“Naga And India Will Go As Two Separate Entities”: Anthony Shimray of the NSCN(IM) Discusses the Naga Peace Accord, the Naga Political Struggle, and His Arrest

Anthony Shimray, the political commissar of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah). Anthony Shimray
04 January, 2017

On 31 January 1980, Isak Chisi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and SS Khaplang, formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, an organisation that led an armed struggle against the Indian security forces in Nagaland and sought to establish a sovereign Naga state. The NSCN was formed in opposition to the Shillong Accord, a 1975 agreement between the Naga National Council, an organisation of Naga people that had led a secessionist movement since the 1940s, and the government of India. The accord required the Naga rebel groups to surrender their arms and accept the supremacy of the Indian constitution. The founders of the NSCN believed that the accord had compromised on the demand for a sovereign Naga state that included Naga-inhabited districts in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Assam. In 1988, the NSCN split into two factions—the NSCN(K) led by SS Khaplang and the NSCN(IM) led by Isak and Muivah—over differences on issues of commencing a dialogue with the central government. On 25 July 1997, the government of India entered into a ceasefire agreement with the NSCN(IM), which came into effect on 1 August. Subsequently, the ceasefire agreement was repeatedly extended, but no permanent solution to the Naga struggle could be reached. On 3 August 2015, the government of India and the NSCN(IM) signed a framework agreement called the Naga Peace Accord, reportedly aimed at ending the sixty-year-long insurgency in Nagaland. The contents of the agreement were not disclosed to the public.

Anthony Ningkhan Shimray is a permanent member of Indo-Naga peace talks on behalf of the NSCN(IM). Shimray is the NSCN(IM)’s political commissar, a political supervisory officer committed to civilian control of the military in an organisation. He was arrested in September 2010 from Kathmandu airport while on his way to India from Bangkok, allegedly for negotiating an arms deal with a Chinese company. On 4 August 2016, a special court of the National Investigative Agency released Shimray on bail after the public prosecutor pleaded that his release was in interest of the peace negotiation between the Nagas and Indian government.

On 29 December, Sagar, a web reporter with The Caravan, met Shimray, and later continued the conversation over the phone. Shimray discussed the contents of the framework agreement, his arrest, and the history of the Naga peace process since 1997.

Sagar: How many rounds of talks have happened so far in the peace process?

Anthony Shimray: Maybe 100 or more than that.

S: Who made the first approach this time?

AS: The peace process has been going since 1997. The first time, it was led by Rajesh Pilot, in 1996. He was sent [to Bangkok] as an emissary by Narasimha Rao, the then prime minister [of the Congress-led government of 1991-1996.] In a closed door, uncle TS Muivah, myself and him [Pilot] had a long discussion.

S: What did you discuss?

AS: [Pilot] came with the message that the political dead-end in Nagaland has to stop. The first word he said was that we need to forge a friendship, because it’s a political issue. It came after three former commander-in-chiefs [had unsuccessfully attempted to conduct talks on behalf of the Indian government]. They published a statement saying that a military solution in Naga areas is not possible. It has to be through political talks.

S: Did you trust the government when they came up with the proposal?

AS: No. Uncle Muivah said your armed forces had done great damage to us by enforcing draconian laws like AFSPA [Armed Forces Special Powers Act], TADA [Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act]. [He said to Pilot,] “Why talk to you when you tried to finish us? After the follow up of Shillong Accord, you unleashed all military might: burning, pilfering towns, calling [India’s] own Naga people as people of Malaysia, and killing a lot of people. It’s not that easy to trust you [after] the 20-25 years of struggle and past experience.”

Rajesh Pilot, he was very sincere. I was surprised to see him that way. But the way he treated us, it was a very friendly conducive atmosphere. He said [that] we [the government of India] have done everything with you [the Naga people], and this time we have come to realise that it [peace process] can’t be through the military.

Then Uncle countered, “How can we trust you. The government saw the Naga issue as a law-and-order problem and we are not going to accept that.” He [Pilot] said, yes, we are ready [to accept that it is not a law-and-order problem]. Later on [in 1997], the peace process started.

S: Did the talk take place in India?

AS: The talk was in Bangkok. There were three conditions for the Indo-Naga peace talks: the talks would be negotiated only at the prime minister’s level; the talks would be held outside the country; and the talks would be without any conditions that would affect the sovereignty of the state. He [Pilot] said,“Okay, I’ve been given full authority from the prime minister.” But then he added, “Right now we can’t assure this but we are ready to do that, let’s explore.”

S: Did the government keep its word to you?

AS: No. That time, of course, they kept their word. But after Narasimha Rao, there was a gap. One good step was taken by [the former Prime Minister] Atal Bihari Vajpayee [in 2003]. It was to recognise the unique history of Naga. He recognised that we were not terrorists and are fighting for political rights. Our leaders really appreciated that kind of statement. Some small steps were taken by Nagas but it couldn’t continue.

