After the nine-hour-long KLM flight from Amsterdam, one would have expected a weary Thuingaleng Muivah on the New Delhi airport tarmac on Saturday night.
But the 75-year-old general secretary of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) showed little signs of a jet lag.
A guerrilla who survived for decades in the jungles of the northeast, Muivah did not even show signs of the load he was carrying on his shoulders — the aspirations of his community.
NSCN-IM, the most dominant force in Naga insurgency, has been on a ceasefire mode since 1997.
And since then, about 60 rounds of parleys have taken place in India and abroad.
Emerging out of yet another round of meeting with Home Minister P Chidambaram on Tuesday, Muivah said, “The negotiations would continue. If the Centre is serious, we will talk.”
VS Atem, convener of the NSCN-IM’s steering committee, told Hindustan Times: “The government has admitted that while talks have been going on for so long, it will be the endeavour of this government to find a solution in the ‘shortest possible’ time.”
But there are already signs that patience among various sections of the Nagas is wearing thin, as 13 years have gone by without there being anything concrete to show.
Here are some examples:
“It is about time an honourable solution is hammered out. Everyone’s tired of this waiting game.” — Asangla, a housewife in Nagaland capital Dimapur.
“Our leadership has been coming to the negotiating table, but we do not see similar sincerity on the government’s part.” - N Venu, general secretary, Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights.
“Now we want to see the sincerity in action and in spirit. The Naga community is just tired of the delaying tactics of government.” — Solomon, president, Dimapur Naga Students’ Union.
Some years back, a Union minister candidly admitted to this correspondent that the delaying tactic forms a key component in talks with insurgent outfits. And clearly, the government’s strategy is paying dividends.
A leading Naga activist, N Krome, however, attributed the government’s strategy more to indecisiveness than conscious strategising. He said successive governments in Centre lacked consistency in their approach to the Naga issue.
Other rebel groups also claim to have experienced the same delaying tactic in government-induce talks.
Arup Borbora, a member of the Peoples’ Consultative Group (PCG), told HT: “Bureaucrats take control of the talks. There is no political vision and sincerity. And without sincerity, problems will never get resolved.”
The PCG was set up in Assam in 2005 to mediate between the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the government.
“The real issue is being skirted around. There is lack of sincerity,” echoed Govinda Basumatary, general secretary, National Democratic Front of Bodoland (ceasefire faction).
There are differing views among the observers in New Delhi.
Ajit Doval, counter-insurgency expert and former director of the Intelligence Bureau, said, “The government should have used the 13-year period to consolidate by active socio-economic programmes. The NSCN-IM, however, used this period to strengthen itself.”
But Ajai Sahni, executive director, Institute for Conflict Management, said, “The NSCN should also show some flexibility. If they expect the government to talk to them on absolute sovereignty, that is not going to happen.
“We have to ask whether the two sides have framed a formulation to move forward. In any case, the very fact that the ceasefire is continuing is itself a gain,” he said.
While the coming days will reveal whether any common ground has been identified, certain core issues remain to be tackled immediately.
How the sovereignty question will be tackled.
How effective the talks with just one faction of the insurgents will be, as there are competing claims to leadership of the Nagas, chiefly led by the NSCN’s Khaplang faction.
How the government proposes to resolve the demand for a Greater Nagalim that has been opposed by neighbouring Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.