Tuesday, August 16th, 2022 15:28:19

Taking The Bull By The Horns

Updated: July 25, 2015 5:50 am

After the recent ambush in Chandel district of Manipur, the Indian Army carried out a daredevil cross-border operation in Myanmar

An unit of the Indian Army was recently withdrawing from Manipur after its tenure of deployment in a forward area had completed.   The unit was located in Chandel district of Manipur, an area that has been infected with insurgency for many years. Also, the unit was deployed close to the Indo Myanmar border in Chandel district. Across the border from Chandel district is Myanmar. This part of Myanmar is inhabited by Naga tribes who are the most backward of tribes in Myanmar. It is also the home of Kaphlang a Hemi Naga who now heads the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Kaphlang group). He was earlier in league with the NSCN IM, the main underground group of the Naga underground in Nagaland.

It is of interest to note that the old Naga underground led by Th Muivah had gone into Myanmar many years ago and traversed the area across the border from Ukhrul district of Manipur, north of Chandel district and linked up with Kaphlang the leader of the Hemi Nagas and then traversed northern Myanmar and established contact with the Kachin Independent Army on the eastern border of Myanmar with China and then crossed over into China and linked up with the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army. They had then been equipped with weapons, trained by the Kachin Indpendent army and returned via the same route traversing central Myanmar and reentered India through Tirap Frontier Division. Since then several Naga groups had traversed the same routes going into Myanmar and returning after getting trained and equipped with weapons from China. After some years when the Mizo insurgency broke out a group of Mizos also had gone to China via Myanmar on the same route taken by the Nagas.

Subsequent to these excursions to get weapons and training from China several insurgent groups- the Nationalist Social Council of Nagaland IM (NSCN IM), The United Liberation Front of Assam, the The Bodo Security Force, later renamed as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, had managed to place orders on the Chinese arms factories from the money extorted from businessmen in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. The weapons were reported to have been sent in North Korean ships where they anchored off shore from Cox’s Bazaar from where the weapons were ferried to Cox’s bazaar and then unloaded and carried overland through Bandarban in the Chittagong Hill Tracts crossing south of Parva, the tri-junction between Mizoram, Bangladesh and Myanmar and then skirting the south of Mizoram, crossing into Manipur in Churachandpur district of Manipur and then traversing north crossing the national highway going from Jiribam to Imphal and then finally reaching the NSCN IM Camp in Tamenglong district of Manipur.

What is most interesting is that the Myanmar Government controlled by the Burmese Army has full control of their country only in the areas dominated by the Myanmarian Buddhists. On the eastern border of Myanmar starting from the north, the Wa, the Kachins, the Kokang, the Karen and the Shan all have their own armies. The Myanmar governments writ does not run in these sub national units. In the west, the Myanmar have largely left the western portion bordering India’s Tirap Frontier Division, Nagaland and Manipur unadministered. This is because, these areas are inhabited by wild tribes, who are not Buddhists like the Myanmar. Regrettably, the Myanmarian Buddhists look down upon these wild tribes many of whom are animist, as some of the Naga tribes in the border with India’s Manipur and Tirap Frontier district and the Kachins on the eastern border. Taking advantage of this western portion of Myanmar literally having no writ of their Government, the NSCN IM, the PLA, the UNLF the ULFA have been freely traversing Myanmar to get to Yunnan across its eastern border and after procuring arms returning by the same route.


Once in the mid 1990’s, learning about the NSCN IM, the ULFA, NDFB bringing arms by ship to Cox’s Bazaar and carrying them overland to Assam and Nagaland the Indian Army had discussions with the Myanmar government and after some difficulty convinced the Myanmar government to allow some Indian Army troops to be deployed south and east of the Mizoram border in Myanmar to ambush the foot convoy of the Indian militant groups carrying arms and coming from Cox’s Bazaar and Bandarban south of Parva, the southern tip of Mizoram. This was called Operation Golden Bird. If I am not wrong the ambush was laid in 1995 by the Indian Army after the Myanmar government had agreed to the Indian Army entering their territory. The ambush was sprung successfully as the long line of cadres of the ULFA, PLA, NDFB were walking in single file somewhere east of Parva. If I remember correctly, 58 cadres of different groups were killed, and the others scattered south into the jungles of south Myanmar. Unfortunately for India, the External Affairs Ministry awarded a prize to Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, on the day the ambush was sprung in Myanmar south of India’s Mizo hills. Promptly, the Myanmar Government ordered the Indian Army to withdraw from south Myanmar where the ambush had been sprung. The Indian Army units were pursuing the insurgents of the ULFA, NDFB, PLA who had escaped, in a mopping up operation. They had to be hastily recalled and the units withdrew into India. The rest of the insurgents of ULFA, NDFB, and the PLA escaped and must have later returned to India.

