The Naga movement has come a long way. The oldest armed struggle in the Subcontinent has not only sustained itself over the course of some six decades, but has also inspired and aided many regional nationalities on the path of insurrection. The modern history of the Nagas is one of both military and human-rights concern. Many lives have been lost; yet even today the movement persists. With an unresolved future, there is currently fear and uncertainty among the civilians impacted upon by the movement, despite the fact that the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and the Indian government have been conducting talks since the ceasefire of 1997. Thuingaleng Muivah, 73, the general secretary of the NSCN (IM), recently in Delhi, spoke with Kekhrie Yhome to reminisce about his war experiences and current hopes. The interview was conducted in English.
KY: How would you justify choosing to articulate the Nagas’ desire through the language of violence and military action?
TM: The Nagas could understand the danger of being suppressed. To the Nagas, freedom is more important than anything else. Freedom, for the Nagas, means that they themselves would decide their fate. This is the most decisive issue for every nation. When that freedom is given up, the Nagas know that their rights of existence are gone forever. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation, was approached by the Naga leaders in 1947, and he said, “Nagas have every right to be independent.” The Nagas declared their independence on 14 August 1947, one day ahead of India’s declaration of independence. With the demise of Mahatma Gandhi, the policy of the Indian leadership changed. Gandhi’s doctrine of non-violence was no longer upheld. When a delegation of the Naga leaders approached Jawaharlal Nehru to settle the Indo-Naga issue, Nehru immediately lashed out, saying, “Even if heaven falls and the whole country goes to pieces and runs red with blood, I will not allow the Nagas to be independent.” At another point, he said, “It will take just a few days for the Indian armed forces to crush the Nagas.” After bitter fighting for 50 years or so, the Indian leadership realised that a military solution was not possible. The issue was political, and they had to seek a peaceful political solution. A ceasefire was declared in August 1997 by both the parties, and the Nagas did not fail to respond to an approach of non-violence.
Have changes in international politics and globalisation impacted your original ideology?
The march of history – in terms of de-colonisation, race consciousness and, of course, the Cold War – has in different ways impacted upon people’s thinking and their politics. The emergence of market forces affected the stress on political identity. But one should know that as long as political suppression and economic exploitation exist and continue, revolution can never be ruled out. And, in addition, ideological standing will not fade away. As long as suppression and oppression continue in any human society, military means would be unavoidable.
The Naga army is known for its warfare skills, and the Indian government’s renowned Counter-insurgency Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS), in Mizoram, bases its syllabus on the Naga experience. What makes the Naga a warrior par excellence?
When a fight becomes necessary between a small man and a giant, the small one will have to know that the fight will be very dangerous, given that he is no match for the giant. He must try to find all of the giant’s weak points. First, he should know that close fighting is never to his advantage. He should take the initiative, and let the giant react. In other words, he should never allow the giant to take the initiative. Any fight must be according to his initiative, and then the giant can be reduced to a state of helplessness. Therefore, when and where he has to attack, the small one should never venture to fight without first knowing the weak points and location of the giant. If a section of the Naga army can create a situation that requires a battalion of the Indian Army to cope with it, this is always to the benefit of the Nagas. The Naga armed forces can thus keep their adversaries on the move, and wear them out. In a word, the giant is kept in a state of unrest. The CIJWS in Mizoram has tall claims, but the fact remains that the Nagas and others have not been subdued, even after 60 years. Above all, if guerrillas are able to make clear that their cause is just, and that the adversaries are in the wrong, they will be invincible and the strongest in their own land.
The NSCN continues to attract young people, despite the fact that it doesn’t offer incentives. What is the recruitment process, and what kind of training does a Naga cadet undergo?
The morale of the revolutionary is crucial for the success of the revolution. This is why the taking of new recruits is indispensable. Senior people will no longer be in the forefront. They must be the brain to guide the cadres, but practical difficulties arise over time for the maintenance of their families. The organisation has to see to their difficulties, and in this respect we are a little better off. Recruitment is mostly voluntary, because forcing the unwilling man is not only harmful but counter-productive. It would amount to sending a fear-ridden, unprepared man to fight against the enemy, and it would affect the morale of the other compatriots. But whoever has been recruited must be politically taught of the justness of the war. He must be made spiritually strong, in order to take glory in what it is that he is fighting for. In other words, he must be truly convinced of what he is doing. Of course, the practical tactics of fighting must be learned during battle, in addition to what he has acquired during training. Above all, a freedom fighter must strictly adhere to discipline – moral, physical and spiritual. He must be an altogether self-conscious man.
What is the current strength of the Naga army? What are its preparations in case the ceasefire breaks?
We don’t necessarily count the strength of our movement in terms of our army. To be realistic, we will always have the strength required by the situation. Since the ceasefire is ongoing, we don’t put much stress on recruitment. If the ceasefire breaks down, however, we will be compelled to strengthen ourselves with arms and men. We will understand that India has no more political will to solve the problem.
