The Naga insurgency and the conditions for peace in the region

-L B Singh
Contd from previous issue
The tribal villages in Manipur came under the Meitei King during the reign of Garibniwaj Maharaja (1709 - 1751 CE) [2 (a)]. Various clans of Meitei in the valley are closely related to the tribal of the nearby hills and the Nagas of Manipur are ethnically close to the Meiteis in the valley due to conversion of Meitei to Naga/Kuki or vice versa [2 (b)].  It was only after 1947 that the activities of NNC influenced the Nagas in Mao area of Manipur located close to Kohima. The Nagas of Manipur were from a different kingdom till the state’s merger with India in 1949. Now, Nagaland and Manipur are the states of the same country and various tribes of Naga from both the states can live as good neighbours. The Naga of Manipur would progress faster without the interference and extortion by the Naga Insurgents.
There are also three, five, and four tribes of Nagas in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Myanmar respectively. The area of Nagaland state is 16579 sqkm and the Nagas claim 120000 sqkm for the creation of Nagalim. In addition to a portion of the Kachin State and the Sagaing Region of Myanmar, their claim includes eight, five and seven districts in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam respectively. In Myanmar the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), NSCN (K) signed a regional level bilateral ceasefire agreement in 2012.  However, the Government of Myanmar did not allow them to be a part of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in February 2019, as NSCN (K) insisted on sovereignty.
Eight hill districts (four before reorganization) of Manipur and two Christian majority districts of Arunachal Pradesh are largely affected by Naga insurgency. However, there is a limited influence in the districts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh where the Christians are in the minority. Manipur is most severely affected as there are only two national highways connecting the state to the rest of the country which passes through Nagaland and the Naga dominated areas of Manipur.  NSCN (IM) and its umbrella organizations imposed a number of economic blockades of the national highways to pursue their objectives. Further, in addition to the ransom demands and extortion, the Naga insurgents also illegally collect money from the commercial vehicles passing through Nagaland and the amount varies from Rs 2000/ to 10000/ per truck, depending on the nature of the load. It increases the cost of all essential items and affects the day to day live of the common people.
In the 1990s, ethnic conflict broke out between the Nagas and the Kukis in Manipur as the latter refused to pay land tax to the Nagas. NSCN (IM) claims that the land in Ukhrul, Kamjong, Senapati, Kangpokpi, Tamenglong, Noney, Tengnoupal and Chandel districts belong to them and the Kukis are new immigrants. However, Royal Chronicles of Manipur “ Cheitharol Kumbaba” mentioned about old Kuki tribes in 33 AD.  According to Kukis, about 1000 people, including women and children lost their lives in the conflict. 350 Kuki villages were uprooted and the Kukis termed it as “Ethnic Cleansing” to facilitate formation of Nagalim. The Kukis then formed their own insurgent groups to protect themselves and demanded for the formation of Kukiland from the area of the above eight districts, Pherzawl and Churachandpur districts.
As per 2011 census, the percentage of the population of Naga and Kuki in Manipur was 18.7% and 15.7%, respectively, and out of which 8% live harmoniously with other ethnic groups in the valley.  The demands by the Nagas to include the above districts of Manipur to Nagalim or by the Kukis to Kukiland  are strongly opposed by more than 80% of the population of the state.  The above districts are cohabited by the Nagas and the Kukis and there is no ethnically homogeneous area that can be aggregated into either the Nagalim or the Kukiland. The integrity of the state is very dear to the people of Manipur and is determined to preserve it in any circumstances.
The Naga movement has become longest, most powerful, well organized, most successfully internationalised insurgency in the North East and thousands of civilians and soldiers have scarified their lives. The Nagas have projected themselves to the world as victims of the occupation by India and Myanmar. However, the fact is that the people of the neighbouring states are the victims of violence, intimidation and extortion by the Naga insurgents. The Naga movement was created by unfriendly countries and organizations and they have not only exploited the religious sentiments of the newly converted tribes to fight in the name of God or “ Nagalim for Christ” but also the courage, fighting skill and spirit of the Nagas to destabilize our country.   
