"Nagas Shouldn't Be a Danger to India and Vice Versa"
Yes, substantive issues have not been taken up yet. But they will be taken up in the next round of talks when we meet in Delhi again.
What do you see as a workable and reasonable solution?
Indians shouldn't impose anything that is unacceptable to the Nagas and the Nagas should also try to understand the difficulties of the Indian government. Nagas shouldn't be a danger to India and vice versa. As far as the sovereignty of the Nagas is concerned, it belongs to us. They have to rise to decide their fate. So far as the unification of the Naga areas is concerned, the Nagas are living in their own land and not in the land of the Meiteis or the Assamese or the Arunachalis. If the Nagas demand a piece of land that belongs to the Assamese, Meiteis or the Arunachalis, then the Nagas are wrong. But they are not doing so. The land where the Nagas are living must be integrated. It doesn't affect anyone.
You are reportedly willing to dilute the sovereignty demand and the government too is ready for an alternative arrangement without disturbing the existing territories of the states?
The Nagas will make their own decision but without harming the interest of India. We are not diluting our demand. But if the Indian government tries to force an alternative arrangement, it won't be acceptable. We have not come all the way to make compromises on our demands. There has to be an element of give and take in a viable accord. The viable accord should be one in which the Indians don't demand too much from the Nagas. Since the Nagas are prepared to recognise India's reality, our reality should also be respected.
Don't you think peace in the north-east lies with you to a large extent?
It may be so but peace can prevail only when justice has been done to all the parties involved. That should be respected and recognised.
Why are the Naga tribes so divided? The Angamis and Aos don't get along, so is the case with other tribes. In fact, the Nagas of Nagaland can't tolerate the Tangkhul Nagas of Manipur.
It may be so. But when the Angamis were leading the Nagas we followed them. I followed them. But when they betrayed us by the Shillong accord, how can we be expected to follow them. It's not a question of tribe or tribal interests. The differences are issue-based and such differences can be resolved.
Zoramthanga has played a major role in the peace process. Have you learnt anything from him?
We admire each other. We compliment each other. But the nature of issues (of the Mizos and the Nagas) and the political experience are a bit different.
Zoramthanga, who roamed the jungles when he was underground, is today governing a state. Do you have similar political aspirations?
Zoramthanga is a gentleman. He is a politician. He is today the chief minister. So naturally he likes to see peace in that part of the world. And in that respect, of course, we are of one mind because everybody loves peace. So far as my political aspiration is concerned, I only want to see the Nagas and India being friends. I have no other political aspiration.
It is said that with age catching, you want an early solution so that your name enters the history books.
If history can respect me it's well and good. But I can't demand it. In any case one has to earn it and not demand it. If history thinks I deserve it, fine. But I don't think I deserve to be in the history books.
Looking back, how do you view Phizo and his struggle for independence?
He was a great leader. But he refused to condemn the Shillong accord, which was a sell-out. That was the time we parted ways, otherwise I used to be his disciple.
What is the "unique" history of the Nagas that you keep talking about?
When kings ruled India, Nagaland was neither conquered nor defeated by the Indians. The Indians never attacked us; rather we fought against the British for 48 years. When the British sent the Simon Commission, the Nagas clearly stated in a memorandum that they must be left to themselves in the event of the British leaving India and Nagaland. Any arrangement made without consulting the Nagas would not be acceptable. When we met Mahatma Gandhi, he said the Nagas have every right to be independent. He said the Nagas would be free to decide their own future. That was a significant and historic commitment. Then, when the Union of India was formed, the Nagas refused to become part of India. Nehru was unhappy over this and it showed in his conduct when he refused to entertain any representation from the Nagas during his visit to Kohima with Burmese prime minister U Nu in 1952-53. This unique history of the Nagas was officially recognised during Vajpayee's time and that symbolised a respect for the reality.