By M.A. Athul*
The National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) in a letter sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 7, 2019, expressed doubt in the sincerity of the Government of India (GoI) to resolve the Naga political issue. The letter written by ‘chairman’ Q. Tuccu and ‘general secretary’ Thuingaleng Muivah lamented that the talks that were supposed to take place at the highest level have been reduced to the Governor’s level. In the letter it was claimed that the commitments given by successive Prime Ministers that the talks will be at the highest level; that the venue of the talks will be outside India, in a third country; and without any pre-condition, have now been dishonoured.
On August 2, 2019, NSCN-IM had claimed that the latest round of formal talks between the outfit and the GoI held at Hebron Camp at Dimapur in Nagaland on August 1, had not gone down well with the NSCN-IM negotiators led by ‘general secretary’ Thuingaleng Muivah. NSCN-IM also alleged that R.N. Ravi, GoI’s interlocutor to the Indo-Naga political talks since August 29, 2014, and now also the Governor of Nagaland, was ‘capricious and bossy’ in the latest round of formal talks. R.N. Ravi was appointed Governor of Nagaland on July 20, 2019.
Meanwhile, it seems that GoI is rattled by the long delay in achieving a ‘Final Solution’. Indeed, though the Framework Agreement between the NSCN-IM and the GoI was signed on August 3, 2015, no concrete solution has emerged thus far. This may be one of the reasons that the Security Forces (SFs) have upped the ante against the NSCN-IM in the recent past. Some of the incidents reflecting an intensification of operations include:
July 5, 2019: The Army destroyed an NSCN-IM camp at Kekru Naga village in the Tamenglong District of Manipur. One militant was arrested and a cache of arms and ammunition, including an M-16 rifle with 125 rounds, one self-loading rifle [SLR] with 26 rounds and some AK series assault rifles, were recovered from the camp.
April 28, 2019: Assam Rifles (AR) troopers cordoned an undesignated NSCN-IM camp at Sihai Khunou in Ukhrul District. The standoff continued till the militants vacated the camp.
May 25, 2019: SFs neutralized an undesignated NSCN-IM camp at Todaijang village in the Ukhrul District of Manipur.
June 30, 2019: Two NSCN-IM camps located at Jongrum in the Changlang District of Nagaland were destroyed by SFs. No casualty was reported.
March 1-2: An unspecified number of NSCN-IM temporary camps were destroyed at Ikiesingram and Beisumpuloa villages in the Peren District of Nagaland.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), there have been at least five instances of confrontation between the SFs and the NSCN-IM during the current year (data till August 11, 2019).
Through 2018, there were three such incidents. On March 22, an NSCN-IM camp of was destroyed by SFs near Sonking village in Changlang District in Arunachal Pradesh. On July 3, three NSCN-IM camps were destroyed in Motongsa village in Changlang District. Again, on August 8, SFs dismantled a temporary NSCN-IM camp in New Ngaolong, Peren District, Nagaland.
No such incident was reported in 2017, 2016 as well as in 2015 after the signing of the Framework Agreement on August 3, 2015. However, one incident was reported in 2015, on February 27, when SFs neutralized an NSCN-IM camp in the Peren District of Nagaland.
The spike in such incidents may be part of a strategy of the GoI to test the resolve of the NSCN-IM, as its leadership has often stated that it will not compromise on its ‘core demands’. On March 21, 2019, NSCN-IM ‘general secretary’ Thuingaleng Muivah alleging that the GoI is delaying the final settlement reiterated,
|The demand for Greater Nagaland is based on Naga political rights and Nagas will not surrender their rights at any cost. Our demand is also for a separate Naga national flag and a separate Constitution. If the Centre does not accept (these demands), there is no other way to resolve the political problem.|
On February 16, 2019, Muivah had stated that ‘’there will be one Nagalim, only one government, our flag and our constitution must be there. This is the stand we have given…” He had added further,
|You see problem is not created from our side but from their side and the problem they created they are finding difficult to solve, you know the Indians are to blame themselves, you know, not blame us… if they betray, it’s clear and simple, it’s their mistake.|
On July 13, R.N. Ravi had stated that, though peace process was “going on”, the divergent positions on the demand for a separate Naga flag and constitution remained unresolved. The demand for flag and constitution has long been a bone of contention between GoI and NSCN-IM.
In the meantime, NSCN-IM has not been found involved in any incident of killing of civilians or SFs within Nagaland since the signing of the Framework Agreement on August 3, 2015, but has continued to use violence against civilians and local political leadership in the wider Northeast region. According to the SATP database, since the signing of the Framework Agreement, at least 26 persons (16 civilians, four SF personnel and six militants) have been killed in 14 NSCN-IM linked incidents of killing reported from two States (Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh). 2015 recorded two (one civilian and one militant) fatalities, both prior to the signing of the Agreement. 2016 saw two (both civilians) fatalities; three (two civilians and one militant) in 2017; eight (one civilian, two SF personnel and five militants) in 2018; and at least 12 fatalities (10 civilians and two SF personnel) have already been reported in 2019.
Some of the prominent incidents relating to NSCN-IM activities in 2019 include:
On May 21, 2019, at least 11 people, including Arunachal Pradesh Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Tirong Aboh and his son, were killed in an ambush by NSCN-IM militants at Changlang District in Arunachal Pradesh.
On July 15, 2019, an NSCN-IM ‘area commander’, ‘major’ Anok Wangsa was arrested from Namtola-Jampan axis road in Charaideo District in Assam. He was ‘in charge’ of the Longding (Arunachal Pradesh), Charaideo (Assam), and Mon (Nagaland) areas. An AK 56, two grenades, wo magazines and INR 500,00 was recovered from his possession. According to reports, the arrested militant was ‘deputy’ to ‘major general’ Absolom Tangkhul, who was reportedly involved in the May 21 attack.
On March 29, 2019, NSCN-IM militants shot dead Jaley Anna, a National People’s Party (NPP) supporter at Kheti village in the Tirap District of Arunachal Pradesh.
The recent surge in NSCN-IM linked violence can be partially attributed to the increasing distrust among the rank and file of the outfit towards the Government. Incidentally, on April 23, 2017, in a media interview, the ‘chief of Naga army’ of the NSCN-IM, Phunting Shimrang, accused the GoI of delaying the final settlement and alleged that the Central Government was trying to “humiliate” the Nagas. The March 21, 2019, statement by Muivah also suggests a growing distrust.
Meanwhile, reports indicate that the cadre strength of the NSCN-IM has increased from about 2,000 in 2015 to 5,000.
Although the spike in violence is minor, it has the potential to derail the peace talks which have been moving at a snail’s pace over the past almost four years. Unless GoI creates some momentum in the pace of the negotiations, frustrations are likely to grow, and the potential for further violence can only increase.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management