What about your experience in China, and its influence on the Naga movement? Do you still believe that power flows from the barrel of the gun?
I stayed in China for a fairly long time. During my first trip, between 1967 and 1973, I interacted with members of the Communist Party and the Liberation Army, and with the Chinese people. I also studied the Chinese condition. Everyone realised the failures and mistakes of the past, and they are now sufficiently committed to set right the foundation of the present society. They know when to go forward, and how to retreat when necessary. I saw in them clarity and a full confidence in themselves. Chairman Mao’s words are gospel truth, because the power with which rulers unscrupulously suppress the right of the people must be crushed. If one has to break a stone, he must use hammer; but to cut a cloth, he must use scissors. To the rational, one must be rational. This is the way towards a better society. We run our institutions based on revolutionary principles and the people’s desires – although in many ways there are shortcomings and weaknesses.
How do you view the present situation vis-à-vis the pre-ceasefire years?
Nothing can be taken as a certainty. Yes, we are talking with the government of India. As long as the political problem is approached politically, there is nothing to fear. But when one lacks the will that is required to bring about the solution, it is most unfortunate. It would be as dangerous as taking comfort in an illusion. War will be a continuation of politics by other means.
With many decades of armed struggle, some Nagas have become disillusioned with the NSCN (IM). What is your take on this damage?
The adversaries would do their best to exploit the situation, to stamp out the revolution. But the people do not easily abandon the cause. Both the masses and the revolutionary cadre cannot afford to perish. The only way available to them to survive is to rectify their mistakes and regenerate themselves together as a people. India has left no stone unturned to wipe out the Nagas and the force of their nationalism. The policy they are now resorting to is to wear us out by protracted design. But the Nagas know that their salvation does not lie in India.
Does the NSCN (IM) maintain links with other armed revolutionary groups?
You want to know all our secrets? [Chuckles] Revolutionaries all over the world are naturally inclined to extend solidarity and support to each other, even if there are differences in political aims and objectives. It is no surprise that we help each other in every possible way.
How would you evaluate the NSCN (IM) and the notion of ‘just war’?
Whether in war or peace, every organisation and human being must have ethics, for without ethics human being become worse than animals, which is against the law of creation. It hurts the conscience of society and people. In any war, killing innocent people is totally unjust, the greatest crime against humanity. For example, right from the inception of our resistance movement we have rarely used anti-personnel mines, because innocent people often become victims.
Other than staging a war against the Indian state, how else has your organisation excelled as a people’s revolution?
Mighty India has completely failed to crush the little Nagas, and therein we see the failure of Nehru’s statesmanship – and we don’t wish today’s Indian leadership to repeat the same mistake. Of course, on our side we have also made a lot of mistakes, which have led to serious internal contradictions among our people. But thank god, at every dangerous situation we could lead our people along the correct national line. We are able to stand our ground firmly, and have overcome confusion and uncertainty caused from both within and without. The path to our destiny is clear, and we are confidently working in that direction.
How would you correlate the NSCN (IM)’s ability to garner support for such a long period of fighting?
It was the commitment of the Naga leadership to seek a solution through non-violence, and that is the reason why the Nagas have the highest esteem for Gandhi. But today we see the greatest number of killings in India carried out in the name of democracy. This is a sad thing. When the Indian government decided to seek a solution through peaceful means we readily responded, and not a single Indian soldier has been killed – although Indian armed forces have killed more than 150 NSCN (IM) cadres in the ten years of ceasefire.
Against the background of the US-led ‘war on terror’, how do you see the future of the armed Naga movement?
The government of India called the Nagas ‘terrorists’, despite the fact that the Nagas have not killed a single innocent Indian in 60 years of resistance, unless it was by accident or in crossfire. The term ‘terrorist’ is used by the government and by the press to intentionally discredit the Nagas. However, in early 1999, the government officially declared that the Nagas were not terrorists. In the strict sense, the term ‘terrorist’ implies killing innocent people for absolutely no reason – something that is committed in great numbers by the Indian government. Thus, in reality, the government of India is the terrorist.
Do you view ceasefire as a pre-condition for initiating political dialogue?
If the ceasefire is not honoured – as has been done on several occasions by the government of India, taking sides with traitors openly against us – it would be very unfortunate. It is a surprise to all sensible people to see arrogance and treachery in the Indian government’s policy, particularly in dealing with the Nagas, when the latter are completely committed to finding an amicable solution to this longest of political issues.
After so many years and so many rounds of talks with the Indian government, what are your expectations?
Whether one admits it or not, the outcome of the talks would be crucial in many ways for others, too. We would be careful not to make mistakes. It is not wrong to seek a political solution, as we have been doing. But we should not be misunderstood when we say that an acceptable solution is still not in the offing. We are very clear that we will be steadfast in standing our ground, and work towards a solution which is honourable and acceptable to both entities.
~ Kekhrie Yhome currently teaches at the University of Delhi.