The Moderate Nagas and the Underground

Er. Albert Ovung

In reply to “Harsh world of reality” by Khekiye K. Sema IAS (Rtd) Vs Kaka D. Iralu

Following its independence, India has faced a series of guerrilla insurgencies in the hills along its Border with Burma and East Pakistan. None has proved so difficult as the ugly guerrilla war which has raged in the Naga Hills since 1953. The Political turmoil in Nagaland has gone all but unnoticed outside of India, in large measure because of a cease-fire agreement between the Indian government and the guerrillas which took effect on September 6, 1964. For two years, the Indian representatives and the Naga guerrillas faced each other at the peace table, but the conflict was never resolved in a formal peace agreement. Y.D.Gundevia, the Indian negotiator at the peace talks, concluded regretfully in 1965 that the talks had led to “a truce without a political settlement”. In the years since then, Nagaland has repeatedly faced the prospect of the resumption of full scale hostilities. Yet, despite important changes in the political situation, a delicate equilibrium has been maintained which has kept violent outbreaks at a fairly low level even though a political settlement seems to be as remote today as it appeared in 1965.

Politics in Nagaland cannot be understood as merely a contest between Indians and Nagas, or between the Indian Government and some “misguided” Nagas. The cease-fire could hardly survive from 1964 to the present without any progress toward a political settlement if there were only two sides each dedicated to eliminate the other. Instead, the present situation maybe better understood as a very complex set of relations between a number of “parties” who have differing objectives, strategies and capabilities. As a result, a precarious equilibrium has been maintained over the past so many years being violated systematically and continuously.

It is the purpose of this article to present a brief activities, tactics and objectives of the major participants in Naga politics .I tried to collect as much data, record as I could mostly taken from various source specially the Assam tribune, Naga chronicle, citizens voice, archive for the Naga people during those days, invite Naga people to judge and correct the Naga history.

Naga National Council (NNC)- Political Movement
Inspired with the success of Pakistan movement a section of educated youth under the inducement of some Christian missionaries and support of some foreign powers expressed their reservation against amalgamation of Naga territory with Indian Union. When departure of colonial Government from India became a reality, they also started pleading that Nagas are a separate nation and demanded secession of their territories on the line of Pakistan. Accordingly they converted the Naga Club into a political organisation known as Naga National Council (NNC) in March 1946 with Imti Aliba Ao as its first President.

The NNC that was the first political organisation of Nagas to submit a memorandum to the Cabinet Mission on June 19, 1946, when it demanded autonomy to Naga Hills. They demanded separate sovereign political geography comprising of Naga inhabited areas of Nagaland, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myammar (Burma). This was the beginning of political conflict between Nagas and the Government of India. Again on May 19, 1947 the NNC sent a memorandum to British Crown demanding Independence of Naga Hills for ten years. They expressed that after ten years Naga people will decide whether to become the part of Indian Union or to maintain their sovereignty. They reiterated their plea that Naga people never accepted the subjugation of the British as they fought for their sovereignty by occasional revolt against them.

A.Z.Phizo (Qaid-e-Azam of Nagaland)
The leader of the Naga underground forces is Angami Zapu Phizo. His formal claim to the leadership of the guerrillas is derived from his position as the elected President of the Naga National Council which declared Naga independence from India and later became the founder of the underground Naga Federal Government (NFG). For a number of years Phizo led his guerrilla forces in battle against Indian Army, but in June 1960 he arrived in London to enlist world opinion and solicit foreign assistance for his NFG guerrillas. In the intervening years, Phizo has tried to exercise direction and leadership of the guerrillas from his home in Bromley, near London. However, since the insurrectionary Naga Federal Government has its own political and military leaders who continued to function in Nagaland, Phizo’ leadership of the underground has increasingly depended upon his ability to deliver foreign assistance in one form or another to the NFG. Over the years the charismatic appeal of Phizo’s name has lost some of its lusture, but he remains a key actor on the Naga scene by virtue of his capacity to enlist public sympathy and foreign aid for his cause.

The desire in Nagaland for a peaceful resolution of the conflict has frequently focussed on the role of Phizo. Through the years, Nagas of various political persuasions have come to London to discuss politics and possible terms for ending the war. Phizo’s tacit approval made possible the cease-fire agreement and the formation of the Peace Mission in 1964. However, once peace talks began, Phizo counselled the NFG negotiators against accepting as a tactic to ensure his return to Nagaland as the sole spokesman for Naga political objectives. A series of overtures were made by Phizo to pave the way for his participation in the negotiations with the Indian Government, but they were opposed by the Indian Government, by Moderate Nagas in the state government as well as by some guerrilla leaders in the NFG.

