Insurgency has been defined as a protracted struggle conducted methodically, step by step, in order to attain specific intermediate objectives leading finally to the overthrow of the existing order.1 In modern times, insurgency covers a full spectrum of conflicts ranging from subversion, to guerilla warfare and the convergence of guerilla bands into regular units to fight in a conventional manner. The spread of insurgency has been more predominant in the developing and underdeveloped countries. Differences in language, religion and ethnicity often act as motivating factors for the insurgents. The success of insurgents in China, Vietnam, Algeria and various other countries has further strengthened the belief in certain quarters that it is an effective instrument for achieving political and military goals against powerful governing authorities.
India has inherited numerous problems of the Raj days, but perhaps none of them are as intractable and protracted as the one energised by the tribesmen of the erstwhile Naga Hills and Tuensang that now constitute the State of Nagaland.2 Nagaland was the first to take up the path of violence which was soon followed by Manipur, Mizoram and finally by the whole Northeastern region. The Nagas, the Mizos and the Manipuris began to advocate for independent states, whereas, others asked for greater autonomy. Along with this demand, there arose a strong reaction against the people who had entered the region from erstwhile East Pakistan and later Bangladesh as well as from other parts of India. The local tribals labelled these entrants as foreigners. They claimed that these “foreigners” were interfering in their life-style and were a potent danger to their culture and existence. This gave birth to a demand that the outsiders i.e. foreigners must quit their land. Meanwhile, the insurgents in Nagaland also grew in strength and formed an underground Federal Government and Federal Army to fight for their cause. This was the beginning of the anti-national activities on the national map.
The strategic and geographically crucial location of the Northeast ensured that this region had a special place in the plan of the British. Boxed in by four countries viz., China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan, with only a 22 km wide chicken-neck corridor of Siliguri linking it with mainland India, the region fitted well into the scheme of the colonial rulers to turn into their “Crown Colony” under the “Coupland Plan”.3 It would have eventually been used as a springboard to further their interests against Myanmar, India and China. The “Quit India Movement” and the ensuing mass upsurge left little time in the hands of Britishers to execute their plan. Unfortunately, even after independence the scenario remained more or less the same as the differences could not be bridged. Leaders got deeply involved in the problems like mass exodus, maintenance of law and order and rehabilitation of refugees, which arose after the partition. The inhabitants of Northeastern India continued to live in isolation, following their established culture, customs, traditions and laws. It was nearly after a decade of independence that the need was felt to reach out to this neglected area and its people and bring them into the national mainstream.
Used to their own way of life, the tribals looked specially at the overtures of the Central government. The slogan of economic upliftment did not appeal to the people who were leading a rather abstemious life. Attempt to draw them into the mainstream were deemed as an infringement of their independence and culture. This approach aggravated the situation and the locals began to see the national integration moves as forced Indianisation and they started fearing loss of their distinct identity. The outcome of such apprehensions was unrest and disturbance, which then evolved into insurgency.
The Naga insurgency being the force behind other insurgencies in Northeastern India, has been analysed in the first part of this fellowship project. Subsequently, the insurgencies in Manipur and Tripura, the Assam cauldron and present status of violent movements in the state of Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram will be looked at. The implications of these secessionist and violent movements on the internal security of India will be highlighted in the final paper.
This paper aims to examine the Naga insurgency, which has evolved into a complex problem with political, social and economic ramifications. Initially, the Naga people had a serious problem of identity and integration with their Indian brethren. In turn, this social issue assumed a political dimension that eventually evolved into insurgency. To understand the Naga insurgency, therefore, it would be imperative to trace the rise of Naga sub-nationalism.
Who Are The Nagas
Belonging to the Indo-Mongoloid group and speaking the Tibeto-Burman dialects of the Sino-Tibetan family4, the earliest presence of Nagas appears to have been noted in Yajurveda about a thousand years before Christ. Then referred to as “Kirata”, the tribal groups now occupy a vast area of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Myanmar.5 Of the various interpretations offered, the most plausible is that the word “Naga” has been derived from the Hindi root ‘Naga’, meaning naked.
Nagas are divided into various tribes,6 sub-tribes and clans with varying customs, traditions, dress, language, polity etc. Numerous Naga tribes speaking different dialects, occupying specific mountain ranges with settlements on hilltops and following an animistic religion until their recent rapid conversion to Christianity,7 had been fighting among themselves and raiding the plains of Assam. They had been living in relative isolation for centuries. It was only from the first quarter of the last century that they were brought into real contact with the outside world by several agencies, the most prominent of which were the British missionaries. The British followed a policy of “least interference” in the internal affairs of the Nagas, giving due regard to the continuance of the tribal village administration, land system, customary laws, social customs and communal institutions. Therefore, the traditional life pattern of the Naga tribes remained unchanged, but inter-tribal warfare and head-hunting diminished due to British intervention.
