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) general secretary has been a busy man. The backdrop of talks with the Indian government makes Thuingaleng Muivah busier still. But he doesn’t keep you waiting. He doesn’t keep you waiting because he is not the kind.
The glint in his eyes is unmistakable, as he comes forward to greet me. As he exchanges pleasantries, it is evident he doesn’t forget things. He recollects my interactions with him long before the NSCN signed the ongoing ceasefire with the Indian government in 1997.
You don’t expect such a man to forget his homeland, much though he may have been away for years at a length. And he couldn’t forget his own home either. So the home front is what we start talking about.
Muivah was supposed to visit his ancestral village of Somdal in Manipur’s Ukhrul district in early May. This was part of his reachout programme. He had already covered the length and breadth of Nagaland, and his proposed visit had generated considerable interest among those who follow Northeast politics. It would have been big news.
“I had already visited many places in Nagaland. And I couldn’t possibly miss going there (Somdal),” says Muivah. His visage remains calm, but that twang of regret is discernible in his voice. “The last time I visited my home was in 1973 to meet my parents. It was in the dead of the night and I didn’t stay till dawn-break.” That was a good two years before the Shillong Accord, one that was denounced by Muivah, among others.
But Muivah’s plans were scuttled before he could cross the Mao Gate border into Manipur. The Manipur government opposed his entry on grounds that his presence would breach peace and tranquility in the region. CrPC 144 was imposed in the border district of Senapati. Even as the Nagas of Manipur prepared to welcome him, it was obvious that the visit was a non-starter. With the state government blocking all entry points into Manipur, Muivah stayed put on the Nagaland side with things taking a bloody turn. Two students were killed in police firing at Mao Gate.
Muivah grimaces a bit, but continues, “We could have pushed our way through. But that would have been at the cost of lots of lives. It wasn’t an issue that could not have been resolved. If Thuingaleng Muivah wants to go home, there is no need for anyone to feel threatened.” He sighs, then explains, “I have no fear. But I am also in talks with the Indian government. It wouldn’t have been proper on my part to go to Manipur without informing them.”
So, since the Indian government had been in the know of things all along (about his reachout mission), couldn’t it have intervened? Muivah replies, “There had been a clear-cut understanding. But it was to my utter surprise that things took an untoward turn.”
The NSCN leader says the idea had been primarily to brief the people about the progress made in the talks with the Indian government and how essential those are for a peaceful solution. “I am bound to feel betrayed by the Indian government,” he says aggrievedly. “They (the Indian government) knew that I have the right to visit my own native village. But when matters came to a head, they sided with the Meiteis.”
Muivah goes on to speak about Meiteis. “The Nagas are not their enemy. We respect their rights. It is indeed unfortunate that they feel the reverse. Their fears are totally unfounded. What is the point of (their) feeling so insecure? We are not taking an inch of their land.” He insists, “No unpleasant situation has been created by the Nagas. After all, it is nothing unnatural for the Nagas to live together with Meiteis.”
The NSCN leader asserts, “No innocent Meitei has ever been killed by the Nagas, except for maybe one incident. Our cadres were responsible for the killing. We are sorry for that, and we condemn the death.”
So who was responsible for the imbroglio over the Ukhrul visit? Muivah rests the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Manipur Chief Minister. “Ibobi (Singh) was responsible. All he wanted was to have the blessings of the Indian government. And, for its part, the Indian government was ready to oblige Ibobi.”
“The word doing the rounds was that ‘If Thuingaleng Muivah gives up his demand for Greater Nagalim, he will be allowed to enter.” Muivah smiles, and maintains, “The ‘Greater Nagalim’ term is what they use. I don’t use that phrase. I just want to reach out to my own people. Shouldn’t I visit my own village? I am a human being, after all.”
He wraps up his thoughts about the police firing at Mao Gate and his entry into Manipur, “It reminds one of how the Manipur government treats the Nagas. Can the Nagas feel happy this way? Such insults will drive the Nagas far away from them.”
But despite his abortive visit to Ukhrul, the NSCN leader swears that these have been the “best” of times, when asked about this reachout programme. He invokes (Rabindranath) Tagore, and avers, “If you can’t take the people with you, you will always be pulled back.”