By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On October 15, 2021, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) accused the Government of India (GoI) of violating the historical and political rights of the Naga people for more than six decades and alleged that GoI was engaged in flattery and a divisive policy in the name of finding a political solution for the Naga issue.
The NSCN-IM asserted, “NSCN is, however, no longer naïve enough to be carried away by such an outrageous flattery (sic). Here we are talking about the Naga national flag and Constitution (Yehzabo), the two issues that is (sic) holding up the Naga solution under the ongoing Indo-Naga political talk in Delhi.”
It asserted, “The chequered history of the Indo-Naga political issue is clear enough before us, with accords and agreements that were never meant to be implemented in letter and spirit… The Naga flag with divine origin cannot be traded or bargained to make the Nagas infidel people (sic).”
A delegation of NSCN-IM which included chief negotiator Th. Muivah, chairman Q. Tuccu and vice chairman Tongmeth Wangnao has been stationed in the national capital, New Delhi, since October 5, 2021.
Earlier, on September 19, 2021, the Centre’s new Interlocutor for peace talks, A. K. Mishra, who replaced R.N. Ravi, and the NSCN-IM leadership led by Th. Muivah, met in Dimapur (Nagaland). An unnamed source disclosed, “Since this was the first formal meeting after the new interlocutor was appointed, the meeting was more of an introductory (sic).”
Significantly, the formal talks were stalled for almost 20 months, as R.N. Ravi, who was the Interlocutor for Naga peace talks when the August 5, 2015, Framework Agreement was signed, and NSCN-IM came to loggerheads as a deadline of October 31, 2019, supposedly given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to formulate a solution, ended without any resolution. The last meeting between R. N. Ravi and NSCN-IM happened on January 30, 2020, and ended in an acrimonious exchange between the two sides. Then, in August 2020, NSCN-IM chose to have informal discussions with senior serving Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials. The meetings with IB officials had continued during the interregnum.
NSCN-IM was also irked when Ravi inked an agreement with the Working Committee of the seven-member Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) on November 17, 2017. NSCN-IM claims that it is the only representative of the Naga people.
More recently, NSCN-IM reacted sharply to the signing of the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with the Niki Sumi faction of NSCN-Khaplang. On September 12, 2021, in a press release posted on Facebook, NSCN-IM stated,
The Government of India (GoI) has gained notoriety for overindulgence in duplicitous dealing that comes in the role of scheming villain to kill the Naga issue by keeping the Nagas divided… However, what has caught the attention of the keen political observers, besides the NSCN, is the deceitful dealing of the Government of India in signing ceasefire agreement after ceasefire agreement with its surrogate factions. Such a double dealing of the Government of India only generates doubt on India’s sincere commitment…
Since 2017, GoI has also been involved in talks with the Naga National Political Group (NNPG), a militant conglomerate. The NNPG comprises of seven Naga militant groups: NSCN-KN, NSCN-Reformation faction (NSCN-R), NSCN-Khango Konyak faction (NSCN-K2), and four factions of the Naga National Council (NNC) – Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN), NNC-Parent Body, Non-Accordist faction of NNC/National People’s Government of Nagaland (NPGN/NNC-NA), and the Government Democratic Republic of Nagaland/ NNC-NA (GDRN).
NSCN-IM and Ravi were also at loggerheads on various other issues, including the interpretation of the Framework Agreement of 2015. On August 11, 2020, NSCN-IM called for Ravi’s replacement, alleging that the interlocutor misled Naga civil society groups and leaders by circulating a ‘doctored Framework Agreement and Competencies.’
Ravi was finally shifted to Tamil Nadu as Governor on September 9.