In their own interest, the British declared the Naga territory as a “backward area” and aimed at administering it “in a simpler and more personal manner than those of the more civilised and longer settled tribes”. The success of the British policy, however, rested on the least possible interference and the use of traditional institutions, with the missionary rather than the administrator as the main harbinger of change.8 Therefore, little importance was given to the improvement of means of communication and natural resources. The task of educating the tribesmen was left in the hands of the missionaries whose main task was the spread of Christianity. In 1873, the Lieutenant Governor of Assam, with the approval of the Governor-General of British India, promulgated the Bengal-Eastern Frontier Regulation, which brought into force what came to be known as the ‘Inner Line’.9 Under these regulations, the people from the plains were prevented from entering the Naga areas while an exception was made in the case of Christian missionaries. This might have saved the Nagas from “exploitation by outsiders and sudden disruption of Naga culture”, but it went a long way in isolating the Nagas from the national mainstream. They continued to lead their lives in isolation and despite their love for freedom, were not in any way drawn into the anti-British struggle led by the Indian National Congress. However the English language and Christianity brought a gradual change in the outlook of these people, and infused a sense of nationality in them.
In 1918, a few government officials and leading Naga chiefs formed an organisation known as the “Naga Club” at Kohima for promoting the interests of the Nagas. This club provided a common platform for leaders of different tribes of Nagas. In the absence of any other organisation, the Naga Club turned into an effective political forum for the Naga tribes. The psychological phase of the Naga insurgency can be said to have formally begun at this point.10 When the Simon Commission visited Naga Hills in 1929 a strong delegation representing different tribes of Nagas submitted a memorandum demanding that their hills be excluded from the proposed reform scheme and kept under direct British rule. More than twenty representatives of the different tribes signed the memorandum.11 One of the members of the Commission, E. Cadogan declared in the House of Commons in May 1935, that the Nagas had “a very shrewd suspicion that something is being done to take away from them their immemorial rights and customs”.12 No attempt was made to clear the Naga suspicions since this suited the British interests.
As a result of the recommendations of the Simon Commission, under the Government of India Act, 1935 Naga Hills were excluded from the reform scheme. Declared as an “Excluded Area” they continued to be administered by the Government of Assam. Whether the special provisions made by the Act of 1935 fulfilled the political aspirations of the Nagas or not is a difficult question to answer. Judging from the absence of any agitation of a political nature from the time of issuing notification of the Government of India’s External Affairs Department (No.1-X) dated April 1, 193713 to the formation of the Naga National Council, it can be presumed that the Nagas acquiesced to the new arrangement.
The World Wars too had a tremendous impact on the Nagas. During World War I the Naga members of the Labour Corps brought money and dresses, but World War II was fought in Nagaland itself. Nagas were introduced to modern guerilla fighting which was natural to them. The dumps of arms and ammunition left by the retreating Japanese Army provided ready material to be used against the security forces later.
The War brought a greater degree of unity among the Nagas. After the war, at the initiative of C.R. Pawsey, then British Deputy Commissioner of Naga Hills District, the Naga Hills Tribal Council was formed in April 1945 to help in the relief and rehabilitation work. It was converted into Naga National Council (NNC)14 in April, 1946 at Wokha with the aim to carry out social and political upliftment of the Nagas. The most significant fact about the council was that for the first time, the term “national” was used in the Naga phraseology, indicating the intensity of Naga feelings. The council was composed of 29 members representing different tribes, on the basis of proportional representation. The educated section of the Nagas of course, provided the leadership of the N.N.C. In the beginning, the political objective of the Naga National Council was solidarity of all Nagas, including those of the unadministered areas and the inclusion of their hills within the province of Assam in a free India, with local autonomy and adequate safeguards for the interest of the Nagas. This demand of the Nagas was well received in the circle of the Indian National Congress.
Satisfied with the participation of the “hill tribes” in the war and their loyalty to the Government, some British officers abroad suggested new plans (“Crown Colony”) for the hill areas of Northeast India. The scheme of a “Crown Colony” could not gain ground due to the “peculiar political and constitutional situation” facing the country on the eve of Indian independence. In the beginning, the political objective of the Naga National Council was local autonomy for Naga Hills within the province of Assam. But the return of Angami Zapu Phizo from Burma greatly helped the undercurrents of the Naga politics to come to the surface within a year in the form of N.N.C.’s June 1947 declaration that the Naga Hills would cease to be a part of India with the departure of the British.15 The N.N.C. turned down the offer of autonomy envisaged in the sixth Schedule of the Constituent Assembly. It was this dilemma in Naga perception about their own future and India’s geo-political interest in the Naga Hills that led to the Hydari Agreement in 1947, Clause IX of which up till now has been a major bone of contention for its ambiguity. Clause IX of the agreement reads as under.16
“Period of Agreement—The Governor of Assam as the Agent of the Government of the Indian Union will have a special responsibility for a period of 10 years to ensure the due observance of this agreement; at the end of this period the Naga Council will be asked whether they require the above agreement to be extended for a further period or a new agreement regarding the future of the Naga people arrived at”.
There was a great misunderstanding about ‘clause nine’ of the agreement between the N.N.C. and the Government of India on account of ambiguity in wording and interpretation of the clause. During this period on July 1947, a Naga delegation headed by Phizo met Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi for pressing their demand for independence. After giving the delegation a patient hearing, as claimed by the Naga leaders the Mahatma remarked.17
“The Nagas have every right to be independent. I want you to feel that India is yours. I feel that the Naga Hills are mine just as much as they are yours… Why wait for August 15 to declare independence… I will come to Kohima and ask Army to shoot me before they shoot one Naga”. This statement of Gandhiji impressed the Naga leaders very much.
