The Naga Imbroglio-Will Narendra Modi’s Move Succeed?
Stakes are really high as the Naga revolt is known as the ‘mother of all insurgencies’ in India and it has spawned other violent and secessionist movements in Assam, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made his first important move in the North-East by appointing R.N. Ravi, a former Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau and currently the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, as the interlocutor and representative of the Government of India(GOI) in the ongoing Naga peace talks. In doing so, he had to overrule the Home ministry which had its own different choice. But now the all important question is whether Ravi will be able to do justice to the faith that the Prime Minister has reposed in him. There are hopes as he is known to be businesslike and and of no-nonsense nature. But there are scepticism too as a large section of the Nagas do not like him.
Stakes are really high as the Naga revolt is known as the ‘mother of all insurgencies’ in India and it has spawned other violent and secessionist movements in Assam, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura. It is a fact that RN Ravi has not been able to exhibit the caution that an intelligence officer should always maintain while commenting on any long standing insurgency problem. In a recent article in the Hindu newspaper he virulently criticised the ceasefire agreement between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim(Issac-Muivah) and the GOI and lamented the governmental void in Nagaland where, in his opinion, a chaotic situation has been created by sub nationalist organizations( meaning the NSCN and other Naga bodies).
Ravi may have truth on his side but the Naga outfits have quickly taken advantage of his indiscretion. The NSCN(I-M) has described him to be a man ‘ without conscience’ and as one who is antagonistic to the Naga issue. The Naga Ho Ho, the apex body of Naga tribal organizations, has opposed Ravi’s appointment and has wished for the appointment of a ‘neutral’ observer. It is particularly peeved at Ravi’s article in the Hindu where the former IB Special Director had criticized the Government of India’s ceasefire agreement with the NSCN. Following in their footsteps the United Naga Council has also declared its disapproval of Ravi as the new interlocutor.
Certainly Narendra Modi has a plan and he has Chosen R.N. Ravi to drive a hard bargain with the NSCN at a time when the secessionist organization is on the backfoot to some extent. However the coming days would require a high degree of statesmanship on the part of the GOI as the issue is too sensitive and decades of mistrust have been piled in the minds of the Nagas as a result of inept handling by successive governments in New Delhi.
The Nagas belong to the Indo-Mongoloid group and speak Tibeto-Burman dilects. Inhabiting vast areas of the present day Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar, they lived in a near complete isolation for centuries till they came into contact with Christian missionaries who first brought them into a touch with the outside world. The colonial British administration, farsighted as it was, followed a policy of least interference and allowed the Nagas to continue with their traditions,customs, land systems and communal institutions. The British rulers even desisted from building up any communication system in then then Naga Hills and Tuensang areas and therefore a pall of isolation reigned over the Naga community life.
The most plausible reason on the part of the colonial British administration behind such a lenient attitude was perhaps a desire to have a free and unhindered space for exploiting the Assam plains. Quite in line with this policy the British administration introduced the ‘inner line’ system in 1873 by which outsiders were prevented from settling in or purchasing of land in tribal areas with a single exception in the case of the missionaries who could carry on their proselytizing activities merrily. The result was that the Nagas and many other tribes of the North-East remained outside the periphery of nationalist movements which was launched by the Indian National Congress at a later period. Thus was built up the psyche for rebellion against the independent Indian state after 1947.
In 1918, under patronage from a few government officials and tribal chiefs, the ‘ Naga Club’ came into being with the purpose of looking after the interests of the Nagas- political as well as social. That the British had successfully stoked the first embers of secessionism in Naga minds became amply clear when the Nagas wanted to remain outside the purview of the reform scheme suggested by the Simon Commission that had resulted in the enactment of the Government of India Act,1935. The Naga Hills were declared as an ‘excluded area’. During the Second World War huge amounts of arms were left behind by the Japanese forces in the hills of the North-East and thus the local tribes had their first introduction with modern weapons of violence. At the end of the war the Naga Hills Tribal Council was established to carry out relief and rehabilitation works in the war ravaged area. Within a year it was rechristened as the Naga National Council- its objectives being building up solidarities among all sections of the Nagas and securing the inclusion of the Naga Hills within the state of Assam in independent India with local autonomy.
But tectonic shifts took place within the NNC. A man named Angami Zapu Phizo arrived in the Naga Hills from Myanmar and soon took control of the affairs. He was an ultra extremist and under his leadership the NNC declared ‘independence’ of the Naga hills and the Naga community on the eve of India’s independence.. From this time onwards terrible mistrust developed between the Government of India and the NNC as the latter quoted words of support to its demands from Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru which was vehemently denied by the Congress.
However everything was not lost. Therefore at the initiative of Syed Akbar Hydari, the then Governor of Assam, an agreement was worked out between the GOI and the NNC which came to be known as the Akbar Hydari Agreement. According to it the Nagas were allowed to govern their own affairs according to their traditional laws and customs and the NNC was permitted to impose,collect and spend taxes as per its own discretion.Clause 9 of the agreement stipulated that the Governor of Assam, for the next ten years, would be invested with the responsibility of proper implementation of the agreement and at the end of this period the Naga Council would 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.
