How do you view the peace process initiated by the Narendra Modi government?
We believe there will be conclusive talks with the BJP government.
The Naga movement has been on for years. Whom do you blame for the delay?
The ceasefire agreement was signed in 1997. Have you ever seen a ceasefire that has lasted two decades, without a break? It is only because our leadership is determined to solve these problems. Sometimes, we feel that the Indian government is trying to humiliate us. Indian leaders don’t even know where Nagaland is. And they talk about Nagas?
People in India say, “Ah! Naga insurgency!” They have used the words insurgents, rebels, extremists and even terrorists to describe us. We have only fought the Indian Army. We have no fight with the Indian public, we don’t kill innocents. The Indian Army may be the biggest force in the world, but we are not scared. We will fight them.
There are allegations that the NSCN(IM) has been indulging in extortion.
I feel like laughing. I was convener of the ceasefire monitoring group for 14 years before I became chief. I know, from the day we started talks till now, they are only talking about that [extortion]. That is the only excuse they have for not doing anything.
We could have retaliated [against the calumny]. But because of our [mature] leadership, we have waited patiently. Do you think the Indian government is serious? You know that while the talks are going on, the trials against some leaders are also going on. All these are connected issues. Right now, more than 30 people are in jail. The NIA [National Investigation Agency] is telling lies. Do you think we can’t retaliate? “I am for peace. But when I speak, they are for war”, as the Bible says.
Some call you secessionists.
If you tell a thousand lies, it becomes the truth. Tell me, where and when did the Nagas say they were part of India? And, after becoming Indian, did I say I am not Indian? We cannot go to the mainland and explain this to the people. So they [the Indian government] have told the international community that the Naga problem is an internal one.
You won’t call it an internal issue?
No, how can it be? You tell me what internal is. I have never said I am part of India.
But, there are similar aspirations in Kashmir. Inimical forces like Pakistan can fuel further unrest.
If so, why don’t you settle it before it becomes international for you?
What is your relationship with China?
[Laughs out loud] China? The world is changing. We are aware of things taking place everywhere. When we were fighting here, they [Indian government] tried to suppress us saying it was an internal problem. It is only when we went outside, only after we went to China, that India woke up. Will India wake up only if the Naga army starts doing that again?
Do you think the current government is more willing to talk?
If Modi wants, because he has majority [in the Lok Sabha], he can reach a settlement before the next parliamentary elections. [But] we hope he will not do it for his political campaign alone.
How are you going to solve it?
You talk about Pakistan claiming Kashmir. The Kashmiris say they want their rights. Why is the government trying to do away with Article 370? We know it is trying. See, that is the danger. That is how it is always twisted. Here it starts talking about article 371(c), about the culture and traditions. I believe that if it is passed by Parliament tomorrow, like Article 370, then it is finished, because tomorrow it can be amended again and you never know.
Do you think if you don’t reach a settlement this time, there is a danger of the movement wearing out?
Even if only 30 to 100 people are left, we will start again.