As someone rarely heard and seen on public platforms, on Wednesday evening, 1976-batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer RN Ravi spent nearly three hours at Nagaland House in national capital. Pointing at a coffin kept on his left, the chairman of Joint Intelligence Council and Indian government’s interlocutor on the Naga issue said, “It is our obligation to accomplish his dreams. Let us pray that the journey (read peace talks) ends soon and the soul of the Mahatma can rest in peace”.
The ‘Mahatma’ reference of RN Ravi was reserved for Isak Chishi Swu whose mortal remains were inside the coffin. With the demise of the chairman of the biggest insurgent group of North East India which is locked in a ceasefire and negotiation with the government, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) (Isak Muivah), Nagaland is preparing for an extended period of mourning. Son of an evangelist father who ‘converted countless to Christianity’, he died battling a prolonged illness on Tuesday.
Swu led India’s oldest and bloodiest insurgency. The seeds of the issue lay in the random separation of the various Naga tribes and the unsettled nature of their borders at the time of independence. On August 14, 1947, separatists there declared Nagaland’s independence. When violence peaked and all political options broke down, in 1955, Prime Minister Nehru called the army in. A saga spanning countless deaths began. The insurgency was fuelled by interventions by China and Pakistan to whom the insurgents turned for arms and training. Bloodshed subsided when a sustainable ceasefire was declared in 1997.
On Thursday morning, by a chartered aircraft, the remains of ‘Uncle Isak’ were flown to Dimapur. After being taken to the group’s headquarters of Camp Hebron, his remains will finally be buried in his native district of Zunheboto.
Gathered for a condolence service from late afternoon braving the heat as well as humidity were young Naga men and women belonging to myriad social forums. They employed different means of putting their point across, from musical instruments to posters to mementos to even mere silence. Their numbers almost led to a traffic jam on the road – not something the venue was particularly known for.
In what appeared as a strikingly balanced stand, Isak Swu’s comrade and the chief negotiator for the NSCN (IM), Thuingaleng Muivah held the stage for nearly 45 minutes. Speaking extempore, he stressed on how the duo never suspected one another. Notwithstanding the presence of RN Ravi, Muivah spoke his mind, berating the early Indian leadership which relied on the military for a solution and perpetrated ‘killings and rapes’. “Any effort made by India to talk was rebuked. We decided there was no point till they realised their mistake,” he said.
Gradually they sensed that the Indians were becoming rational.
“The Indians have accepted that the Nagas were never under them even by force. How long will we keep blaming the Indians now? It is high time we understand the Indian leadership. Today is the most decisive time to a solution,” he said. His speech often saw him choking while recounting an association which dated back to over 50 years.
The event carried on with friends, associates, senior journalists sharing memories.
Nagaland Chief Minister TR Zeliang’s letter read by the state authorities said, “Uncle Isak could’ve got great opportunities in life as he was among the very few qualified graduates in Nagaland in the 50s yet he chose the other way.”
There are many who wonder if Isak’s death is going to hurt the Naga peace process for which a secret framework agreement was signed in August last year. While Isak was a Naga from Nagaland, Muivah is a Tangkhul Naga from Ukhrul in Manipur. In a bitterly conscious Naga society, these are not facts which don’t matter. What is also a fact is that Isak Swu’s health had kept him away from negotiations which nevertheless had his full backing. To hammer in what was acceptable to all was a task left to Muivah by Isak Swu himself.
In a remarkable acknowledgment, Isak Swu’s son Igato after thanking the NSCN IM for their support named the Intelligence Bureau (IB) for guarding him in his last days in New Delhi.
“India, I know, values Isak so much, so much”, were the last words Muivah spoke before stepping down and taking seat next to RN Ravi who shook his hands with unmistakable glint in his eyes.
TIMELINE OF THE NAGA ISSUE
- August 14 1947 – Angami Zapu Phizo ofNaga National Council declared ‘independence’
- 1951 – Phizo organised a ‘plebiscite’, more than 98 per cent sought an ‘independent’Nagaland
- 1952 – Phizo called for a boycott of India’s first general elections, armed opposition followed
- 1955 – Indian Army called into Nagaland
- 1958 – Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act passed
- 1963 -Nagaland attains statehood
- 1975 – Shillong Accord is signed between centre andNaga leaders
- 1980 – Citing Shillong Accord, leaders split, Nationalist Socialist Council ofNagaland (NSCN) created
- 1995 – Meetings at the level of Prime Minister begin with one in Paris
- July 24 1997 – Ceasefire declared
- 2003 – Isak and Muivah hold talks with PM Vajpayee in New Delhi
- 2007 – Ceasefire extended indefinitely