The Myanmar army is Buddhist and is very antagonistic to the animist and Christian tribes in Myanmar like the Wa, Kokang, Kachin, who dwell on their eastern border and to the Nagas, who live on their western borders touching Tirap Frontier Division and Nagaland. Along its eastern borders, the Wa, Kachin, Kokang, Shan, Karen and some lesser groups like the Palaung each have their own government and private army. In the west, the Myanmar Government have not developed the areas bordering India’s Tirap Frontier Division and Nagaland. While in the eastern borders, the Wa, Kachin, Shan, Kokang, Karen, there is extensive development and the standard of living is fairly good. However all the development in these states are not of the Myanmar government, but by the different groups themselves aided by China. In the west the Nagas are living in still relatively primitive conditions. They are however well equipped as regards, small arms.

In this background one should also understand the picture in Manipur, which borders the Naga areas of western Myanmar. The people of Manipur are all Mongoloid people like the Burmese. Their population consists of three separate groups of Mongoloid peoples, the Meitheis, who live in the Central plain areas of Manipur, the Thangkhul Nagas who live on the eastern border with Myanmar, the Mao, Thengal and Poumei Nagas who live in north Manipur bordering the Naga Hills of India and the Zeliangrong who live in North-West Manipur. In South west Manipur, are the Kukis who live in Churachandpur district. They are close to the Mizo tribe who live in the Mizo Hills of India and the Chin a related tribe who live in Myanmar, east and south of Manipur. In Chandel district of south Manipur live several Chin/Kuki tribes related to the Chins of south west Myanmar.

File photo shows Naga boys with their weapons during the 33rd Republic Day celebration of the NSCM (I-M) in Nagaland

The Meitheis were originally animist when they migrated from the east and settled in the lacustrine plains of Manipur. Their animist God is Sanamahi. There are several temples dedicated to Sanamahi in the plains of Manipur, the home of the Meitheis. Some time in the past, some Meitheis traversed Churachandpur district to the west and crossing Cachar discovered Bengal. From here they brought back Hinduism from Nabadwip in Bengal. Some temples to Lord Krishna were built in the Manipur valley. Finally one of the Meithei kings decreed that Hinduism should be the state religion of the Meitheis. Today the Meitheis have adopted the caste system of the Hindus. After India got independence, the Meitheis were not happy with the way the Government of India forcibly acquired the kingdom of Manipur. This was followed by a revival of the animistic cult of Sanamahi. Today the old religion of Sanamahi has made a big revival.

The different tribes of Nagas living in the Naga Hills district of Assam never accepted the majority religion, Hinduism of the Assamese people. When the British left India, the Nagas wanted to be left out of India, and when this did not happen, the Nagas rebelled, organised an army from arms dumps of the Second world war and fought a bush war with the Government of India for several years. They incorporated the Nagas living in Manipur, the Thangkhuls from Ukhrul and the Mao from Mao district and the Zeliang from Tamenglong district. During this period, they went to East Pakistan and got arms from them and later to China and got arms and training from them also. The Naga underground traversed western Myanmar and tied up with the Nagas living there when going to China. Later the Naga underground constituted the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN). They included some of the Naga tribes living in western Myanmar bordering Manipur in the NSCN. One of the leaders from western Myanmar was S.S. Kaphlang, a Hemi Naga, from across the Border of Tirap frontier district. The NSCN IM later split into two factions, the NSCN IM and the NSCN K.