Rebuffed in his bid to recover his preeminent position in Naga politics Phizo was put in the position of having to demonstrate to his supporters that following his leadership would lead to greater dividends than to follow alternate courses charted by his political rivals in Nagaland. Unwilling to capitulate on the issue of Naga independence, and fearful of the political costs of immediate resumption of full- scale military operations, Phizo decided to follow a strategy which he believed might rouse western powers to support his cause. Early in 1967 some NFG guerrilla units were instructed to send a selected contingent to China via the mountainous jungles of North Burma. Two groups of guerrillas totalling about 300 men reached China about April 1967, just as Phizo arrived in the U.S to plead for assistance on the argument that otherwise his guerrillas would be forced to rely upon communist support and arms. As far as is known, no U.S officials gave him sympathetic hearing, and he returned to London empty handed. The vague but optimistic accounts of his trip which he sent to the guerrillas in Nagaland gave assurance that support from the U.S and the U.N was only a matter of time. Over the next year, groundless rumours circulated in Nagaland of promised covert support for the NFG by the Central Intelligence Agency if Nixon were to win the U.S presidential election. These rumours intensified after Phizo successfully arranged for a foreign journalist to be smuggled in and out of Nagaland by the NFG.

The failure of Phizo’s international power play left him more reliant than before upon Communist China and Pakistan, if only because he had promised much and therefore had to deliver. Furthermore, his uncompromising line on the peace talks and his flirtation with communist China triggered major defections from the NFG which had the effect of weakening the military and political power of those following his directions. Thus for a variety of reasons, Phizo was driven to adopt his alternate tactic of soliciting massive Chinese and Pakistani military assistance to build up the NFG guerrilla forces for the eventual resumption of hostilities should the Indians not agree to Naga independence and the transfer of all power to the NFG under his leadership. (This is where NNC political movement got defunct and a government “NFG” took over). In the years since 1967 Phizo’s tactics have changed very little followed by various factions in Nagaland.

The Naga Federal Government–Revolutionary Government
Disappointed from his meeting with Nehru, Phizo returned to Naga Hills and mobilised the various rival sub-tribes of Nagas with the slogan of Naga Nationalism. He also set up various front organisations like People’s Independence League, the Naga Youth Movement and Naga Women’s society and accelerated his movement for creation of a sovereign Naga State comprising Naga Hills, Tuensang and other Naga inhabited areas in India and Burma (Myanmar). With the support of Christian Missionaries like Rev. Michel Scott and others Phizo emerged as the supreme leader of Nagas by arousing political consciousness among them. He mobilised his people as freedom fighters for liberation of their territories from Indian occupation and gave a call for boycott of first General election in Naga Hills. Boycott of election followed by his politics of militancy was a direct challenge to the Government of India, which compelled the latter to declare Naga Hills a disturbed area.

During the period of hostilities, the Naga guerrilla organisation was a rather loosely knit conglomerate of regional and tribal guerrilla bands which acknowledged the authority of the Naga Federal Government. The autonomy of each guerrilla band became more of a problem after ceasefire in 1964, since the NFG commanders could meet more regularly and consider policy and tactical issues raised at the peace negotiations. When it became apparent that the Indian Government was unwilling to consider complete independence for Nagaland as demanded by the NFG negotiating Team, a number of tactical and policy questions had to be faced. The most difficult question, however, became the authority and leadership of A.Z.Phizo.

In May 1967 two underground leaders, R.Suisa and Vizol Angami, travelled to London to discuss strategy with Phizo. They returned to Nagaland the following Month with Phizo’s report of his accomplishments abroad as well as endorsement for the earlier decision to seek Chinese communist military assistance for the underground forces. The strategy proposed by Phizo set off a bitter and continuing dispute within NFG. Some Nagas objected because it appeared to violate their professed Christian values to seek assistance from a militantly atheistic state. Others were concerned lest they suffer the fate of Tibet in the course of becoming dependent upon the Chinese. However the biggest practical concern involved the fear that Communist Chinese assistance would trigger a massive Indian response and plunge Nagaland into intense terrorism, repressive counter –insurgency operations and atrocities characteristic of vicious guerrilla warfare. In short, the main issue attitudes toward violence and the tactics which risked violence.

