On August 3, 2015, a historic peace accord was signed between the Centre and the T Muivah-led NSCN (IM) faction, in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Centre’s Chief Interlocutor R.N. Ravi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.
While the accord has been welcomed by many quarters, the actual response will be known only once the terms of agreement are publicly disclosed. In fact, the secrecy behind the terms of agreement has raised several questions from various stakeholder factions and only time will reveal how they all respond and react to the agreement.
Another fact that sets this accord apart from all others signed earlier is the timing. The geo-political situation today is vastly different from what prevailed in the region over the last six decades. Today, the Indian government has established far closer economic and diplomatic relations with China, a country that has had a history of offering overt and covert support to various insurgent factions operating in the Northeast.
After PM Modi took office, he has been quick to realise the potential that Northeast offers as a gateway to Southeast Asia and possibly to China and therefore, his early tours to China, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh were aimed at opening the way to future growth in relations. It is in this context that this peace agreement assumes importance.
Nagaland is an important state in terms of its size, resource, population and location. It is also the oldest state amongst the seven sisters in terms of history of insurgency against the central authority. Therefore, for any economic development plan to succeed in the region, it was imperative to establish peace in the region and get the Naga people on board. It must be noted here that during the 2014 General Elections, Nagaland recorded 87.82% voter turnout, the highest in all the North-Eastern states, thus marking a strong willingness of people to participate in parliamentary democracy. Immediately afterwards, while the government was establishing backchannel talks with the NSCN (IM) faction, another militant faction NSCN (K) led by SS Khaplang, a Burmese Naga, has chosen to adopt a hard line against the central government.
The Khaplang faction, operating out of the border region of Nagaland and Myanmar, has brought together various militant groups including Paresh Barua-led ULFA faction, Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) – Songbijit faction, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), People’s Liberation Army (PLA), United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and Kanglei Yawol Kunna Lup (KYKL) to join hands in fighting the Indian state. The group professes to create Western Southeast Asia (WESEA) as a larger separate state and comprising of all regions of the Northeast.
Insurgency in the Northeast
The emergence of insurgency in the Northeast is complex and deep rooted in history. What started off as a fight to retain their social and cultural identity graduated into a fight against ‘foreigners’ – migrants from erstwhile East Pakistan and now Bangladesh, migrants from other North-Eastern states and people from other states in India. What was initially mere opposition soon grew into full-blown insurgency.
During the 60s and 70s, China actively backed and provided logistic support to these groups; however, over the years, this support has come down drastically with changing geo-political equations. Today, India is developing closer relations with China and Myanmar, with the latter now discouraging militant activities from its soil. The recent counter insurgency action undertaken by the Indian Army had the tacit support and approval of the Myanmar government. The new development will make it more difficult for militant factions to operate in the region. With the current accord in place, and assuming that it has wide approval and support of various stakeholders including Manipur, the NSCN (IM) faction could play a significant role in acting as a check against other militant groups mentioned above.
Emergence of Naga Insurgency
The North-Eastern part of India is connected by a narrow strip of land just 22 km wide connecting the mainland with Siliguri and the North-Eastern states and therefore is of strategic importance for the Indian state to access the Northeast. The first acts of insurgency emanating from the Northeast were raised by Angami Zapu Phizo, a Naga leader who founded the Naga National Council (NNC) and gave a call for independence as early as 1947.
By 1950, Phizo had taken charge of the NNC and organised a referendum for independence from India in 1951. In 1952, Phizo announced the boycott of elections and soon began seeking support from Mao Zedong-led Communist China and thus setting up for a long drawn confrontation with the Indian state.
In March 1953, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru visited Kohima to try and reach out to the Naga people but was unsuccessful. The central government soon took a decision to consolidate its hold over the territory and nine new police outposts were established. By 1956, Indian Army units were deployed in Kohima and Mokokchung areas.
The same year, the NNC formed their own government called Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN) and the Naga Home Guard (NHG) 24. To offer local administration, the NNC also set up an underground Parliament called Tatar Hoho.
As insurgency grew, the then President of India was forced to issue the Nagaland Security Regulation of 1962, which gave the military special powers to tackle growing insurgency in the region. Meanwhile, in August 1962, PM Nehru moved the 13th Amendment Bill in the Parliament calling for the creation of the state of Nagaland. It must be noted that until now, Naga Hills, as it was known back then, was a part of Assam. President of India Dr. Radhakrishnan gave his assent to the Bill on September 4, 1962; and on December 1, 1963, Nagaland became a state of the Indian Union.
The centre continued to exert pressure on the NNC activists to join the political mainstream and on November 11, 1975, the NFG agreed to give up violence and seek a political solution under the Indian constitution. The agreement came to be known as the Shillong Accord and was signed by a few members of the NNC. Unfortunately, the accord was opposed by Phizo and his other senior associates – Isak Chishi Swu and General Secretary and T Muivah. The three, along with SS Khaplang, later formed the NSCN in 1980, to continue their fight for independence. By this time, several sections of the Naga community had accepted the political framework of the Shillong Accord and favoured peace.
As time passed, there was growing disenchantment within the NSCN cadres and on April 30, 1988, there was an attempt to assassinate Muivah and Tangkhul along with their cadres. Several died; however, Muivah escaped. The result was a split between the NSCN into two factions – one NSCN (IM) led by Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu and the second NSCN (K) led by SS Khaplang. Both the groups have been at war since.
Meanwhile, Phizo-led NNC tried to remain relevant as a militant outfit. On his death in 1990, NNC split into other splinter groups. This further strengthened NSCN (IM) that emerged the dominant group with better weaponry at its disposal. Soon it started reaching out to other insurgent groups in the Northeast and began using Myanmar as a base to provide guerrilla training to its own cadres and other groups. In 1990, NSCN was banned and with continuing insurgency, the central government in April 1995 declared the entire region of Nagaland, a disturbed area. The Army took control with a hard response.
Meanwhile, the central government kept its backchannel negotiations open with various groups and in 1997 signed a ceasefire deal with NSCN (IM). By 2000, T Muivah, who was still underground, was arrested in Bangkok and jailed for a year for possessing a fake Korean passport. The NSCN (K) faction too came on board in 2001, by signing a cease fire deal, but both the factions continued to remain rivals.
NSCN (K), meanwhile, was facing internal dissent within the group; and in 2010, SS Khaplang was removed as the Chairman and was replaced by Khole Konyak. He then announced the formation of NSCN (KK) faction. Meanwhile, SS Khaplang, a Burmese Naga, used his connections with the military regime in Myanmar to sign a ceasefire with the Myanmar government in 2012.
This year, however, in order to re-assert his position as a militant leader, now old and ailing SS Khaplang expelled moderate leaders – P Tikhak and Wangtin Konyak; both of them were suspected to be in favour of continuing a ceasefire with the centre and abrogated the ceasefire agreement with the Indian government. On April 6, 2015, Wangtin and Tikhak formed the NSCN (Reformation) faction and on April 27 went ahead and signed a ceasefire agreement with the centre.
Isolated NSCN (K) soon launched the unfortunate attack on an India Army convoy killing 18 soldiers. This led to the Indian Army launching a counter-offensive decimating several cadres of NSCN (K) and other groups.
New Geo-Political Equations Emerging
With India moving towards deeper economic ties with China, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and getting support from the governments in Bhutan and Thailand, militant groups will now find it very difficult to operate in the manner they have in the last several decades. The new geo-political order means that these groups have only two choices before them; either they give up arms and join the political mainstream or be eliminated over time. Either ways, Nagaland is posed to realise its true economic potential in coming times, while continuing to uphold and preserve its socio-cultural identity.
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