I had worked as the Inspector General of Police Operations in Assam during the peak of the ULFA insurgency. I had interrogated dozens of Assamese boys who had gone to the Kachin area for training in Guerilla warfare with the Kachin Independent army. It was Thuingaleng Muivah, the chief of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN IM), who first established contact with the Kachin Independent army, who arranged for their further move into Yunnan to get help from the Chinese Communist army –the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA). Later when the ULFA was formed it was the Kachin Independent Army leader Bran Seng who helped Paresh Baruah organise the training of the ULFA cadres. You can see from this that there was considerable movement between Assam, Nagaland and Manipur to and from Myanmar ever since the underground Nagas first went to China to procure arms and get training way back in the 1960s.

Before we proceed further, we must understand some facts about Manipur. The Meitheis the main group of people who dwell in the central plains of Manipur, the Thangkhul Nagas of Ukhrul, the Mao Nagas of Mao district and the Zeliangrong Nagas who live in Tamenglong and the Kuki people who live in Churachandpur and Chandel districts are all Mongoloid peoples. All of these tribes had each an animist religion of their own. When the British came, they were able to convert most of these tribes to Christianity. One Naga tribe in Tamenglong-the Zeliangrong did not convert to Christianity. The Meitheis also did not convert to Christianity but they became Hindus, not because the Hindus from the plains converted them, but because many Meitheis who went to Cachar were influenced by the Hinduism of the Bengalis of Cachar and brought Hinduism to the Imphal valley.

The distinctive feature of all the tribals is that they do not have the Caste system. All the peoples of a tribe are equal and all the people perform all the work required by the tribe. The Head man is generally elected in all tribes, but he does not belong to any class or group in the tribe, because all the people of a tribe are equal. Of the peoples of the Naga Hills and the peoples of Manipur, each village had a headman, who was elected. The Meitheis were however ruled by a king. There was a royal lineage among the Meitheis. However, besides the princely groups, all the people were equal, till they embraced Hinduism, when caste became entrenched among the Meitheis. When India became independent, the Central Government handled Manipur and their Meitheis very insensitively, by dismissing their elected representatives and removing their administrative heads, posting officers from mainland India as the Chief Secretary and heads of departments and pensioning off their local king. This deeply alienated the Meithei people and I do not think they have forgiven the cavalier way in which the Government of India pensioned off their inherited king and removed ministers and officials.   Regrettably, the Central government sent insensitive bureaucrats to Manipur, who generally looked down upon the Mongoloid peoples. The Meitheis are a proud people with an ancient civilization. They have a very superior culture with their own music, and dance evolved over centuries. Regrettably the Central Government sent a group of insensitive bureaucrats who gave no importance to an ancient civilization of the Meitheis, but imposed their rules and regulations on the local people, ignoring the capabilities of the Meitheis. As a result of this insensitive treatment, the Meitheis were naturally alienated and soon insurgent groups sprang up like the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) and the United National Liberation Front of Manipur (UNLF). The leader of the PLA had managed in the 1960s to go to Tibet through Nepal and get to China and then get arms from China. Since then some more insurgent groups were formed in Manipur-the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and the UnitedNational Liberation Front of Manipur (UNLF). These groups are still active in Manipur.


Regrettably during the period of rule by the previous majority party a gang of contractors, who earned the dubious title of the Delhi Durbar flourished in Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. I came across many instances of big scandals in government contracts for works and supplies, in which this gang of unholy contractors were involved. Regrettably most of the cases registered by the CBI in this context were closed by the CBI obviously at the intervention of the Government at the highest level. This was the major reason for the insurgent groups still surviving in Manipur. I was posted as the SP CBI in Shillong in 1979. I was once summoned by the Governor of Assam Mr. L.P. Singh in August/September 1979. When I went to his office, I was introduced by the Governor to the then Chief Minister of Nagaland. He then narrated that he had a Deputy Chief Minister who was very corrupt and had carried out several corrupt transactions. He, the Chief Minister of Nagaland wanted me to go to Kohima and study the files concerned, which he told me he had managed to collect and had kept them in safe custody in a room in his secretariat. I said that I would visit Kohima and study the files and register cases. I went to Kohima after a gap of three or four days and met him in his office. The moment I entered his office, the Chief Minister asked me why I had not come immediately after he informed me of the files. He said that his Deputy Chief Minister had set fire to several rooms including the room in the Secretariat, in which the files pertaining to his fake deals had been kept! His Deputy Chief Minister was later the Governor of several states in India. All the cases in these files concerned the fake purchases of the gang of contractors called the Delhi Durbar who was obviously patronised by the Dy Chief Minister.