The first guerrilla leader to openly challenge the power and directives of Phizo was General Kaito Sukhai. He had held the post of Commander in Chief of the NFG army from about 1953 until 1963, when he travelled to London via Pakistan to discuss strategy with Phizo. Shortly afterwards, General Kaito was removed from office at Phizo’s command and replaced with General Mowu Angami, Phizo’s nephew. General Kaito out of office remained inconspicuous until the ceasefire, at which time he spent most of his time in Kohima fairly close liaison with leaders of the elected “overground” government of Nagaland, and he came to appreciate their political objectives, even though he retained his affiliation and contacts with the guerrilla troops he had led during the most difficult years of the fighting. When Phizo enunciated his “China tactic” General Kaito decided to act. In July 1967 guerrilla troops loyal to Kaito seized the NFG treasury (reported to have contained Rs.110,000), all sixteen military radio transmitters and the bulk of the guerrilla arms caches. The press reported that of the 2,000 guerrillas fully mobilized, 1,500 had opted to follow Kaito’s leadership. The anti-Phizo coup had entailed no bloodshed, and was immediately followed by negotiations between the rival factions to prevent an open clash. The President of the NFG in 1967 was Kaito’s brother, Kughato Sukhai, who remained loyal to Phizo and thus represented the pro-Phizo faction in the protracted negotiations with Kaito which followed the Coup.

The immediate political effect of Kaito’s anti-Phizo coup was to place the pro-Phizo faction in a more desperate situation and make them even more eager than before to replenish their empty armoires with weapons from foreign sources. As a consequence, the impetus for sending guerrilla contingents through Burma to China was intensified, and over the next sixteen months several pro-Phizo guerrillas left for China to get new weapons and training in guerrilla warfare.

In October 1967 the Naga Federal Government was rocked by a new internal crisis. A long series of negotiations between the NFG and the Indian Government had broken down following talks in New Delhi between Kughato Sukhai and Indira Gandhi. Faced with the stalemate at the peace table, the NFG leaders had to choose between intransigence and accepting some compromise political settlement as the basis for more permanent peace. Once again factional differences arose partly as a result of Phizo’s admonition to hold out for complete independence and partly as a result of a new attempt by Phizo to shift power to NFG to “more dependable” leaders.

The NFG Tatar Hoho (parliament) was convened in October to resolve factional differences and promptly proceeded to elect a new President and Vice-President, both of whom are known to be dedicated “Phizo’s men”. Immediately upon taking office the new President, G. Mhiasiu, supported by Vice President Imkongmeren Ao, declared “President Rule” thus suspending the NFG constitution and assuming the powers exercised by Prime minister Kughato Sukhai, suspected by the Phizo faction of sympathy for his brother’s political views and believed to be too compromising in negotiations with India. This manoeuvre removed from office in the NFG the mild critics of Phizo’s tactical line, including nearly all the negotiating team in the peace talks with India. The defeated NFG president Scato Swu, announced that he was taking a “two year’s holidays from politics” and added:

“Let Mr .Phizo and others try it if they can have better terms from the Government of India than what Mr.Kughato Sukhai and I were obtaining.”
President G.Mhiasiu’s assumption of authoritarian powers in the NFG created further factional splits in the underground, and over the next few Months some guerrilla units defected to General Kaito’s faction, while one group merely announced that it was “seceding” from the Naga Federal Government. Mean while, Kughato Sukhai and his ousted Foreign minister, Issac Swu (Present Chairman NSCN (IM)), mounted a campaign to wrest power in the NFG from G. Mhiasiu by “Constitutional” means. Because of the cease-fire both leaders could campaign openly at public gatherings in various towns and villages against president Mhiasiu’s “China policy” and the lack of democracy in the NFG under his ‘Presidential rule”. Under the pressure of Naga public opinion, President Mhiasiu’s finally agreed to convene his appointed NFG Council to consider Kughato Sukhai’ demand for a return to “Parliamentary government”. The motion which would have returned Kughato Sukhai to power was rejected by the surprisingly close vote of 16 to 15. To subdue his critics, G.Mhiasiu was forced to promise a new NFG constitution. The Moderates who hoped for “Democratic reforms” were sadly disappointed when the new constitution was finally promulgated by President Mhiasiu, for it provided for “parliamentary government with president rule” and merely restored some of the trappings of the NFG representative system while reinforcing the control of the pro-Phizo faction over the NFG.