S: What was the progress during Manmohan Singh government?

AS: A long gap.

S: Was it a complete disengagement?

AS: Yes, because there was no clear-cut policy.

S: What did the Manmohan Singh government tell you when you approached them?

AS: They see me as threat. Because I was also coordinator and kind of advisor for the whole North-East group.

S:  How often are the talks held?

AS: Informal talks continue. (Laughs) Right now, it’s on holiday. But I keep talking to Ravi [N Ravi, the present government’s interlocutor in the Naga peace process]. I find him committed—a trustworthy man. But he can be removed at any time as well.

S: In that case, don’t you think the talks hinge on an individual’s commitment?

AS: Yes, that’s why this time it has to be a solution that is incorporated into the Constitution of India. And in ours, the constitution of Nagas, recognising the rights of Nagas.

S: Will you have your own constitution?

AS: Actually, we proposed for a different constitution. But, it [the special constitutional provisions for the state of Nagaland under Article 371-A] is almost the same. The government of India made its fears known to us and we respect it. They said: we have recognised your rights, you are different; but we can’t afford different constitution because there may be demands from states.

S: Will you be allowed to procure arms and raise your own army?

AS: Yes, but that [the procurement] has to be at a small scale and in consultation with the Indian government, or they have to provide us. For [the government of] India, this arrangement is not about the economy, but [about] security and defence.

S: What powers would be conferred upon the new Naga government?

AS: All kinds of power. Judicial, law and order, and administrative. In order to protect the security of India, we need to have a joint defence, the NEF [North East Frontier], the Indian army and the Naga army will [have a] joint defence. That is all in the framework agreement. Naga and India will go as two separate entities. We will be owners of our land and resources and will have partnership with Indian companies.

S: In 1971, the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act was enacted for the creation of local government in Naga areas of Manipur, but then the district remained defunct for around 20 years. Then, under Article 371-C of the Indian constitution, a Hill Areas Committee was also created, but the conflict between Naga and other ethnic groups in Manipur has been continuing. Why do you think the new constitutional arrangement agreed in the framework agreement will address your party’s demand for sovereign land for the NSCN(IM)?

AS: This time it’s different. 371 C is not [based] on principle of sovereignty or based on the unity of Naga. [The framework agreement is] based on the Constitution of India, subjected to state. But, this time Naga peace process will be different. This time it will supersede all previous constitutional arrangements.

S: But its content is not in the public domain?

AS: No, it’s not.

S: Is there a private understanding between the NSCN(IM) and the government of India that the framework agreement will prevail beyond the current territorial limits of Nagaland?

AS: Yes, but now it has to be seen how to implement this [framework agreement] without hurting sentiments of all the stakeholders.

S: Does the NSCN(IM) want a constitutional arrangement for Nagalim?

AS: Yes. Our sovereignty will be defined by the provision negotiated in the peace deal. We will be the owners of our land and resources.

S: Do you believe the government will ever give territories of other states for the creation of the state of Nagalim, or Greater Nagaland?

AS: The main point is respecting each other’s rights. The government of India recognised the territories of Nagas under one political space because of the uniqueness of Naga history. It’s not just about the aspiration of Nagas, but the legitimate right of Nagas to live under one administrative unit.

S: How far are you from the final solution?

AS: I would like to say that PM Modi and Ravi are committed to peace. We are also committed.

S: Have you set any timeline for it?

AS: We have been suggesting the earliest solution.

S: Do you trust the government? What if the government adopts another kind of coercive policy?

AS: That would be counter-productive.

S: Recently, there has been a confrontation between the Naga groups in Manipur and the Manipur state government.

AS: Whenever a communal crisis breaks out between the Meitei and the Naga [communities], the government of India always sides with the Meitei. The central government has sent central forces. We have conveyed that the creation of new districts in Manipur is breach of the Framework Agreement. It may affect the ceasefire.

S: The NSCN(IM) had said that Nagalim is for Christ. Will the new state be a theocratic state or a secular one?

AS: It will be a secular state. There will be no religious and racial discrimination. Nagas will be the owner of their land. If Kukis and others accept it, we will let them live but if they claim their ownership on land, we can’t accept that.

S: Are other armed groups also in touch with the Indian government?

AS: The government of India is asking me to bring them on board as I was doing before my arrest. I’m trying. But, if they put restriction on my movement, that will hinder the peace initiative. They have to meet me all the time. Sometimes it’s really hard to trust the system. The problem is that India has too many different agencies. Sometimes we feel like there are too many political agencies.

S: When you were arrested in 2010, the NSCN(IM) and the government of India were both adhering to the 1997 ceasefire agreement, and which did not include the disarmament of NSCN(IM). As the lieutenant general of your army, should you then have been allowed to buy arms for your government?

