‘We’re not part of India, so we can’t be called secessionists’

BY Suneha Dutta
The general secretary of the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights, N Venuh, is an advocate of independent Nagaland. In his recent speech during the convention on Kashmir in New Delhi, he espoused the cause of Azad Kashmir, drawing parallels between the two states. Excerpts from an interview in which he spoke about the demand for freedom, the insurgency and the futility of holding a plebiscite in Nagaland:
Syed Ali Shah Geelani has been called a secessionist. Won’t Nagaland’s demand be also dubbed the same?
We are not part of India, so we cannot be called secessionists. The government has to give us our rights. We can be friends with the Indian State, but cannot be part of the Indian Union.
In 1975, the Shillong Accord was signed between the Naga National Council and the Indian government, where the former accepted “the Indian constitution without any condition”. Then how can you say that you never agreed to be part of India?
Since 1947 till today, no one in Nagaland has accepted the Indian Constitution. Just because one group agreed doesn’t mean everyone did. That is why the movement is still going on.
Is there a similarity between the demands of the Nagas and Kashmiris?
Yes. History tells us that Kashmir is a disputed territory. This is why the UN office is still there in Srinagar. The Kashmiris should have the right to self-determination. They should be allowed to decide whether they want to be with India or go their own way. This is true for Nagas. We never wanted to be a part of India.
Nagaland has different ethnic tribes who want their own space to express their identity. Is that an obstacle to reaching a solution?
There are differences, but the goal is the same. In every movement, there are various political groups but they are united by a single political aim. There is no disagreement on that.
Kashmiri Pundits argue that their interests will be suppressed. Similarly in Nagaland, if one political group gains power, won’t there be a similar subordination of the others?
In Nagaland, everyone is the same. The situation is not similar to that of Kashmir. Once Nagaland gets freedom, everyone is going to accept it. There is no conflict on that.
But how can you be so sure of the people’s mandate?
Well, we had a plebiscite in 1951. At that time, everyone wanted to be free from India and become a separate nation.
But that happened a long time back. Won’t the new generation have something different to say?
I don’t think anyone would have anything different to say. The 1951 plebiscite reflected the wishes of the people across Nagaland. The issues haven’t changed, the oppression has only increased. Why would they change their mind? No, I don’t think another plebiscite is required.
What if the Indian government agrees to self-determination for the Nagas on the basis of a plebiscite or a public referendum?
Another plebiscite isn’t necessary. The Indian government will use it as an excuse to postpone decision-making on the issue.
The Greater Nagaland movement wants to encompass all Nagas, including those living in neighboring states. Isn’t that an imperialistic/expansionist attitude?
When we are talking about our sovereign rights, we are talking about a land of people. There are Nagas in Manipur, Arunachal and Assam. We want to include them because the Nagas were artificially divided. We are not going to grab anyone’s land. We just want to bring the people under one administration. When India was under British rule, it was divided into different parts without the will of people. They didn’t like that. Similarly, we want to maintain good relations with our neighbors but also want to make sure the Nagas are brought together.
There are many who are frustrated with the violence in the name of Greater Nagaland and want nothing more than peace. Why are they being made to live in a state of perpetual tension?
We are not a violent group. We try talking to the people, take the initiative to talk to Manipuris, Assamese or the Arunachalis to have more understanding. But if they go against us and engage in violence, we have no option but to react.
What about the numerous Naga insurgent groups fighting their own battles? Do you believe that they will hold their peace once Nagaland becomes independent?
The insurgent groups are a result of years of ill-treatment and repression at the hands of the Indian government and the military presence in the state. Once the repression and the army are no longer there, the groups will mend their ways.
But how can one be sure? Kashmiri youth have given up arms and taken up stones, while Nagas continue to fight with guns.
There might be violence, but they will abate once the repression ends. Do you know how many people the army have killed? How many women they have raped in Nagaland? Till such atrocities happen, the people will be driven to exercise violence. But even then none of the groups have ever harmed a civilian.
Many allege that the NPMHR is just a frontal organisation of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-IM and that it espouses every issue that the political party fights for. Is that true?
That is totally wrong. We are a human rights group working for the Nagas. As the NSCM-IM is working with the government for peace in Nagaland, we help them to further the cause.
You have pledged support for the Kashmiri cause. Is that support going to result in any concrete efforts to help them?
We support our Kashmir brethren’s cause completely. In fact, we support anyone fighting for their identity and freedom. But no, we are not planning to take any further action in this direction in terms of efforts. But our moral support will be with them because we understand their struggle.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 44, Dated November 06, 2010

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