Back in their hills, on August 14th on the eve of the Independence of India, some Nagas under the leadership of Phizo declared their own independence.18 Independence was declared by the extremist group, which has emerged within the N.N.C. This group wanted the absolute right to chart their future course so that they could opt for a sovereign state.19 The next day, independence of India was declared which the Nagas boycotted. In this connection, a statement given by Pawsey, then Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills as recorded by Julian Jacob, in the album “The Nagas—Hill people of North-East India”20 is worth mentioning.
“In 1947, a Naga delegation visited Delhi in order to assess the Nagas’ intention not to join the new Republic. Upto this point, both Gandhi and Nehru had said they were sympathetic to the Nagas and would not support forced unions. The Nagas’ own interpretation of their meeting with Gandhi in July was that this was still the Congress policy. But in August, perhaps in response to fears of secession elsewhere in the new India (especially in the Princely states as well as Pakistan) the Indian Government’s attitude hardened and the Nagas were told that India would never allow independence. The Nagas reacted by a declaration of Independence unilaterally signed by nine members of the NNC on August 14, 1947”.
Both the above statements are the claims of Naga leaders. No Indian leader who was close to the Mahatma ever confirmed the reported statement of Gandhiji. Mr. Pyare Lal, secretary of Gandhiji, later on denied the contention of the Naga leaders about the statement.21 Pandit Nehru termed the Nagas’ demand for independence as ‘absurd’. In the words of Pandit Nehru: “I consider freedom very precious. I am sure that the Nagas are as free as I am bound by all sorts of laws, the Nagas are not to the same extent bound by such laws and governed by their customary laws and usages. But the independence the Nagas are after, is something quite different from individual or group freedom. In the present context of affairs both in India and the world, it is impossible to consider even for a moment such an absurd demand for independence of the Nagas. It is doubtful whether the Nagas realise the consequences of what they are asking for. For their present demand would ruin them.”22
However, the declaration by itself marked the beginning of a new chapter of confrontation and conflict, of armed insurrection by a section of the Nagas and the counter-offensive launched by the Indian security forces. The assumption of direct leadership of the Naga National Council in December 1950 by Phizo, referendum of May 1951, boycott of General Elections of 1952, establishment of a parallel government in 1956 are some of its important developments to understand/analyse the socio-political unrest in Nagaland.
N.N.C. and the Naga Cause
Nothing in the Hydari agreement suggested that the Naga participation in India was temporary, though the N.N.C. insisted upon that interpretation. The government interpreted the agreement in the light that Nagas had the freedom only to suggest revision of the administrative pattern after ten years, which was unacceptable to the N.N.C. Meanwhile, differences cropped up within the N.N.C. After Phizo became its president, N.N.C. decisively rejected the government’s interpretation of the agreement. As he ascended in the N.N.C. leadership, from 1951 onwards the situation began to change dramatically for the worse. In May 1951, he organised a “plebiscite” in which Nagas gave their thumb impressions in favour of independence. In the same year, the first General Elections of independent India were held, which too were boycotted by the Nagas. That provided an opportunity for the Naga extremists to demonstrate their non-acceptance of the Indian constitution.
As the N.N.C. boycotted the Government of India, the authorities apprehended trouble. On March 30, 1953, Jawaharlal Nehru visited Kohima and was greeted with derision. That was another unhappy episode. The Naga leaders maintain that “the Indian leader did not try to find out the wishes of the Naga people. The same year nine police out-posts were opened in the Naga Hills. Action against the N.N.C. members was intensified. Different Acts, including the Assam Disturbed Areas Act 1955, were imposed to enable the armed forces personnel to carry out their difficult task. In 1956, army units were deployed in important towns like Kohima and Mokokchung.
By this time, the strength of underground Nagas increased and the situation was becoming tense. On March 22, 1956, the N.N.C. set up its government—the Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) and hoisted the republic’s flag.23 The N.N.C. activists also formed the Naga Home Guard (NHG)24 and an underground Parliament called “Tatar Hoho”. The Naga government was strongly supported by the Burmese Communist Party. It shot down an Indian Air Force transport aircraft on a supply dropping mission and the crew were held hostage for many years. Soon large-scale violence erupted throughout Nagaland which was then known as Naga Hills and was still a part of Assam.
On April 11, 1962, the President of India issued the Nagaland Security Regulation, 1962, for the suppression of subversive activities, maintenance of essential supplies and services and control of military requirements. In August 1962, Nehru moved in Parliament the Bills for the 13th amendment of the Constitution and for the creation of the state of Nagaland. The Bills were given assent by the President on September 4, 1962. On December 1, 1963, President Radhakrishnan inaugurated the State of Nagaland at Kohima.25 Mr. P. Shily Ao became the Chief Minister and declared the occasion “a day of rejoicing” and “the day to redeem our pledge”.26 But, underground activities still continued in the area. The Indian government viewed the Naga problem seriously, and declared the N.N.C., Federal Government of Nagaland and its army “unlawful associations” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 on August 31, 1972.
