Naga Talks: A Dutch lawyer and other Movers and Shakers

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New Delhi, Sep 19, 2022, IANS

All eyes are on the meeting between the NSCN-IM and the Centre in Delhi at the earliest.

Naga-TalksThe NSCN-IM, which had earlier raised the issues of Flag and Constitution and in the process stalled Naga peace talks since 2019, is now keen for negotiations with the centre "based on clauses and promises made in the Framework Agreement of August 3, 2015".

A seven-member NSCN-IM delegation is likely to meet central leaders and representatives in Delhi this week. It is not yet clear whether the meeting will be held with peace emissary A.K. Mishra, a former intelligence bureau official, or with Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

On September 12, Shah met a delegation of Nagaland legislators and ministers led by Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio.

Team Rio met NSCN-IM leaders in Dimapur on September 17, and a seven-member delegation of militant group would be arriving Delhi for pursuing the negotiations.

Here we take a closer look at some of the lesser known protagonists of the long Naga peace talks drama as it had unfolded way back in the mid-nineties.

P.V. Narasimha Rao:

Not only the Congress party, but even the country seldom remembers P.V. Narasimha Rao's stint as the Prime Minister. His stint would be remembered for certain 'negative news' like demotion of the Babri Masjid, but he was a pioneer in initiating Naga peace talks. He met Late Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah in Paris in July 1995 and set the ball rolling for "unconditional talks".

Prior to him, all Prime Ministers used to stick to their for negotiations within the framework of Indian Constitution. H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral only worked on the foundation laid down by Rao.

Michael Van Walt, a Dutch lawyer

The NSCN-IM leadership, especially Muivah, had reposed much faith in Michael and is his ability to understand many global conflicts. Michael Van Walt was also associated with UNPO and had some knowledge of the Tibet issue. He was also advisor to the Dalai Lama. But Indian agencies claimed he "lacked knowledge on the complexities and flexibility" of the Indian Constitution.

During the UPA regime, chief interlocutor Oscar Fernandes had claimed after one of those Bangkok meets that the two sides had agreed on a "broad framework", whereby they would jointly study the Indian Constitution to decide which parts to be suitably "applied with modifications to resolve the Naga issue".

The NSCN-IM withdrew from it unilaterally later.

Fernandes wanted longer duration of ceasefire and even matters like 'UT status' used to figure at the parleys. The NSCN-IM always favoured periodical extension of ceasefire either for one year or even six months.

Manipur state

Of three northeastern states which have a sizable Naga population, Manipur is a chief player in one way or the other in these parleys. Meitei leaders and for that matter, even former Chief Minister of Manipur Rishang Keishing (a Tangkhul Naga), would always swear by 'territorial unity' of Manipur state.

All these and the NSCN-IM having considerable base in the hilly region of Manipur actually created complexities and hardly anyone around could easily resolve the tangle.

For Manipur state, the extension of the Naga ceasefire as was proposed in 2000 to Manipur state was a 'de facto division' of their land. The Imphal valley burnt for days and the move was withdrawn.

For the Nagas, ´┐ŻNagaland' also often means Nagalim that includes parts of Assam, Manipur, Arunachal and the entire Nagaland state. Others call it 'Greater Nagaland'. These words and phrases generate angry outbursts in Manipur.

Once Ibobi Singh of Congress played 'saviour' of the Meitei pride and he even upset former Home Minister P. Chidambaram's plans to allow Muivah to visit his native village in Manipur.

Now, that cap has gradually come for N. Biren Singh of the BJP. In October 2019, he told Shah categorically that any Naga solution should not result in any adverse impact on the boundaries of Manipur.

The 11-member delegation led by the Nagaland Chief Minister Rio, whose wife is a Mao Naga, was quizzed on September 12 by the Centre's representative -- "You are talking about Naga integration, what about Myanmar Nagas?"

The Naga team was shell-shocked. "It's out of the box," meekly remarked a regular party hopper and a former state Minister.

Grinder Muivah

Pages have been written about Thuingaleng Muivah, but much less on someone called Grinder Muivah. Sources say it was he who had first put in the 'idea' of peace talks in 1994-95 with the then MoS Internal Security Rajesh Pilot. The then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and "collective leadership" of NSCN-IM Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah agreed with the same.

The 'senior Muivah' was arrested in Bangkok for travelling with a false passport in 2000. Grinder Muivah, who became a dependable "go-between" between uncles and Indian officials, was also arrested in Kolkata a few years later on a charge that he was trying to "hijack a plane" from Aizawl to rescue Muivah in Bangkok.

The NSCN-IM and a set of Indian intellectuals charged Indian intelligence agencies with working on such a mission. Grinder later reportedly struck a deal with a section of central government officials. He was also found not guilty of involvement in plane hijack and was discharged by a court.

Grinder Muivah, the nephew of NSCN (I-M) general secretary, died of stroke in Delhi on April 6, 2016.

Few misses too:

In 2000, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had proposed to make former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma the chief interlocutor for the Naga peace talks. The then Assam Chief Minister and a former Congress colleague of Tarun Gogoi had opposed the move stating "only a leader from the national mainstream" should be given such a responsibility.

The Vajpayee government gave in to Gogoi's pressure and an angry Sangma, now deceased, described Vajpayee as the "weakest Prime Minister".