AS: Yes, there are designated camps [where the NSCN(IM) is allowed to maintain arms]. We were allowed to hold arms. Plus, we were allowed to travel in [Nagaland with] cards. There are three categories: red card, yellow card, and green card. A red-card holder is entitled to transport weapons. Even the top-ranking leaders are not prohibited [from traveling while carrying arms if they held a red card]. Ceasefire monitoring is done from both sides, from the government of India and us, and cards are issued from both sides to ensure that the ceasefire is enforced. According to the ground rules of ceasefire, there is no prohibition on carrying arms for NSCN(IM) cadre.

S: In that case, why did they arrest you on charges of negotiating an arms deal with a Chinese company?

AS: (Laughs) Exactly. In hindsight, it’s a blessing. I got to know more about Indian culture. I came to learn more about system here. I also came to learn that it’s not all Indians [that are against the NSCN(IM)’s demands.] In fact, there are a lot of people who are sympathetic to us, who are willing to know how we were treated, religiously, and especially racially. And there are also people like us who were discriminated in India. We have to understand that we are equal.

But, on the point of the law [with respect to the arrest], the NIA [National Investigative Agency], through me, through my case, tried to change the political talks and our movement under the anti-terrorist acts, claiming that this organisation is a terrorist organisation. That’s why they [the government] arrested me.

S: Are you saying that the NIA tried to disrupt or sabotage the political talks between the government of India and the NSCN(IM)?

AS:Yes, that was the first attempt. Even now it’s [NIA’s attempts to disrupt the talks] going on. I came here many times, starting from 2005 until 2008. And then it [the peace talks] was not progressing, so I stopped coming. But, I came in 2010 because I was to come as a member of the peace talk. I came with a good heart. [I thought to myself,] why should I worry? The talk was to be held on 30 September. I got a connecting flight on 27 September from Kathmandu. It was actually not an arrest.

S: It wasn’t an arrest?

AS: It was a kidnapping. I was not arrested with any warrant, [or by someone] with an official uniform. They blindfolded me. As soon as I exited from the airport, two persons came from behind me, pretending to be immigration officers. There were more than four or five persons ahead of me. They forcibly took me to the ground-floor parking. Then they mishandled me and forced me into a [Toyota] Land Cruiser. They took me to a paddy field in a jungle.

S: Did they put you at gun-point?

AS: Yes. They also tied me with a rope. They said if you try to escape, we will shoot you. After crossing the border [into India], whole night we traveled, then they handed over me to a CRPF camp. They confined me there at a secret place. It was just behind a UN building. I saw the UN logo in that building. But, I couldn’t know where I was.

S: Were you scared of being killed?

AS: I was confused, to be honest with you. I knew they were from RAW [Research and Analysis Wing]. It was a mixture of different intelligence agencies and some corrupt Nepali [persons] maybe. They kept me for one-and-a-half hour. I was holding some UN card. I worked as a coordinator with the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] for refugees at the Thai-Myanmar border. That’s why I was a bit confused, how can I be arrested?

S: Did they ask you anything during your confinement or while you were being taken away from airport?

AS: Nothing. They were constantly talking over the phone. Finally someone came and threw a flashlight on me. I couldn’t see him, but he said, “Yes, this is the guy.”

S: Did you contest your arrest with them?

AS: It was a deep conspiracy because I was active in the party [NSCN(IM)] after the ceasefire. Before the ceasefire, I was procuring [small-scale arms], I was not buying. But, after the ceasefire, we didn’t get anything at all. I came to realise that it’s just not possible. Then I aborted the mission [procurement].

My connection with Willy [Willy Naru was extradited and arrested on 8 December 2015 by the NIA on charges of smuggling guns into India, for which Shimray allegedly paid Naru] is just as a friend. He has good connections, even in India. But allegations that I’ve paid him this kind of money are not true. He had connections. Even now, there is no evidence about payment of money. It’s all just email communication.

S: Are you saying that the actual transfer of money or shipment of arms never happened?

AS: Yes, it’s never happened. It’s only an allegation. Maybe the intention of NIA was to put me in prison and put a condition in the political dialogue. It was kind of a coercive policy. Many of the interrogators came from external affairs, RAW. They tried to create a division between me and my party. By highlighting my issue [and branding me] as a terrorist, the government of India sought to chain the freedom movement of my party. And it did happen. I told [the people who arrested me] that I came to India on the invitation of the government of India. He [one of the persons who interrogated me] said, “Listen, Anthony, we can’t release you. Your release has to come from the government.” After my arrest, I was made a permanent member of the peace talks. I want to leave behind my days in prison. I want to move forward with peace.

This interview has been edited and condensed.