At the same time, the Government of India was exerting extreme pressure on the N.N.C. leaders and ultimately it led to the signing of what is known as the “Shillong Accord” with a section of the N.N.C. leaders. Under the accord, signed in Shillong on November 11, 1975, the N.F.G. agreed to accept the solution of the Naga problem within the framework of the Indian Constitution, abjure violence, bring out the armed men to surrender weapons and resolve the residual problems through discussions.27 Though, for the first time, the Government of India refused to relax the operations after the 1975 accord, it permitted the N.N.C. to assume legality following the decision of not extending the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. It made alive an organisation that had been the symbol of terrorism, destruction and disintegration for nearly three years. Those who signed the accord did not consult Phizo, the N.N.C. president, and other senior leaders like Isak Chishi Swu and then General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah who at the time were camping in the eastern Naga Hills, in upper Myanmar. While Phizo refused to lend support, several underground Naga members led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah who had strongly opposed the Shillong accord ultimately formed the “National Socialist Council Of Nagaland” (NSCN) on January 31, 1980.28
New Vanguard—National Socialist Council of Nagaland
The National Socialist Council Of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed in the thick jungles of eastern Naga Hills in upper Myanmar area with Isak Chishi Swu as the Chairman, SS Khaplang, a Hemis Naga of upper Myanmar, as Vice-President and Thuingaleng Muivah, a Tangkhul Naga of Manipur’s Ukhrul district, as the General Secretary. The NSCN has been carrying on an armed struggle to bring an end to Indian suzerainty over the Naga people and to establish a People’s Republic of Nagaland based on Mao’s ideology.29 The manifesto of NSCN is based on the principle of socialism for economic solution and a spiritual outlook—”Nagaland for Christ”.30 The initial strength of the outfit was approximately 150 cadres and rose to 3,000 with Konyaks and Tangkhuls forming the main recruits. Other tribes in lesser numbers include, Semas, Kukis, Yumchungus, and Maos. With a large array of sophisticated weapons procured through robberies, Kachen. Independent Army (KIA), and international markets, the NSCN, soon developed and turned out to be the most powerful underground organisations in the Northeastern region. In spite of the intermittent attacks on their camps by Naga activists belonging to the Federal Government of Nagaland, the NSCN emerged as a “powerful and well-knit” insurgent organisation having close ties with the Myanmarese insurgent organisation, Kachen Independent Army (KIA). Armed NSCN insurgents spread their network to Manipur and in different parts of Nagaland. Several Kilonsers (ministers) were appointed and areas divided into different regions with a senior underground member in charge of each regional unit.
The government on one hand exerted pressure on the insurgents and on the other side made efforts to get the undergrounds to the negotiating table. Several peace missions were sent to the NSCN leadership but there was no concrete response from the NSCN. The peace talks with the Indian government became a bone of contention among the senior NSCN leaders. Although no leader has supported the peace talks, the issue had its own disagreement within the ranks of the underground organisation and brought intra-party feuds to the forefront.
On April 30, 1988, an attempt to assassinate Muivah and Tangkhul cadre in the NSCN set-up was executed in which a large number of undergrounds were killed. However, Muivah escaped and as a result, NSCN was vertically split into two factions namely NSCN led by Isak and Muivah and NSCN led by S.S. Khaplang. It was the bloodiest internal clash in the history of Naga insurgency. The NSCN split, when Khaplang suspected Isak and Muivah of secretly initiating talks with the Indian Government.
The original group, which spearheaded the movement for independence of Nagaland under the leadership of Phizo, was N.N.C. After the death of Phizo in 1990, the N.N.C. suffered yet another division with a rival faction led by Adinno, daughter of Phizo and Khadao Youthan, an old associate and follower of Phizo. However, NSCN (I-M) has strength and weapons to dominate other outfits operating in Nagaland. It has moved from strength to strength and has been more aggressive and assertive than the other outfits. It has in fact become a central force in the Northeastern insurgency by expanding its range of operations.31 It has provided inspiration not only for ideological concepts and organisational structures of the other Northeastern insurgents, but has also given more concrete assistance by training the other groups in guerilla tactics and providing initial supplies of sophisticated arms.
Strategy of NSCN (I-M)-An Analysis
The method of violence of the core insurgent group against the Indian State and the consequent counter-insurgency measures followed by the latter also reveals another important dimension of the ethnic insurgency in the region. NSCN analyses that the utter exploitation and domination by the Indian elite will surely pave the way for the “discontented peoples and nationalities” to revolt against the state, that the ideological base of the Union is already on the wane and the territorial integrity of the Indian state could hardly be maintained by using force alone, in the absence of any charismatic leadership at the centre. This perception has led the ideologies of the NSCN (I-M) to use the growing discontentment of the different ethnic groups against the Indian state, in order to accelerate its disintegration which it thinks will, in turn, be helpful for the cause of Naga independence. Therefore, the question of the strategy of United Front with all the forces that could be united with it some way or the other is being debated.32 The NSCN (I-M)’s logistic support to various ethnic insurgent groups in the region like the ULFA, NDFB, NLFT, PLA, etc., and its approval of the terrorism in Punjab as well as militancy in Jammu and Kashmir may well be understood, if viewed from this perspective.