This Akbar-Hydari Agreement has become a bone of contention between the two sides. The NNC interpreted it in way which would enable it to become independent after lapse of ten years while the Government of India opposed independence tooth and nail and opined that there could only be a different type of agreement after ten years. Anyway, AZ Phizo had formally taken the charge of leadership in 1950 and in 1951 he held a ‘plebicite’ where the Nagas voted for independence.
Things moved in quick succession. The Nagas boycotted independent India’s first general election of 1952. Jawaharlal Nehru was treated with derision when he came to Kohima in 1953. The Assam Disturbed Area Act was promulgated in 1955 and in 1956 the Indian army moved into the Naga Hills. Bloody warfare started and Khonoma, the native village of Phizo, was bombarded. In 1963 the state of Nagaland came into being. But from 1956 to 1975 it was the story of torture, killings, mayhems and destruction which ultimately came to a temporary halt when in 1975 a faction of the NNC signed the Shillong Agreement with the GOI accepting the proposal for a solution to the Naga problem within the ambit of the Indian constitution. It was also agreed that the underground militants will come into open and surrender their arms.
However the agreement was opposed by Phizo as well as other senior leaders like Isaac Swu, S.S. Khaplang and Thuingelang Muivah. Phizo was absconding in England but the other three formed the National Socialist Council of Nagand in 1980. Isaac Swu became the Chairman, Khaplang the Vice-President and Muivah the General Secretary. Of the three Issac Swu belongs to the Sema tribe which is one of the largest tribes of the Nagas. But Khaplang belongs to the Konyak group which is dominant in Myanmar while Muivah does not hail from Nagaland at all. He is a Tangkhul Naga and comes from Ukhrul in Manipur. Both Swu and Muivah fell out with Khaplang who set up a separate organization.
In course of time the idea of a greater Nagaland became one of their principal demands and hence the organization came to be called as the National Socialist Council of Nagalim with the suffixes of (Issac-Muivah) and Khaplang to denote their separate identities.
The Naga insurgency is not only the oldest one in India but it is also having the longest period of ceasefire in the history of secessionist movements in our country. The first negotiator was Swaraj Kaushal, a former Lieutenant Governor of Mizoram, who continued with his negotiating job under three Prime Ministers namely Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpaiyee. He was followed by Padmanabhaiah. Others followed till Narendra Modi appointed R.N.Ravi for the job.
The most difficult job in front of Ravi is to bring about a reconciliation among the Nagas who are divided into at least twenty five tribal sub groups. The balance is often marred by internecine warfares. Sometimes back the whole Sema tribe had violently risen in revolt against the NSCN(I-M) camp in Zunheboto district of Nagaland as the NSCN cadres had allegedly molested two Sema women. The stand off continued for three days with several dead on each side. Ultimately the NSCN had to disband the camp.
However the intensity of the inter tribal conflict is on the wane. There were 61 fatalities in 2012 resulting from such types of fights. But in 2013 the figure had come down to just 32. Similarly the number of such clashes in 2012 was 43. But in 2013 the figure stood at 18 only. This is no doubt a result of the general improvement in the insurgency picture in North-Eastern India.
However taking advantage of the ceasefire situation the Issac-Muivah faction of the NSCN has not only increased its neumerical strength but continued with its practice of gun running which in turn led to some bloody clashes with rival factions. In August last year an international arms supplier named Willy Narue was arrested by the Thailand government on the request of the Government of India for arranging to supply one thousand Chinese assault rifles and granades to the NSCN(I-M) through Bangladesh. It proves that attempts by various Naga secessionist factions to procure Chinese arms from the international market have not ceased in spite of the unearthing of a conspiracy in Bangladesh several years back for supplying such arms to the ULFA. Since the NSCN(I-M) is the most organized of all the Naga militant groups, its networks are also well organized and far flung. It has an annual budget of one billion rupees and has 25000 cadres. Each cadre receives a monthly salary ranging from Rs. 2000 to Rs. 15000 depending on the nature of his work.
S.S. Khaplang, the leader of the other NSCN group is a Konyak Naga and is based in Myanmar.Although nemerically inferior to the Issac-Muivah group, Khaplang has terrific firepower. However his organization has also suffered from schism and a breakaway faction led by Khole and Kitovi, two of Khaplang’s former comrades, has raised its head. At present most of the violent clashes are taking place between these two factions.
The Naga problem merits an early solution because it has the potentiality to engulf other areas of the North-East.Recently violent clashes erupted between the Remna Naga Hills Protection Force and the Karbi Peoples Liberation Tiger in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam leading to several deaths. Immediately after demand for a Remna Hill Autonomous District Council raised its head. Interestingly the Nagas’ demand for an independent existence is also not homogeneous. Recently a new demand for a separate Frontier Nagaland has gained currency. It is being led by the Eastern Nagaland Peoples Organization.
By Amitava Mukherjee