Most of the militant groups have deviated from their stated objectives and are now fighting for the control of networks for extortion, the collection of illegal taxation and control of smuggling centre. The people of Nagaland have also become a victim of rampant corruption, and multiple taxation/extortion by various insurgent groups.  Exposure to easy money from corruption and extortion has broken the morale backbone of the Nagas. The prolonged Naga insurgency has also eroded the unique sense of responsibility of the Naga towards the social life of the village and the community.
The GoI initiated the peace process with NSCN (IM) in order to bring an end to the loss of precious lives, extreme misery to the tribal villagers and signed the Indo-Naga Ceasefire Agreement on 25 July 1997.
Further, the GoI and the Manipur Government also signed the Suspension of Operation (SoO) with 19 Kuki militant groups in 2008 and the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with six Meitei insurgent groups in 2011. However, major Meitei militant groups have so far not responded to the peace initiatives of the State Government.
About 5000 NSCN (IM) cadres, 2100 Kuki and 400 Meitei insurgents stay in the designated “Taken note of camp”, “SoO” and “MoU” camps respectively. As a result of the above arrangements, direct confrontations between the security forces and the militants have significantly reduced thereby avoiding loss of precious lives. However, the militant outfits in the above camps continue extortion and illegal activities. NSCN (IM) actually took the advantages of the safe haven provided by the Ceasefire Agreement; and in the last 22 years extended the network for the collection of illegal money, increased the strength of the group and enhanced its influence in the hill districts of Manipur. It is mainly due to the inadequate proactive measures by the Government to curb extortion and it has inadvertently supported the survival and the growth of the insurgency in the region.
The expectation for the final Peace Accord has become very high after the Government interlocutor, R. N. Ravi took over as the Governor of Nagaland. However, will it bring a lasting peace in the region? Examination of the two past peace accords in the region will bring out the conditions required for a lasting peace accord. The Shillong Accord 1975 failed to bring peace as A.Z. Phizo and some members of NNC were not included in the peace process. Further no action was initiated to dismantle the network of extortion immediately after the accord and it led to the formation of NSCN in 1980. On the other hand, Mizo Accord 1986 has become the most successful peace accord in independent India as the GoI ensured that it had no impact to the Mizo dominated districts of the adjoining states.
The extension of modified Article 371A to the Naga inhabited areas of adjoining states, as mentioned in the Parliamentary Standing Committee 213th Report on the security situation in the NE states, would create more problems as people living in the same districts or villages are discriminated on ethnic lines. If the Naga Peace Accord has any adverse impact to the neighboring states, there would be prolonged disturbance and violence in the region. Appeasement of some militant outfits or a particular ethnic group would only encourage them to strive for their ultimate objectives.
All grievances and ethnic conflicts can be settled as per the Law of the Land. The Rule of Law, economic and infrastructure development will only bring lasting peace in the region. Enhancement of the power and function of the Hill Area District Council of Manipur would accelerate the development of the hill districts in the state. In order to ensure a lasting Indo-Naga Peace Accord and peace in the region, it is essential that:
(1)     All militant groups dismantle the network for collection of illegal tax and extortion.  Naga insurgents should complete it before the signing of the Indo-Naga Peace Accord. Otherwise, some factions will continue extortion indefinitely.
(2)    The Rule of Law prevails in the region and all ethnic conflicts can be resolved as per the Law of the Land.                                                                               
(3)    The Naga Peace Accord should not have any impact to the neighbouring states.  
(4)    All insurgent groups should seriously consider the peace initiative of the Government in the interest of the future generations. Similar rehabilitation packages should be given to the Naga, Kuki and Meitei militants.
(5)    The Nagas in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh should be allowed to progress peacefully in their respective states without interference and extortion by Naga insurgents.
It would take considerable time and effort to make the above conditions acceptable to the militant groups. However, the Rule of Law, economic and infrastructure development, freedom from intimidation and extortion will instill confidence in the Law of the Land and bring lasting peace in the region. The GoI should ensure that NSCN (IM) and the other militant groups enjoying the benefits of the Ceasefire Agreement 1997 comply with all the terms of the agreement and stop forcible collection of money and intimidation of individuals. At the same time, the Government of Manipur should ensure that the Kuki/Meitei cadres in “SoO”/ “MoU” camps stop illegal activities/extortion.
The writer is retired Captain, Indian Navy, NM and can be reached at [email protected]