The NSCN (I-M), as part of its strategy of insurgency, is playing the role behind the formation of several ethnic insurgent organisations among the different ethnic groups in the region. Following the surrender of A’Chik Liberation Matgrik Army (ALMA), a Garo insurgent organisation, on October 25, 1994, it is now known that NSCN (I-M), had masterminded the whole outfit.33 It is learnt that while staying in Dimapur, the General Secretary of ALMA, came in contact with NSCN (I-M) activists who mooted the idea of floating an insurgent group in Garo Hills involving the disgruntled Garo youths. As a followup action, the ALMA was formed sometime in 1991.34 The sole motive behind floating this organisation was to make a quick fortune at gunpoint. It seems that the Garo youths having little experience of underground life, joined the ALMA only due to the lure of easy money. They were then trained by NSCN (I-M) activists. During its three year existence, a series of bank robberies were jointly undertaken by ALMA and NSCN (I-M) in the Garo Hills. It is learnt that 70 per cent of the booty collected from such joint operations used to go to NSCN (I-M) as charges for its services and for arms and ammunitions, while the remaining 30 per cent was left with the ALMA as a reward for its local cover. Following the disillusionment with the hard underground life, the ALMA activists surrendered en masse in 1994.
A somewhat similar experience is also gained following the surrender of the Dimasa National Volunteers (DNV) of North Cachar Hills (Assam) as well as Hmar People’s Convention (HPC) (Mizoram). The reported NSCN (I-N) links with Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) and A’chik National Volunteers Council (ANVC) of Meghalaya, National Democratic Front of Boroland of Assam35 and National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) turns out to be part of a similar game plan of NSCN (I-M) as has been manifested in the ALMA syndrome. The Mizoram police has established the close relation between NSCN (I-M) and Hmar People’s Convention (Democrat) insurgents who had abducted six NEEPCO employees on March 31, 2000.36 The NSCN (I-M) and HPCD had jointly ambushed a police party and killed four of them in 1997. The recent spurt in the abduction in the State is the handiwork of the NSCN (I-M) supported by smaller groups.
NSCN (I-M) has also brought outfits like People’s United Liberation Front (PULF), Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA), and Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), under its fold. These organisations have, of late, been involved in killings, kidnappings and extortions with their bases in Jiribam in the Central district of Manipur. These outfits are on an extortion drive to procure sophisticated weapons. NSCN (I-M) is providing training to the cadres of these outfits in the Jiribam jungles.37
These smaller ethnic insurgent groups are not the outcome of any prolonged ethno-political movement. They neither have any defined political agenda nor are they rooted deep into the society. In fact, devoid of any comprehensive ideology, they act more as extortionists rather than insurgents and seemingly play at the hands of NSCN (I-M).
However, floating of such smaller ethnic insurgent groups serve two broad purposes for NSCN (I-M). First, it opens up multiple fronts for the counter-insurgency agencies like police, army, intelligence, etc., and keeps them busy elsewhere rather than concentrating in the strongholds of the core insurgent group. Second, it helps the core insurgent group to mobilise additional resources from areas beyond its sphere of influence as well as provides the necessary cover-ups for its operations in an altogether different ethni-social milieu.
Besides these two purposes, the act of engineering insurgent movements among the different ethnic groups also fits into the NSCN (I-M) strategy to turn its own war with the Indian State into a war of the nationalities of the region. The strategic importance of the Indo-Myanmar border areas, a favourable topography for insurgency, existence of ethnic affinities across the border and the long experience of underground movement have made NSCN (I-M) such a power that it has become the lone rallying point for all insurgent groups operating in the region. The NSCN (I-M) has resolved to form a United Front by coordinating the activities of the other ethnic insurgent groups.
The formation of United Liberation Front of the Seven Sisters (ULFSS) in 1993 under the leadership of NSCN (I-M), is a pointer in this regard. As the ULFSS was a non-starter, the NSCN (I-M) made another effort by forming Self-Defence United Front of the South-East Himalayan Region (SDUFSEHR). It was formed on November 30, 1994. The militant outfits which were harnessed to come under the overall control of SDUFSEHR are: National Democratic Front for Boroland (NDFB) of Assam, H’mar Peoples’ Convention (HPC) of Manipur, the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (Oken) of Manipur, Hynneiwtrep National Liberation Army of Meghalaya, the United Liberation Volunteers (ULV) of Arunachal, All Tripura Tribal Force (ATTF) of Tripura and some other fringe groups.38 The entire region is divided into areas of operation, each are allotted to a group of militant outfits. Thus by bringing the different insurgent outfits under its umbrella, the Muivah outfit poses a serious danger to India’s security in the entire Northeastern India.
