The death of Chairman of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim, Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) Isak Chishi Swu, who was President of the organisation’s government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland (GPRN), on June 28 in the national capital has thrown up inevitable uncertainties about the ongoing peace negotiations with the Union government since 1997.
The question is will it affect the peace process adversely? At the same time there are ample indications from both sides that the talks should continue and concluded successfully. However, the succession process can affect the group’s support base. Swu was 87 and had been ailing for more than a year and his condition was steadily deteriorating.
It was to fulfil Swu’s wish that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government signed a framework agreement on August 3 last year with the NSCN-IM’s other tall leader Thuingaleng Muivah. The agreement was signed in the presence of PM Modi, who described it as historic, and Home Minister Rajnath Singh at the former’s official residence.
However, the critical “”Framework Agreement”” has not been taken forward and finalised leading to settlement of political issues so far which means Swu’s wish has only been fulfilled partially.
When Swu died he was one of the few veterans left that began the Naga struggle under the banner of the Naga National Council (NNC) under the charismatic leadership of A Z Phizo in the 1950s.
Swu along with Muivah and S S Khaplang of the undivided NSCN in 1980 rejected the Shillong Accord of 1975. The NNC agreed to lay down arms to begin the negotiations for peaceful reconciliation. Khaplang was the Naga from Myanmar who split the NSCN into two factions in 1988. One was led by Swu and Muivah and the other by Khaplang, the NSCN (K).
Muivah was indeed the political and strategic brain in the NSCN (IM) with Swu providing the moral support. In the aftermath of the Dalai Lama’s arrival in this country and the Sino-Indian war of 1962, the Chinese welcomed the Nagas and other Northeast rebels with open arms. Muivah had led the first batch of Naga fighters to Yunnan in 1966-67. Swu had followed suit.
What is important is that a lot will depend on who replaces Swu as the NSCN (IM) chairman. The name doing the rounds is that of vice president Khole Konyak who in 2011 formed the NSCN (Unification) and then last year changed his mind and joined the NSCN (IM).
As is only to be expected the negotiators from New Delhi want to steer clear of the Naga rebel factions from Myanmar and reach an understanding with the NSCN (IM). This is particularly so because the NSCN (IM) also wants all other factions kept out of the peace agreement. Even as the Prime Minister has described the Naga issue as a legacy of the British, the NSCN (IM) is one of the largest insurgent outfits in the country’s Northeast.
The mourning period for Swu is to last till July 4. He will be interred in his home village of Chishilimi in Nagaland which is the home district of Swu’s Sema tribe. Besides Naga’s homeland in Myanmar, people throughout Nagalim (Greater Nagaland) in much of Manipur as well areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam there has been a spontaneous outpouring of grief following Swu’s death.
At the memorial service for Swu his family made a highly significant gesture. One of his sons said now that his father was no more, they looked up to Muivah as a father figure and guidance. Importantly, all Naga factions including the NSCN led by Khaplang have firmly backed Naga nationalism for a future of unity and peace for the Nagas.
A lot of work remains to be done with Muivah in the vanguard. He is 82 years old. There are no short cuts and there will have to be some give and take. Nevertheless, lets wait and see how this pans out.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)”