Each time the NFG faced a crises over Phizo’s leadership role, his tactics, or the legitimacy of the NFG “representative” institutions, the support for General Kaito’s “anti-Phizo” faction grew. At the same time, the military power of the pro Phizo faction was also growing as the first Contingents of guerrilla troops returned from China with new weapons and improved training. For the future of the area, it became increasingly critical whether the defections from the NFG or the influx of newly armed guerrilla units tipped the balance of power in the underground one way or the other.

Fearing the increasing military build up of the pro-Phizo underground, General Kaito initiated a vigorous “recruiting” campaign which quickly degenerated into a series of skirmishes between his forces and those of the NFG. By the end of 1968 Kaito’s forces controlled Most of the Sema, Angami and Mao areas, while the Pro-Phizo faction had its strength in Eastern Angami, Chakesang, Wokha areas, Thankhul and the Zeliang areas of present Manipur. As the rivalry became more intense, the incidence of violence and selective terror increased. In a dramatic raid on NFG headquarters, Kaito’s troops kidnapped the Acting Commander in Chief of the NFG, General Zuheto. The latter was accused of planning to assassinate Kaito, but was released when he defected to the Kaito faction, only to be recaptured a short while later when his “defection” appeared to be spurious. Perhaps in retaliation, two months later General Kaito was assassinated while he was walking alone and unarmed. Although the assailant was never formally identified, rumours circulated that General Kaito was murdered on Phizo’ orders, and that the assassin was killed a few months later in a skirmish with the Indian Army.

The revolutionary government of Nagaland
The murder of General Kaito made the cleavages within the underground even more irreconcilable .Within a few weeks most of the ex-NFG officials who had been in office the previous year issued a call for all underground leaders to attend a “Council of the Naga People” at Satakha. When the NFG incumbents refused to attend, the anti-Phizo faction raided the NFG headquarters at Chedema and Kidnapped President Mhiasiu and NFG Home minister Z. Ramyo. When the Council of the Naga People convened a few days later, Kughato Sukhai declared that the Naga Federal Government had been “Dissolved”, and shortly thereafter the announcement was made that in its place a new Government had been formed called the Revolutionary Government of Nagaland (RGN), with Kughato Sukhai elected president of the council, Scato Swu, Prime minister and Iesum, President of the RGN.

The formation of the Revolutionary Government did not eliminate the Naga Federal Government. Instead, NFG vice President Chumbeo Murry declared a “State of emergency” and claimed the vacant post of the NFG presidency from the Kidnapped G.Mhiasiu. For the time being, he was content to wait for NFG military contingents to return from China with new weapons before attempting retaliation or mounting a raid to rescue the NFG leaders detained at the Zungti headquarters of the revolutionary Government.

As the security situation became more critical, the Indian Army intensified its operations against suspected guerrilla bands as they returned from China. By contrast, the Indian army made no sustained effort to engage in search operations against the Revolutionary Government which had promised not to seek foreign assistance and professed to favour peaceful negotiations for settling the “Naga Problem”. Because the RGN was almost as eager to intercept the returning NFG guerrillas as the Indian government, it is possible that RGN leaders reached some understanding for limited co-operation with the Indian authorities or the overground Nagaland government. At a Minimum, it is clear that the provisions of the ceasefire were honoured between the RGN and the Indian security forces, but between the NFG and the Indian Army the cease fire was inoperative.

When Phizo enunciated his “China Tactic” he apparently failed to take into account the reaction of Burma. One of the first NFG groups to go to China engaged in a minor skirmish with a Burmese security post, and when the guerrillas returned later in the year armed with better weapons, they decided to take retaliatory action. The severity of the NFG attack on the Burmese outpost forced the Burmese Military to shift from a posture of indifference to one of extreme hostility.

By 1969 the journey across North Burma to China was extreme hazardous for Naga guerrillas. When the NFG commander in Chief General Mowu, leading 600 guerrillas, attempted to return to Nagaland through Burma, he met determined opposition from the Burmese and his troops were reported to have suffered the loss of about 300 men in a series of running battles. Tia Ao, the son of the NFG “elder statesman” Imkongmeren Ao, was killed in this encounter. At the same time NFG guerrillas looted the two Burmese towns of Tiddim and Falam and were reported to have stolen Rs.100,000 in currency. When the guerrillas reached the Border of Nagaland they found the access routes effectively blocked by the Indian Army. At the same time RGN scouts apparently made contact with General Mowu’s band and persuaded him and his forces to proceed to the “Sanctuary” of the RGN camp (protected by ceasefire agreement). While the full story has not been told, it appears that the Indian authorities learned the arrival of General Mowu and his NFG men. Whether the capture of General Mowu and his band of 162 men was accomplished by the “treachery” of the RGN is difficult to determine, and may indeed depend on how one defines the word. In any event, General Mowu and his men were captured by the Indian army without a fight when they found themselves in an untenable situation. Shortly afterwards, part of a second contingent of China- trained guerrillas was also intercepted and 83 were captured ,but the leader ,Issac Swu and about 100 men eluded security forces managed to slip over the border into the Naga Areas of Manipur.