The Nagas under NSCN (I-M) seem to be toying with various alternatives of forming a new Nagaland. First seems to be an independent Nagaland comprising the present Nagaland, the Naga inhabited areas of Manipur and Myanmar but there are two other alternatives. While one is to integrate the Naga inhabited districts of Manipur into Nagaland under the Indian constitution, the other seems to form a ‘Southern Nagaland’ comprising the districts of Senapati, Ukhrul, Chandel and Tamenglong with the Indian Union. It has already gained control over the Tamenglong district where the Zeliangrog Nagas live. This will evidently bring the Meiteis of Manipur into conflict with the Nagas. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF), United National Liberation Front (UNLF) of Manipur are committed to make Manipur independent and so will not accept Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur going to Nagaland.39 But the Nagas are fortified by the agreement that was reached between them and the Government of India in 1960 that the contiguous Naga-inhabited areas will eventually be integrated to Nagaland.40
The clash of NSCN (I-M) with the Meitei militant outfits of PLA, PREPAK, UNLF and RPF may ensue at any moment. Nagaland has passed a bill in the Assembly demanding the merger of Naga inhabited areas of Manipur under terms of 16-points agreements in 1960 of the Naga Peoples’ Convention signed with the Government of India. Besides, the hill areas like Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Masokaram and parts of Churachandpur and the Dimapur-Imphal Road, the life-line of Manipur, come under the purview of Nagaland Ceasefire Agreement signed in 1964.41 Manipur will not like the presence of NSCN in these areas. Thus there seems to be a remote possibility of some concessions being made to the Naga insurgents in view of the sentiments of the Manipuri people as well as the insurgent groups threats.
The British followed a policy of isolation of Northeastern India from the Indian mainstream. The barrier of administrative measures of “excluded area” and “partially excluded area” kept the various tribes inhabiting the hills of the region from the influence of the national movement. The British imperialists planned to convert these tribal inhabited areas as a new bastion of imperialism. It is with this end in view that they conceived of the idea of “Crown Colony”.
The US Role
Till the beginning of 1971, the USA continued to be the patron of the insurgents, though the actual supplies of arms and ammunitions from this source were not always steady. Bangkok became the Operational Headquarters of the C.I.A. Arms flowed from Bangkok liberally to any group that wanted to embark on an adventure. Besides, Pakistan, particularly its Eastern Wing, provided the insurgents with transit camps, training centers and a route to Bangkok and Peking. Dacca-Bangkok-London-Pindi-Peking channel was used to operate on the common ground of hatred towards India”.42 At a time, when colonies became independent, neo-colonialism raised its head and Britain was weakened. The USA had taken over the vacuum in S-E Asia. As early as the nineteen fifties, the C.L.A. had extended its activities into Nagaland and was financing the underground movement. “American spies handed the tribal leaders several million rupees, weapons and secret instructions prepared in Washington”.43 A journalist Dhruva Mazumdar, the author of ‘Confession of a Journalist’, states that he was paid by the C.I.A. to file reports from Northeastern India on movements of the Indian Army and “barrack room gossip”.44
Again, it was before Bangladesh was liberated that the U.S.A. and some other western powers hatched a conspiracy to create an “Independent Bengal” comprising East Pakistan, West Bengal, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim and Bhutan. The “Blueprint of this nefarious design was spelt out in a Dacca datelined despatch circulated by Agencies International De Presa (International Press Agency) on December 7, 1963”.45 The separatist leaders are said to have accepted the plot of independent Bengal with its capital in Calcutta. It promised the Nagas and Mizos of ‘Greater Nagaland’ and ‘Greater Mizoram’ as autonomous units within the framework of ‘Great Bengal’.
The Chinese Role
In 1973, a meeting of various insurgent elements, Chakmas (of Bangladesh), Nagas, Mizos and Meiteis was organised. This meeting was held evidently under the auspices of the Peking leadership. According to some reports, the meeting was held in Bangkok which would indicate a collaboration between Beijing (then Peking) leadership and the CIA. Bangkok is known as the Southeast Asian Operational Headquarters of the CIA. The meeting included to forge a kind of organisational confession of all the insurgent elements with a common “command” and a common strategy, so that the insurgency in Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and even Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh could be coordinated. However, the effort proved futile. It seems the Maoist leadership and CIA struck a deal. After that Beijing had to deal separately with each of the insurgent groups.46
Actually, Chinese intentions about Northeast India was shown as early as the late fifties when Chinese committed what was called cartographic aggression of India since in the Chinese maps large parts of Northeastern India were shown as Chinese territory. China was interested in the strategic Himalayan area. Therefore, the target of Beijing leaders shifted to Nagaland as a top-priority. Kaito Sema, a top leader of the Naga insurgents, flew to Beijing from London where he had gone to meet and consult Phizo, the exiled leader of the Naga insurgents. Even after Kaito Sema had returned from Beijing, finalising the modality of mutual cooperation between the “Federal Government of Nagaland” and the “Peoples Republic of China”, there has always been a permanent representative of the FGN in Beijing. The Beijing leadership took batches of Naga youths to different places in China in order to give them training. But it was mainly from 1972 that Beijing stepped up its help to the Naga insurgents.
Batches of Naga, Meitei and Mizo insurgents went to China where they were welcomed as “brothers”. Way back home, the insurgents came back with photos in which they posed with the Chinese officials against the Great Wall of China, Tiannamen Square etc. However, the batch which went to China in 1975 with Muivah could not penetrate back into Nagaland and Manipur. So, they established the Beijing backed camp in the Sahpa village in northeastern Myanmar where a large number of undergrounds lived. Since then this area has become a meeting point and training centre of the insurgent organisations of Northeastern India. It was reported that the leadership of the Burmese camp of the Nagas has signed an agreement of “mutual-co-operation” and “assistance” with the Communist Party of China instead of with the Government. Thus, it was the party that maintained relations with the insurgents. This means that at the Government level, a correct “diplomatic relation would be maintained by China, while all assistance would be made available to various insurgent groups”.47 All these things were made possible under the good offices of the P.R.C.