Soon after, on September 20,2021, a letter was issued purportedly by NSCN-IM, addressing the local leaders mainly from Nocte, Tangsa, Tutsa, and Wancho communities hailing from Tirap Changlang and Longding (TCL) Districts. The letter summoned them to a meeting scheduled for September 29-30 in Dimapur, Nagaland. A few days earlier, NSCN-IM had issued a letter ‘ordering’ Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA)’s and State Cabinet Ministers hailing from TCL Districts to withdraw support from the Prema Khandu-led State Government. Nocte, Tangsa, Tutsa, and Wancho are the four main Naga tribes in Arunachal Pradesh. No further reports are available. The Superintendents of Police of the TCL Districts were put on alert following the letter. “The government is committed to protecting its officers and men from any kind of threat,” an unnamed top Government official stated.
This sequence of developments clearly suggest that NSCN-IM sees an opportunity in Ravi’s ouster to put more pressure on the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union Government, in order to counter the pressure on the group exerted by the Central Agencies.
Over the last couple of years, agencies such as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) have tightened the noose around the outfit.
On October 1, 2021, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) directed the NIA to investigate the abduction and subsequent murder of Athuan Abonmai, a tribal leader in the Tamenglong District of Manipur. On September 22, suspected NSCN-IM militants had abducted and killed Athuan Abonmai, the former president of Zeliangrong Baudi (a body representing the conglomerate of three tribes, the Zeme, Liangmai, and Rongmei tribes spread across Assam, Manipur, and Nagaland). Abonmai was abducted from Polo ground in the District Headquarters of Tamenglong and his dead body was found at Pallong village in Tamenglong District. Abonmai was known for his firm stand on maintaining the Zeliangrong identity and homeland. NSCN-IM seeks to project a unified Naga identity over every other identity. The UMHA order stated,
The central government is of the opinion that a scheduled offence under the NIA Act, 2008 has been committed and having regard to the gravity of the offence and to unearth the full conspiracy hatched by the accused, it is required to be investigated by NIA.
Significantly, NSCN-IM has eliminated/attacked opponents in the past as well, sending a chilling message to its critics. Prominent among these have been:
May 23, 2019: 11 persons, including the Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Tirong Aboh and his son, were killed in an ambush by suspected NSCN-IM militants on the Khonsa-Deomali Road of Tirap District, Arunachal Pradesh.October 24, 2016: Suspected NSCN-IM militants opened gunfire as the then Chief Minister of Manipur Okram Ibobi Singh was getting out of his helicopter at the Ukhrul helipad. The CM escaped unhurt from the incident. Two Manipur Rifles troopers sustained injuries in the attack.April 15, 2011: Independent MLA Wungnaoshang Keishing narrowly escaped an ambush by NSCN-IM cadres who accused him of ‘betraying’ the Nagas. Six Manipur Rifles troopers and two civilians were killed, and six were wounded in the attack near New Cannan Village in Ukhrul District. MLA Wungnaoshang Keishing was a believer in ‘Naga integration’ but fell out with NSCN-IM when he supported the demand for the creation of a separate District of Phungyar out of Ukhrul District.November 24, 2007: Two Security Personnel sustained injuries when the then Goa Governor S. C. Jamir’s convoy was attacked with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) planted by suspected NSCN-IM militants in Mokokchung District, Nagaland.
Meanwhile, on September 29, 2021, NIA announced an increase of rewards for information on five suspects belonging to NSCN-IM, including ‘lieutenant colonel’ Apem, ‘major general’ Absolon Tangkhul, ‘captain’ Victor Tangkhul, James Kiwang, and Rabi Wangno, linked to the killing of National People’s Party MLA from Khonsa West constituency (Tirap District, Arunachal Pradesh), Tirong Aboh and eleven others.
These developments clearly underline the hollowness of the much-fanfared August 3, 2015, Framework Agreement. The celebratory proclamations that followed the signing of the Agreement were clearly premature, and it subsequently emerged that consensus on even the details of the Agreement itself was in question. The Centre’s strategy of protracting negotiations endlessly appears to have exhausted its possibilities. The process needs to make visible gains, lest this vulnerable region begins to regress into the age of violence and terrorism.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management