Saturday, May 29, 2010

Muivah - a homecoming too far


by Yambem Laba
WHEN Thuingaleng Muivah left for the jungles to wage a bush war against India more than 40 years ago, never once did he think of returning home. Which is one reason why he was never caught. Instead, he trekked to China’s Yunan province and made the Kachinland and Somra tract in Myanmar his home, from where he directed his cadres in hit-and-run tactics. By 1980 he emerged as the flag-bearer of Naga insurgency following the ill-fated 1975 Shillong Accord.

In 1988, when the NSCN broke up, he almost lost his life. He ought to be thankful to the Meiteis for saving him for it was the United National Liberation Front that had warned him of the impending danger when the Pangmeis and Konyak cadres rose in revolt against Tangkhul domination. However, in the skirmishes that followed, he lost his trusted aide, Lt-Col Luitha Tangkhul, and a host of other Tangkhul followers. Around the same time, R Minshaming, then chairman of the Tangkhul region of the NSCN, was caught by the Assam Rifles. Muivah was soon on the run, with the Indian and Myanmarese armies, the Pangmeis and the Konyaks — followers of his rival SS Khaplang — and fellow Tangkhul followers of Zimik Ramyo in the guise of a clandestinely state-sponsored People’s Militia of Nagaland or Shillong after him.

However, Phoenix-like, he soon emerged, consolidated his position and spread his wings, with the NSCN(IM) being rechristened the “mother of all the new insurgent groups” by the Indian media, which saw a mushrooming growth all over the North-east. He also left the steaming jungles for the airconditioned comforts of Bangkok and the cool climes of Amsterdam. Then, when he succeeded in getting the NSCN(IM) membership of the Unrepresented Nations People’s Organisation headquartered in The Hague, he was able to internationalise the Naga cause in a much more concrete manner than did AZ Phizo.

Parleys resulting in the 1997 ceasefire between Indian troops and NSCN(IM) cadres had begun as early as 1994. That was when then Union minister for internal security, the late Rajesh Pilot, informed me that “we have established contacts with the NSCN(IM) leadership and informal talks are already on”. The announcement of the “Indo-Naga talks” soon started arousing the suspicion of Manipuris that the talks might end up in the balkanisation of Manipur. On 4 August 1997, more than 200,000 Manipuris took to the streets of Imphal reiterating that there can be no compromise on Manipur’s territorial integrity. Then, two weeks later, the NSCN(IM) succeeded in planting a story in The Statesman through its Shillong correspondent. The report appeared on 13 August — the day the British had, in 1891, hung Manipuri leaders — and emotions ran high. It spoke of the government of India having agreed to the Naga demand for the integration of Naga areas of Manipur with Nagaland. Things almost came to a boil and then chief minister Rishang Keishing had to do some fire-fighting before getting an assurance from the Centre to the contrary. The NSCN(IM) then contradicted the report, adding that Nagas and Meiteis were brothers.

Then in March 2001, Muivah made a fatal move when he directed cadres of a Kuki group that was then aligned with the NSCN(IM) to have Yambem Thamkishore, deputy commissioner of Chandel district, a Manipuri IAS officer and my cousin, abducted. I was asked by chief minister Ibobi Singh to proceed to Delhi and take the matter up with the Centre. I recall telling then Union minister for state for home  ID Swami that a group that was engaged in talks with the Centre had abducted an IAS officer and, by that account, an employee of the government of India. He agreed that abduction was an act of terrorism and promised to get the ball rolling. Thamkishore was released on a day that coincided with Holi and Good Friday. But Manipuri sentiments were already aroused by then against the NSCN(IM).

Then came the Bangkok blast in the form of a declaration stating that the government of India had agreed to extend the ceasefire with the NSCN(IM) without territorial limits. On 18 June 2001, the whole of Imphal burned with no questions being asked, no quarters given. Eighteen people lost their lives in police firing and it was rumoured that the Governor had been whisked off by helicopter to refuge in Army headquarters. I recall telling the late Ashok Saikia, who was the trusted joint secretary to then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, when he had called up from Beach Candy Hospital in Mumbai where the PM was having a knee replacement surgery, “that the only thing that is left is for Manipur to declare itself independent”. The PM,  in his address to the Press the next day, said that “there seems to have been some misunderstanding in Manipur”. The Centre then rolled back and the term “without territorial limits” was dropped.

Then came the 6 May 2010 incident when the Manipur chief minister had Muivah’s entry sealed at Mao Gate on the Manipur-Nagaland border. Holding an Indian passport, the NSCN(IM) supremo should have realised that the law of the land would not permit him to enter Manipur. For there still exists a warrant for his arrest and a reward of Rs 3 lakh. It is contained in the order  issued by the State Home Department vide No.1/4(6)/S-H(Pt-1) and dated 4 April 1994. Altogether 71 persons, belonging both to the hills and the valley, are listed in it. And it includes UNLF chairman Sanayaima and Revolutionary People’s Front chairman Irengbam Chaorel. Under the law, the state government cannot give preferential treatment to Muivah in ignorance of the 70 others in the wanted list. He should also not forget the time when he was arrested at Bangkok airport by Thai authorities for trying to re-enter Thailand with a Korean passport.

In the autumn of his life, the patriach of Naga insurgency should now consider striking a deal with the government of India within the territorial confines of today’s Nagaland. He could call himself the Ato Kilonser in as much as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir is called the Wazir-e-Azam and All India Radio Srinagar is known as Radio Kashmir. Perhaps then he can make the much-awaited journey back to his beloved Somdal village where he was born and mingle with the people of Ukhrul as a respected leader and statesman. Perhaps he might then be welcomed in the valley as well. In any case it is a long way to the promised homeland for Shri Muivah.

The writer is a former Special Correspondent of The Statesman

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