In 1987, there was a report in the newspapers that the Chinese had withdrawn the support to the insurgents. But it was only a temporary tactical move. The Chinese must have been disillusioned when the Mizo and Tripura insurgents signed accords of peace with the Indian Governments in 1986 and 1988 respectively.
The Role of Pakistan and Bangladesh
Pakistan has been active in giving unabated support of finance, arms and political sinews to the Naga insurgents, to make them persist in terrorist acts and revolt against India. To foment Naga trouble and disintegrate India by straining its economy and diverting the Indian troops to Nagaland for relieving the pressure on Kashmir was Pakistan’s long term strategy. In early 1962, Kaito Sema, the commander-in-chief of the Naga home guards went to Pakistan for training and to acquire arms for terrorist activities in India. On May 20, 1962, Phizo visited Karachi to oversee the training of the Naga underground men. Phizo, in a thankful mood towards Pakistan said in London on May 8, 1963, that in case of a plebiscite, Nagas would also have the choice to join Pakistan. Between 1962 and 1968, ten Naga groups visited Pakistan to procure monetary help and weaponry from Pakistan. The erstwhile East Pakistan had trained some 2,500 Naga underground men and had supplied a large amount of money and arms.48 Recently, Muivah was in Karachi before flying to Bangkok on January 19, 2000, where he was arrested by the Thai police on charges of travelling on a forged passport and subsequently for jumping bail. Such assistance continues at the behest of the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) which has built a nest in the jungles adjoining Manipur, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand.
What had led Britain, USA, China, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to extend support is not their genuine love for the people of Northeast India. The support is not for the real liberation of these people who have grievances. Their main purposes is to destabilise and weaken India. Even if for the time being some countries have stopped aiding Naga insurgents, the renewal of their support in future cannot be ruled out.
Linkages with International Organisations
The NSCN (I-M) has extended its activities even abroad linking up with such international organisations like the UN Human Rights Organisation in Geneva, the Unrepresented Nations People’s Organisation (UNPO) at the Hague and the UN Working Group on Indigenous People’s to further its campaign of self-determination. It has already become a member of the UNPO that is championing the right of self-determination of ethnic minority groups. The NSCN, thus, has not just confined itself to acts of outrage against India’s security forces but has also forged important links with international organisations that count for projecting Naga issues before world opinion.
On April 24, 1998 the Chairman of the NSCN addressed the United Nations Commission on Human Rights at Geneva. He described the Nagas as a distinct people and nation of about three million people, occupying an area of one hundred thousand square km that is, as alleged, “under occupation by the Indian and Burmese armed forces.”49 NSCN, thus, got the international forum to project the Naga cause to embarrass India. An outlawed Indian militant outfit was allowed to speak and project views at the UN forum on alleged human rights violation and lay claim to a sovereign Nagaland. The Northeast issue, thus, has become internationalised like the Kashmir issue.
Serious attempts to solve this vexed issue have been made since the mid-nineties. Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao set the ball rolling by meeting with Isak Chishi Swu and T. Muivah in Paris on June 15, 1995. During the talks Mr. Rao underlined the Government’s stand: “We must solve the problem through political talks and dialogue”.50 Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda went as far as sending the former Union Minister for State, Rajesh Pilot in November 1996 on a secret trip to Bangkok for bringing the NSCN (I-M) to the path of negotiation. Mr. Deve Gowda and NSCN (I-M) leaders met on February 3, 1997, in Zurich, Switzerland.51 The ceasefire with NSCN (I-M) came into force in August 1997.52 The ceasefire has been in force since then with several rounds of talks taking place first with Swaraj Kaushal as the interlocutor and then with the former Home Secretary, K. Padmanabhiah. However, the peace process entered a crucial phase with the NSCN (Khaplang) faction formally announcing its unilateral cease-fire decision on April 9, 2000 and indicating that it is willing to hold peace talks with the Centre.
The Nagaland Chief Minister, Mr. S.C. Jamir, who is seen as being sympathetic towards the NSCN (K) group, met both the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister recently and urged them to include the rebel group in the process. The announcement by the NSCN (K) also indicates that the overwhelming mood in Nagaland is for peace as several social organisations in the state have expressed their views in favour of peace and development while expressing disenchantment with insurgency over the last five decades.