When Manipur was forced to join the Indian Union, the Government of India very insensitively removed all the bureaucrats appointed by the previous government and sent new bureaucrats from India’s mainland, who knew nothing of Manipur’s people or their culture. The people of Manipur the Meitheis and also the different Naga and Kuki tribes living in the outer districts were alienated. The Thangkhul, Mao and the Zeliangrong Nagas were the first to join the Nagas of the Naga Hills in their insurgency against the Indian Government. They went to the Yunnan area of China by traversing Myanmar and met the Kachins who helped them to get arms from the Chinese and after being trained by them came back and engaged the Indian government in an insurgency that lasted several years.


The poor administration soon alienated the local Meitheis and the tribals of Manipur and very soon an insurgent group the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) was formed who first went to Tibet and from there to China and were equipped with arms and trained by the Chinese and who then came back and engaged the government in a fierce insurgency . Soon other groups from Manipur also joined the insurgency- the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) who fought fiercely with the Government. All these groups went across their western borders into Myanmar to procure arms from China and get training in insurgency.

Across the border from Manipur and Tirap of the North East Frontier Agency, was an area of Myanmar inhabited by different Naga tribes like the Hemi, the Panging, and other tribes, who were not influenced by Christian missionaries like the Naga tribes of the Naga Hills in India were. They therefore remained a little wild. Regrettably the Myanmar Govt. of Buddhists looked down on these relatively primitive tribes and did not take the trouble to develop the western area of Myanmar bordering Tirap, the Naga Hills and Chandel district of Manipur. This area soon became a resting camp area for the Manipur and Naga insurgents. And it is from this area that insurgents of some Manipur groups, attacked an Indian Army group who had probably finished their tenure and were going to the western frontier. The unit was deployed in Chandel district near the Manipur border for two years and was pulling out. Regrettably they put their guard down and forgot almost all the rules in the book when pulling out. They forgot to lay out a road opening party, forgot to do an anti sabotage check and regrettably the unit was not even led by an officer. They also put thirty five personnel in one vehicle. In any insurgency area, it is a simple rule that the enemy will try to ambush you when you move in a convoy, basically to get weapons and of course to demoralise you. The insurgent groups of Manipur, who had camps across the border in Myanmar, a virtually unadministered area were probably watching and laid an ambush and pulled it of successfully killing 18 of our personnel.

The Indian army naturally reacted and decided to send a party into Myanmar across the border of Chandel district and retaliate. They carried this operation out successfully. Till now the Indian Army has not officially released a note to say how many of the enemy they killed. Since the Burmese government has not intimated how the Indian army group crossed over into Myanmar, we can safely conclude that the Myanmar army was informed of the raid, before it was carried out. There is no information of the Myanmar government officially giving shelter to these Manipuri insurgent groups. It is just that this area is virtually not administered by the Myanmar government.


The answer to the insurgencies in Manipur and Nagaland is to improve the administration and root out corruption led by the infamous gang of the Delhi Durbar. Every single case that was investigated and closed by the CBI should be reopened and reinvestigated and charge sheeted and the officers and private contractors involved should be punished. This will restore some confidence in the people. Administration should be cleaned up and made accountable to the people. The leaders of the insurgent groups should then be called and talks held at the level of the Headmen or Gaonburas of each village or locality in the towns so that administration is transparent. This will restore confidence in the people and the insurgents can then be won over. Once administration is cleaned and made transparent, the leaders of the insurgent groups will themselves come forward and talk with the Government.

There will then be no more cases of insurgent groups going across into Myanmar and contacting the Kachins and other groups in eastern Myanmar and procuring arms and fighting with the Indian Army.

By E N Rammohan

(The author is former Director General, BSF.)


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