Is honeymoon with peace over in Nagaland?
Syed Ali Mujtaba
Somehow, the northeastern part of India seems to be never in the news radar. The situation in Nagaland seems to be getting complex by the day. Over 4,000 people have fled their houses in Zunheboto district in the state after a gun battle broke out between the rival militant factions — National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak Muivah) and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Khaplang).
Reportedly about 160 cadres of NSCN (IM) and about 100 cadres of the NSCN (Kahplang) engaged themselves in a fierce battle using rocket launchers, mortars, AK-47, AK-56 and snipers that killed two Khaplang faction cadres.
The situation in Zunheboto was brought to control after leaders of local NGOs of the powerful Sema tribe negotiated with the commanders of the warring factions. Following the negotiations the militants belonging to the two factions vacated their pitched positions in the residential areas of the town. The NSCN (Khaplang) called the retreat as honoring to the wishes of the Naga people.
The recent infighting was a direct fall out of the killing of a senior NSCN (IM) functionary Tatar Hoho by the Khaplang faction that had served quit notice to all Thangkuls living in Nagaland accusing them to be supporter of the IM faction. The threat took a serious turn when the Khaplang faction targeted some persons from Thangkul community following, which both groups attacked each other in different parts of Nagaland and Manipur.
Government of India called this infighting a systematic violation of the ground rules of the ceasefire agreement by both the factions. It had also appealed them to end the battle "peacefully and amicably' failing which it said it reserves the rights to use force to flush out all such militants.
The NSCN (IM) has been accusing New Delhi of tacitly helping the Khaplang faction to weaken their strength. They blamed the Indian army for the supplies of automatic weapons to the Khaplang faction that has led to their recent resurgence. The Indian army has stoutly denied all such allegations.
Nagaland is a mountainous state in the northeast of India bordering Myanmar with a population of nearly two million people that are predominantly Christians. Nagas are culturally and ethnically different from the rest of India. They are divided into 32 warring tribes. Nagas till a century ago were ‘Headhunters.’ It was under the British rule and due to the influence of American Baptist missionaries that Naga’s forged a strong sense of nationhood in the 19th century based on common traditions and Christian faith.
The Nagas were the first ethnic group in the northeast to revolt against New Delhi’s rule. Legendary Naga leader Angami Zapu Phizo and his Naga National Council (NNC) on August 14, 1947 asserted that the Nagas were never a part of India and demanded the status of a sovereign nationhood.
The NNC in May 1951 demanded a referendum to determine their future as a free nation claiming that 99 percent of the Nags support the idea of the right of self-determination. However, New Delhi summarily rejected their demand that marked the beginning of the long haul of the armed struggle in Nagaland.
By 1952, the NNC launched a guerrilla movement, attacking villages and Indian security posts. In 1956, Phizo formed a parallel government called the Naga federal government (NFG) and its armed wing, Naga federal army (NFA).
The Indian government in April 1956 launched a military crackdown on Naga insurgents and Phizo sneaked into then East Pakistan and then to London. He led the NNC from there until his death in 1990.
India made efforts to broker peace with the NNC and in 1963 and gave statehood to Nagaland on September 6, 1964. A ceasefire was signed between the Indian government and the NNC. But despite the truce, the Naga rebels continued their offensives that made the government to abrogate the truce in 1969.
However by then chinks had appeared in the Naga struggle. Members of the powerful Sema tribe broke away and in 1968 formed the revolutionary government of Nagaland (RGN) led by self-styled ‘General Kaito’.
In 1971, India banned three prominent Naga groups; the NNC, NFG and NFA and Indian troops also launched a massive anti-insurgency operation. In 1973 for the first Army action forced the guerrillas to surrender. On August 14, 1973, the RGN, under the leadership of General Zuheto Swu, joined the Indian mainstream and a number of its cadres were inducted into the Border Security Force.
Then came the Shillong Accord that was signed on November 11, 1975. The Naga rebels led by Kevi Yally, the younger brother of Phizo, accepted the Indian constitution. However some people within the NNC opposed the accord and prominent among them were T. Muivah, Isak Swu and S. Khaplang.
Muivah was then NNC general secretary and Swu a senior minister. Khaplang, a Burmese Naga, was president of the Eastern Nagaland Revolutionary Council, a wing of the NNC formed to protect Naga interests in Burma.
There was another twist in the Naga tale when the trio of Muivah, Swu and Khaplang decided to sever ties with their parent body and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. Swu was made the chairman, Khaplang the vice-chairman and Muivah the general secretary. The NSCN emerged as the most powerful and radical rebel army in Nagaland, sidelining the NNC and NFG.
The NSCN-led insurgency became bloody over the years. But soon the NSCN was mired in internal problems, with leaders differing on major policy issues on clan and tribal lines. The NSCN split in 1988 with Khaplang forming a parallel NSCN (Khaplang). By 1992, the two NSCN factions were engaged in a fratricidal war over territorial supremacy.
The two Naga rebel groups then signed a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government in 1997. Since then the NSCN (IM) have been engaged in negotiations with the government of India.
The main demand of NSCN-IM is to create a ‘Greater Nagaland’ by uniting 1.2 million Nagas through the unification of Naga-dominated areas in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh states.
Nagas second demand is to draft a separate Constitution, independent of the Indian constitution. They are ready to incorporate some important sections of the Indian constitution but would still like to have their own constitution.
The government of India has serious objections to both the demands. It’s not in favor of redrawing the boundaries of its northeast states for the territorial unification of Nagaland. The affected states have already rejected to entertain any such idea and there were protests against it in Manipur some time back. The Indian government is also not ready to concede anything thing on sovereignty issue least a separate constitution for Nagaland.
India and the NSCN-IM so far have held more than 50 rounds of negotiations in the past nine years but have made no substantial progress in a in a bid to solve one of the oldest disputes in South Asia that has so far claimed more than 25,000 lives.
Given the facts and the hard realities on the ground one wonders whether the honeymoon with peace in Nagaland is over.
--Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org