However, of late some differences have cropped up. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (I-M) has stated that it can only be represented in the peace talks by its General Secretary, Isak Muivah. But Muivah is in a Bangkok prison since January 19, 2000, after being arrested for entering the country on a forged passport. He has been sentenced to one year imprisonment for trying to escape from the country while on bail and is now awaiting a second trial. Muivah was arrested along with his lieutenant I. Shimre just when Mr. K. Padmanabhaiah, the PM’s special emissary on India—NSCN (I-M) talks, was set to leave for the third round of talks in the Hague on January 29, 2000, to further his dialogue with the insurgent leaders.53
The NSCN holds that Muivah has been arrested as a result of pressure on the Thai government by Indian authorities. It also believes that given the friendly relations India enjoys with Thailand, the Government can get Muivah out of jail. Whereas, the government is of the view that it would not be proper for it to interfere in the judicial process of another country. The Nagaland Chief Minister, who escaped a major attempt on his life on November 29, 199954 wants Muivah in captivity. Mr. Jamir is convinced that an attempt on his life was the handiwork of NSCN (I-M). Therefore, he is determined to see that Muivah stays where he is. The NSCN on its part considers Mr Jamir as the biggest hurdle in the way of a settlement of the Naga issue with India,55 because, any peace settlement with NSCN (I-M) will be at the cost of NSCN (K) for whom Mr Jamir is said to have “sympathy”.56
However, the real reason appears to lie somewhere else. The government has found it quite intriguing that Muivah should be in Pakistan during the peace negotiations. It is a possibility that he may have been plotting against India with the help of the ISI by organising the transport of weapons from Thailand to the Northeast through Myanmar. As per the Home Ministry officials’ estimates, about 40 to 50 of their cadre are at present being trained at two camps run by the ISI. More than 200 cadres have completed their training in the past three years even after it engaged the Union Government in peace talks. It also maintains that the NSCN has violated the truce conditions.57 On top of it, the army is apprehensive that the NSCN (I-M) is using the ceasefire period for stockpiling weapons.
So far, the talks have made very little substantive progress for more reasons than one. In the first place, the Isak-Muivah leadership has shown no flexible attitude for a negotiated settlement. The two leaders had visited Nagaland in March 1998 to assess the situation and met their followers, but did not indicate as to how the Naga issue could be settled. Their insistence was on several key issues like the areas covered by the ceasefire and the creation of a Greater Nagaland comprising all Naga-inhabited areas of the Northeast. Finally, the basis for further negotiations should be on a so-called plebiscite in 1951. Despite all this, the Government of India has expressed its readiness to hold talks with the NSCN (I-M) with a view to restore peace in Nagaland.
Another major hindrance to carry on the process for peace in Nagaland is the existence of more than one organisation, each claiming to be representative of Naga people. The announcement by the Centre to involve the NSCN (K) faction in the peace process met with a veritable wave of protests launched by the powerful Naga Hoho and the Nagaland People’s Council (NPC). The Kohima based Naga-Hoho is the apex tribal council of Nagas living in different parts of the Northeast.58 The NPC is of the view that the Centre would be committing another mistake if it involved the State Government in the talks. It believes that involving the Jamir Government amounts to inviting only the Congress party into the ongoing peace process, which is “not a mandated government of the people” of Nagaland, as other parties had boycotted the 1998 elections at the call of the Naga Hoho, various NGOs, student bodies etc.
Since the 1998 elections, it has been the declared policy of these organisations not to have anything to do with the Jamir Government. On the other hand, the Jamir Government is firm that it must be taken into confidence should the Centre open a dialogue with the NSCN. Interestingly, the reason why even the cease-fire between the Muivah faction and the army had run into rough weather was due to the fact that the Khaplang faction lost no chance to snipe at its rival cadres without a similar cease-fire agreement with it. In retrospect, it can be stated that today there is no point in seeking to recreate the pre-1998 scenario and to bypass the Jamir Government. No authority at the Centre can afford to do this as law and order is a state subject.
Meanwhile, all the three factions are engaged in an internecine battle of supremacy to increase their respective areas of operation and influence in the region.59 Therefore, it is of paramount importance for the Government of India to devise a strategy to bring the NSCN (I-M), the Khaplang faction and NNC/NFG together on the negotiating table. It will be a long drawn process before peace returns to Nagaland. Importantly an agreement has to be reached between the two parties for extension of the cease-fire which is going to expire on July 31, 2000. In the absence of such a move, Nagaland and Manipur will lapse into more intense armed conflicts than ever before.
In order to achieve peace in Nagaland, the Government will have to clear a web of complicated issues. First, the Naga society is not a single unified group but riven with factions. Secondly, Manipur, adjacent to Nagaland, has a substantial Naga population. The state Government and Meitei insurgents in Manipur are opposed to any change in the territorial integrity of Manipur. Thirdly, Chief Minister S.C. Jamir and his Nagaland Pradesh Congress Party must have a say in any peace initiative. Fourth, the underground hostile group, NSCN (I-M) styles itself as the premier organisation. This group views Mr. S.C. Jamir and the underground group NSCN (K) led by Myanmarese Naga, Khaplang as anti-Nagas.
Therefore, any attempt to find a way out of the present imbroglio would require an impartial stand on the part of the Centre. The Government cannot afford to be seen as favouring one or the other faction. For any meaningful outcome, all factions of the undergrounds even including overgrounds, shall have to be involved, otherwise piecemeal peace/dialogue will not bring a satisfactory political solution. A lasting solution lies in more autonomy to the state, genuine economic development, accelerated infrastructural development, new trade routes, less Central funds and a little bit of pressure on militant groups to accept the peace proposal. Sincerity on the part of political and insurgent leadership alone can bring ‘peace to the land of the exhilarating Nagas’.
Dinesh Kotwal, Research Fellow, IDSA