The capture of large contingents of NFG guerrillas substantially altered the political balance in Naga politics. Morale in the NFG dipped to a new low, so that the RGN was able to recruit additional NFG defectors. The RGN leaders who desperately wanted to get peace talks started again soon discovered that the Indian Government saw no reason to resume the talks, particularly when the underground was hopelessly fragmented and the security situation was improving. As a result, neither the Tactics of the NFG nor the RGN appeared to facilitate a negotiated settlement on terms acceptable both to the underground Nagas and the Indians.

Shillong Accord
Before the Shillong accord was signed and surrendered in 11th Nov.’1975 by the Naga Underground in Nagaland and Manipur, The Indian government announced that 800 guerrillas had surrendered from October 1968 to March 1969 and that 2316 guerrillas had surrendered in the two year period ending on December 16,1969.”See Citizen’s Voice December 18.1969 page 1”.

The most interesting part in Naga History is that Naga elites associated with the NNC which played a major role for Naga independence, after the Second World War but when military operation intensified Moderate Nagas formed the Naga Peoples Convention in 1957 which played a vital role for a full fledged state. The first Naga People’s Convention was held at Kohima on August 22, 1957 with Imkongliba Ao as its President and Jasokie Angami one time associate of Phizo as General Secretary. The convention resolved for a satisfactory political settlement of Naga Hills within Indian Union. Responding to the demand of the Naga Peoples Convention Naga Hills, which was a district of Assam was brought under central administration under Ministry of External Affairs with a nomenclature of Naga Hills Tuuensang Area (NHTA). In its second convention at Ungma in May 1958, it constituted a committee to contact the Naga rebels and win them over. In its third convention in 1959 the resolution included the demand for a separate statehood for Naga Hills within Indian Republic. From December 1957 to February 18, 1961 remained under the administration of NHTA.

The sixteen-point agreement between the Naga Peoples Convention and the then Prime Minister of India in July 1960 paved the way for creation of Nagaland as a separate state within Indian Union. Naga Hills was accordingly placed under the Nagaland (Transitional Provision) Regulation 1961 with an interim body consisting of 45 members elected from different sub-tribes of the Nagas. While democratic process for the proposed new state was in progress, some of the hard core gunned down two moderate leaders namely Imkongliba and PhantingPhong on August 22, 1961 and August 29, 1962 respectively.

The interim body was dissolved and Nagaland was formally declared as Sixteenth State of Indian Union on December 1, 1963 with Shilu Ao heading a five-member caretaker Government. The Naga peoples convention after statehood transformed into a political party called the Nagaland Nationalist Organisation (NNO).

In January 1970 the Nagaland Nationalist Organisation (NNO) enunciated the following policy toward the guerrillas:-
“……the NNO accepts the underground Nagas as inalienable part of the Naga community and thus, they must have a say in the final settlement. This party is convinced that Naga problem has to be solved by the Nagas themselves and this can be done only when there is peace and unity among the Nagas. This party, therefore, appeals to all contending groups and parties to observe strictly the ceasefire agreement.”(India weekly (London), November 5, 1970 and refer also 1969 election manifesto of the NNO “pamphlet”: N.Bendang Ao.)

The opposition NUF (Nagaland United Front) elections campaigning with the slogan “A vote for UF is a vote for permanent peace”
“The NUF stand for peace includes everyone; even those “hard core” who have gone over to China .We do not advocate their total annihilation because we know peace cannot be obtained by such means.

We know that the spirit of Nationalism once aroused can never be suppressed by force. Violence only breeds more violence.
It is unnecessary to deny that we are pro-Phizo.” Assam tribune, January 28,1969 page 1.
In the similar line Congress party have declared to maintain equi-distance to all the guerrillas faction in Nagaland as well as the NPF party declared to maintain equi-closeness.
It is very interesting and sad to see that the Moderate Nagas could not stand to a single party (NNO) but with the passage of Time it broke to many other political party like the FGN(Phizo) broke down to various faction. Most of the key players in either the Moderate Nagas or the UG remain the same in principle and ideology. It is for the Nagas to judge and let not the History repeat itself.


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