On March 3, NSCN (IM) general secretary T.H. Muivah turned 87. He has not been keeping well due to age-related problems but the pain of the tallest leader in the outfit has been visible for quite sometime. Muivah has been struggling to keep the Naga groups united, fighting not only internal factionalism but also external catalysts working to break the Naga unity on the demand for sovereignty by the Naga outfits. Notwithstanding the highs and lows of the Naga struggle, Muivah wants a resolution at the earliest .
So did late NSCN(IM) chairman Isak Chishi Swu. It was Swu's wish to see the Naga struggle bear fruit in his lifetime. When the veteran leader was on his deathbed, a ''framework agreement'' was hurriedly signed in August 2015 with fanfare between Muivah and government's interlocutor for Naga peace talks R.N. Ravi. Swu died 11 months after the “accord''. He was 87.
But this time, the NSCN (IM) does not want to rush into a final ''peace accord'' either like 2015 framework agreement or the Shillong Accord or the 16 point agreement.
However, pressure is heavily building on both sides to make swift progress to find a lasting solution to end the Naga insurgency. Sources in the Union home ministry said the Naga peace accord may come in 2021 as final negotiations are underway.
But on March 23, the Ministry of Information and Publicity of the government of People's Republic of Nagalim issued a statement hinting that the next generation of NSCN (IM) leaders are getting ready to take the struggle forward.
“Naga leadership will come and go but the burning issue will never die as long as honorable settlement remains elusive.'' The first assertion of the NSCN(IM) was that the Naga political issue will not end with its senior leaders.
The outfit named a host of senior leaders like Khodao Yanthan, Gen. Retd. Khole Konyak, Isak Chishi Swu, Q. Tuccu, Tongmeth Wangnao and Th. Muivah, saying that they are not the only ones, instead, the NSCN(IM) has a ''galaxy of highly qualified individuals holding degrees in science, medical, engineering, information technology.''
The second assertion came with the biggest Naga insurgent group hinting at its military strength to assert its stand on the issue of sovereignty.
''There are equally dedicated leaders to handle military leadership to keep pace with the changing situation,'' it said. ''But military struggle was never our option as political issue demands political solution. This is the meaning of the 1997 ceasefire and the decades of Indo-Naga political talks.''
Thirdly, the outfit reminded the government that it will not repeat its past mistakes. It said the issue has dragged on for too long and attempts had been made in the past to undermine the Naga issue through the Shillong Accord or the 16 Points Agreement. ''These two mistakes have brought much bloodshed in the Naga political struggle,'' it said.
Decades ago, the insurgent leaders had accused intelligence agencies of trying to split the movement and of late they have pinned the blame on Naga interlocutor R.N. Ravi for adopting a divide and rule policy.
The NSCN(IM) said that if the government is trying to take the Naga issue away from the Framework Agreement and repeat the same mistakes of history, then the Naga political struggle will go on.
''Needless to repeat, the Framework Agreement came into being because the past agreements like the 16 Points Agreement and Shillong Accord miserably failed to solve the Indo-Naga political issue. The NSCN and Naga people have waited for more than five years for the Government of India to act on Framework Agreement with all seriousness as per the spirit of the agreement. But the passage of time indicated that the government is having something else much below the Framework Agreement,'' the outfit said.
The NSCN (IM) said if this happens then it will set off another long drawn struggle.
''It is absolutely abhorrent to think of such a political blunder after more than two decades of Indo-Naga political talks,'' it said. It cautioned the government from deliberately misinterpreting the Framework Agreement to justify their proposed terms and conditions for the settlement of the Naga issue.
''This is going to go totally against the spirit of NSCN in particular and the Naga people in general who wanted to usher in permanent peace in Nagalim and the whole region of South-east Asia,'' said the statement.
The ball is now in the court of the government to find a middle ground to continue the peace talks in a way that results in a permanent settlement to the Naga issue.
“But before that, the trust deficit needs to be addressed, said a senior security official. ''The lack of trust makes the problem more vexed,'' he added.
While Muivah is keen to continue the peace talks and does not want the talks to get derailed, there is simmering discontent and unrest in the cadres down the line .
“Time is of essence since Muivah is ageing. Both sides will have to see how they use time to their advantage,'' said a government official involved in maintaining the ceasefire with the outfit.
R.N. Ravi, who is also governor of Nagaland , had said last year that there would be no separate flag or constitution for the Nagas, instead any solution will be within framework of the Indian Constitution.
However, the NSCN(IM) has been firm on its demand for a separate Constitution and a Naga flag as part of the final peace deal. Will Muivah and Ravi be able to tide over the fresh challenges remains to be seen.