Delay and procrastination often become favourite catchwords with policymakers, particularly when a formidable and intractable enemy is sought to be defeated on the negotiating table. But the Indian policymakers should have realized that with the ongoing Naga peace negotiations any go-slow approach might turn out to be counter- productive.
This is exactly what has happened with the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (Khaplang) breaking out of the negotiation process in April and then leading a massive attack on Indian army personnel in Manipur, killing 18 soldiers. S.S. Khaplang, the group’s leader, is reported to have concluded that no purpose would be served by remaining in the never-ending peace talks.
Of course, the Indian Army retaliated and killed even a greater number of Naga and Manipuri insurgents after attacking their bases in the jungles of Myanmar. But this has put a question mark on the ultimate fate of peace negotiations over the Naga insurgency, one of the first to erupt in India.
Interestingly R.N. Ravi, the interlocutor and government representative in the Naga peace talks, is known to be skeptical about the justification of the effort. Ravi has a point. The Indian government has all along held the NSCN (Issac-Muivah) faction as the principal stakeholder on behalf of the Nagas. This is wrong. There are 25 to 30 separate tribes which constitute the Naga society and all of them are militarily strong. According to Ravi, between 1997 and 2013, 1,800 Nagas had died in 3,000 fratricidal wars.
The need of the hour was to create an atmosphere of cordiality among different tribes rather than accepting the NSCN (I-M) as the sole representative of the Nagas. It should have been kept in mind that some time back, six Naga tribes – the Chang, Konyak, Phom, Khaimniungan, Yimchunger and Sangtan – had decided to bury the hatchet and become independent of the NSCN.
Khaplang comes from the Konyak tribe and the latter’s decision to become independent of the NSCN indicates that he no longer commands total allegiance from his own tribe. Similarly, some time back the Sema tribe had attacked NSCN (I-M) camps, although its chairman Issac Swu is himself a Sema. These two examples indicate that vertical fissures exist within Naga society.
Certainly the Indian government has committed a grave mistake while assessing the strength of S.S. Khaplang. Of the two NSCN groups, his one is numerically inferior. But the man has terrific fire power and has his fingers in the illegal arms trade that goes on in Southeast Asia via the northern part of Myanmar. Most of the north-eastern Indian insurgent groups, including the ULFA (Paresh Barua) and all the major secessionist outfits of Manipur, get their supply of small arms through him.
According to available reports, the NSCN (I-M) has now scaled down its demand from ‘sovereignty’ to ‘greater autonomy’. But it is demanding a greater Nagalim by including the Naga inhabited areas of other contiguous states.
Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of the NSCN (I-M), is a Tangkhul Naga and hails from Manipur. The Nagas dominate the hill districts of Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamenglong which constitute a great part of the state while the valleys are under the control of the Meiteis. It is a fact that Muivah’s influence on the Naga tribes in the Nagaland proper is tenuous and if these hill districts of Manipur are not brought within the ambit of his demand, then his position will become shaky. This became evident as the apex bodies of the Ao and Sumi tribes in Nagaland boycotted the reception for Issac Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah when they had visited Dimapur some years ago.
The Naga imbroglio is really complex and still there are not many indications that the union government has been able to cross any significant hurdle. The United Naga Council, the apex body of the Nagas in Manipur, has raised the demand for an ‘alternative ‘arrangement in the hill districts of the state which means that finance, development and administration will remain in the hands of the hill district people while the state government will control security and police.
But the Nagas will have to drop their unjust demands over some other areas like Cachhar, North Cachhar and Karbi Anglong in Assam. According to the 1991 census, the Nagas have practically no representation in Cachhar. In North Cachhar they constitute only five percent of the population while in Karbi Anglong, their share is only 0.37 percent.
However realizing that their hopeless numerical inferiority will scuttle the demand for inclusion of these areas in the proposed ‘Nagalim’, the Nagas are sneaking in their own people in some border areas of Assam. They are also allegedly indulging in proselytisation of tribals in the Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh.