Naga Leader Isak Chisi Swu Dead: State of Peace accord?
Naga leader Isak Chisi Swu passed away recently after a prolonged illness. The leader along with Muivah led the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) for last 3 decades. Swu along with Muivah led one of the most dangerous insurgencies in the north east before they decided to come to the table for peace talks, in the mid-90s. After years of talks over several rounds held both in India and abroad by different governments at center, last year (August 2015) Naga Peace Accord was signed. This accord which is now described as a framework agreement is yet to be made public. His death has brought the focus back on the status of the Naga peace accord negotiations since the signing of a ‘framework agreement’ between the Centre and the NSCN-IM in August last year.
The roots of the insurgency are deep. In 1946, the Naga National Council urged the British not to hand their territory over to India. Since then, it has been a long and bloody resistance to break free from India. However, the Naga movement has suffered from splits and corruption over a long period of time.
Who was Isak Swu?
In the 1950s, Isak Chisi Swu joined the Naga National Council (NNC) and served in various capacities in the organization. Opposed to the Shillong Accord signed by the then NNC with the Centre, he formed the NSCN-IM in 1980 along with its General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, leading the insurgency in the Northeast for several years. Actual command lay solely with Muivah and he was the face of the deadly group involved in insurgencies, literally waging a war against the Indian state, intimidating civilians, imposing taxes, smuggling narcotics and arms and setting up smaller armed groups across the region.
Swu was the NSCN-IM Chairman who was a silent partner that provided the group legitimacy of claiming to be Naga outfit. Swu was always a shadow and not exactly a leader from whom the Nagas would expect anything. But he was still considered a Naga part unlike Muivah.
Role of Swu in Nagaland
Swu was important for the branding of NSCN- IM. I in NSCN-IM stands for Isak. It was an organization where the rank and file was Tangkhul tribe. Most of the leadership of NSCN-IM was Tangkhul which geographically and historically falls within Manipur. Hence, the Thangkuls are called “kaccha Nagas” and the major tribes do not see them as true representative of the Nagas of Nagaland. However, NSCN gained legitimacy within state of Nagaland where Muivah always wanted Swu next to him, who came from Sema Naga tribe.
Swu was the one who used to be peaceful during the meetings and though it has been not known how important his leadership was. Swu has said to be spent most of his life in his Bible studies, leaving Muivah to call the shots. He was a temperate influence on the movement. They both steered the movement asking for full independence, to greater autonomy to now working within the realms of the constitution itself. There may be slow down process in short term. The demise of Swu is big blow to the peace process and there can be a setback for party. The next process is to find a replacement to his leadership in Nagaland.
With great difficulty and enormous foresightedness India reorganized the north eastern states in 1971-1972. The first PM, as reported, had worked very hard in the region, for the region. The conflict between the forces of democracy and insurgency had been in operation after 1974 accord. Immediately thereafter, a group known as UDF with leader Vizol Angami who had contacts, with underground was allowed to form the government. Earlier group led by important leader of Nagaland Nationalist Council, was defeated. Thus, it is possible of the changeover.
The government is not talking to NSCN-IM. But because NSCN-IM is the biggest group, they are representatives of other groups whoever came on to board. So, they are representing the civil society. But, there are other civil society groups in Nagaland which opine that government is only meeting people who are from NSCN-IM or groups which are sympathetic to NSCN-IM which means they are talking to NSCN-IM and not to the Naga groups. Thus, it is a serious problem that only NSCN is considered and other groups are not taken into confidence.
The demand for integration of the Naga inhabited areas or Nagalim is a Muivah demand. Nagas of Nagaland do not want it.
The government has pushed ahead a lot in development works in the north east. Not only communication but also, air fields etc. for their shipment of easy movement of goods and cargo, also an integration of people with rest of country, particularly in public service, service sector jobs where many are working. Thus, a mainstreaming of north east or being to bring youngsters into the fold which will another factor in moving peace process forward.
It is 10 months since the framework agreement is signed. Though it has yet not been finalized and the details are not made public, the negotiation will move forward as the Naga people want that. It is a settlement to find a peaceful solution which is solution to Naga people. The Nagaland Peoples Party acted as a negotiator and facilitator because they are all Nagas and there is a need to come close to understand one another. However, there is no question of territorial integrity as the Government of India in the negotiations is telling that in all the agreements, negotiations and talks, even in Shillong Accord, the word ‘territorial’ is not there. Thus, a clarity on the agreement in needed.
The Government of India has recognized the issue as political issue and ‘uniqueness of Naga history and culture’ in the agreement. Basing on it, the negotiation is going on. It is not only Naga problem, but a national issue. There are ways and means to offer Naga a fair deal that is honorable and acceptable. Even in 1964 agreement, the Greater Nagalim state was demanded. In the 16 point agreement, it was explicitly mentioned that the desire for integration of Naga area. So, that point is still pondering. It is the emotional integration, culturally and socially and promotion of Naga tradition. There is also a serious discussion on Naga flag and constitution.
The Khaplang challenge: In 1997, the peace agreement was signed. There was a genuine desire among people for a peace accord. Swu represented the force that wanted peace. However, his death may embolden the other group- the Khaplang group. In a way, it may weaken the IM group. The NSCN(K) broke away from talks with the government last year and has been since striking hard at Indian security forces. It is now likely to try to swiftly move in and gain ground in the bitter turf war. Khaplang is a Hemi Naga from Myanamar and a contested claimant to the Naga war of resistance.
Cultural and Economic integration: There are certain things which some changes in constitution can provide for like grant of mineral rights which are wasted in center today, the cultural unity which may sound vague at the moment, but there are ways to consolidate the way we have created institutions and cultures. Again, certain ornamental kind of things like being transparent that the Government of India and people of India in the ideals of peace and democracy, want this to happen. There could be something to give which could be more ceremonial and ornamental with combination of substantive.
The cultural affinity can be developed by the government. It can be seen as that kind of a cultural linkages or institutions which move towards and being backed by financial assistance over which the Nagas themselves have autonomous control.
As soon as news of Swu’s death was known, the government if India must have got in touch with Muivah and try and explore the way forward and about the next contact now to what the parameters would be. They are not going to lack behind. There will be a pause till things settle down and then it will move forward.
It is requires patience to deal with an area like this which has undergone enormous transformation. 70 years ago there was no Naga. It is today that there is distinct Naga personality having enormous economic transformation. Education is up- 80% Nagas are educated, Tangkhul of Manipur; Sema, Lotha of Nagaland are not only Nagaland but they are at Bengaluru and other part of country. So, a personality is coming up which forces the society, the insurgents for harmony and therefore we must not do something in negotiation which will harm that harmony. These are issues to be handled with care and not pace.
Shillong Accord: Under which, a section of NNC and NFG agreed to give up arms.
NSCN: A group of about 140 members led by Thuingaleng Muivah, who were at that time in China, refused to accept the Shillong Accord, and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland in 1980. Muivah also had Isak Chisi Swu and S S Khaplang with him. In 1988, the NSCN split into NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) after a violent clash. The NSCN (IM) came to be seen as the “mother of all insurgencies” in the region.