DATELINE Guwahati /Wasbir Hussain
If you are Isak Chishi Swu, you can both be a rebel with a cause as well as a man of peace. That is possible only if one is god-fearing and calm. The 87-year-old ‘father figure’ of the ga insurgency movement passed away on Tuesday, 28 June, without seeing his group, the Isak-Muivah faction of the tiol Socialist Council of galand (NSCN-IM) reach a peace accord with the Indian government.
Born in 1929 in the remote village of Chishilimi, in galand’s Zunheboto district, Swu graduated in political science from Shillong’s prestigious St. Anthony’s College. By then, Angami Zapu Phizo had already formed and assumed leadership of the ga tiol Council (NNC), taking the ga homeland movement to great heights. His core argument was that the gas were destined to live in a free homeland since they had never been a part of India.
Fresh from college, Swu joined the NNC in December 1958. Taken in by his soft demeanour and persuasive skills, Phizo appointed him his group’s ‘foreign secretary’ in 1959—a post he held till 1966. During the next 10 years, he served the NNC as a minister before becoming its vice president in 1976. In between, in 1968, Phizo assigned Swu as his special envoy to Chi to seek Beijing’s support for the ga cause. In his autobiography, Swu said that he marched to Chi via the Kachin territory in Myanmar and arrived in Beijing after being hounded by Burmese troupes along the way. Swu confirmed having met the Chinese Premier who had apparently assured him that Chi would support them ‘when the right time comes’.
By then, in 1975, a section of the NNC leaders signed the controversial Shillong Accord with the Government of India that bound the sigtories and their followers to the laws and the Constitution of India.
Bent on pushing their core demand of a sovereign ga homeland, Swu and two of his close associates—Thuingaleng Muivah and SS Khaplang—broke away from the NNC and formed the tiol Socialist Council of galand on 31 January 1980. Problems with the approach in achieving the objectives led to a bitter fratricidal war within the outfit, killing about 200 rebels. The NSCN split, with one faction coming to be led by Swu and Muivah (NSCN-IM), and the other by SS Khaplang (NSCN-K).
Swu’s ability to convince people and arrive at consensus got the NSCN-IM membership of the UNPO (Unrepresented tions and Peoples Organization) on 23 January 1993. The NSCN-IM vested on Swu, along with Muivah, the responsibility of intertiolising the ga homeland movement. This had taken Swu across Europe, the US, Africa and Asia. By the mid-1990s, New Delhi established contacts with the NSCN-IM leadership, and Swu, along with Muivah, talked to Indian government representatives in Zurich, Paris,
Amsterdam, Chiang Mai, Bangkok and other places. Eventually, on 1st August 1997, the two sides signed a ceasefire agreement. Ever since, the Government of India and NSCN-IM have held about 80 rounds of peace negotiations leading to the signing of a Framework
Agreement on 3rd August 2015. Swu had signed this agreement from his hospital bed—a moment videographed by the Indian government officials as well as the NSCN-IM. This agreement, the contents of which are kept a closely guarded secret, is to be the basis for a fil settlement to the ga problem, a deal which is expected to provide the gas with maximum autonomy with provisions that recognise their unique history and distinct identity.
The question now is whether Swu’s death is going to impact on the ga peace process. While both the Government of India and Muivah have said that the peace process would move forward, Swu’s absence is certainly going to pose a challenge if the need to smoothen out contentious issues were to arise in the fil leg of the discussions. Besides, Swu’s absence could also be felt in the aftermath of the peace accord (as and when it is signed) when there could be a power shift in ga areas. Already, all the 60 MLAs in galand have said that they are ready to resign and make way for the ga rebel leadership to take up the reigns of governce if that was to be a part of the deal.
One also has to take into account the fact that there are several ga rebel factions who are outside the purview of the peace process. Swu had always emphasised on the need for ga unity or reconciliation, something he did not see in his lifetime. Now that he is no more, his efforts in this direction would be missed, particularly if there is to be opposition from other ga rebel factions to the peace accord that is now imminent. The issue as to who will succeed Swu would also be interesting to watch.