India: Stalemate Continues In Nagaland – Analysis
By Mutum Kenedy Singh*
On January 21, 2023, the National People’s Government of Nagaland/Non Accordist faction of the Naga National Council (NPGN/NNC-NA) President, T. Ovung, in a press statement, declared that there will be “bloodshed and war” if the Naga political solution was not based on the “August 3, 2015-Framework Agreement”, as some Nagas would be excluded. T. Ovung reaffirmed that the Framework Agreement was for “Nagalim”, which included all Nagas of Nagaland, Nagas of Manipur, Nagas of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagas of Assam, and “no Nagas should be excluded.”
On January 18, 2023, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) reaffirmed the Naga National Decision of May 31, 2022, “to uphold and protect Naga’s unique history and Naga national principle at any cost.” The NSCN-IM further added that an “honorable and acceptable political solution between India and the Nagas should be based on the Framework Agreement of August 3, 2015, wherein the sovereignty of the Nagas is acknowledged, in conjunction with the Naga National Flag and the Constitution… The Nagas do not acknowledge any agreements signed under the Indian Constitution.”
The NSCN-IM leadership also accused the Government of India (GoI) of “desperately trying to push through a new edited version of 16-Point Agreement (16-PA) at the cost of betraying the Framework Agreement (FA)” signed with the group on August 3, 2015. In a statement, NSCN-IM asserted that “the state of affairs on the ongoing Indo-Naga political talks is a matter of regret as rogue elements are pushing around with the blessing of the GOI targeting the destruction of the Framework Agreement.” The outfit further claimed “the elements of perfidy, deceit, duplicity, double dealings and treachery had been planted by Government of India’s intelligence agencies in the same manner when the State of Nagaland was created under the 16-Point Agreement.”
Earlier, on September 12, 2022, Union Minister of Home Affairs (UMHA) Amit Shah met a delegation of the Nagaland Government in New Delhi, to discuss the Naga political issue. UMHA Amit Shah asked the delegation to convince the NSCN-IM to soften their stance on separate flag and Yehzabo (constitution) so that the issue could be resolved.
To further the peace talks, the Government of India and Working Committee (WC) comprising of six Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), had signed an agreement on November 17, 2017, which recognized the political and historical rights of the Nagas to self-determine their future, in consonance with their distinct identity. The NNPG is led primarily by Nagaland Nagas, who want to resolve the Naga issue within the boundaries of the Nagaland state.
The Government of India has been holding separate dialogues with the NSCN-IM and the Working Committee of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) since 1997 and 2017, respectively, because of the divergent objectives of the two stakeholders. The NSCN-IM is led by the Tangkhul Nagas of Manipur, who want a solution to the Naga issue for all Nagas, including those beyond the state boundaries of Nagaland. The NNPGs, on the other hand, are primarily interested in finalizing a solution for the Nagas of Nagaland.
Although the NSCN-IM has often claimed to be the sole party representing the Naga political cause, it has recently acknowledged the importance of the NNPGs. On January 14, 2023, the NSCN-IM and Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) jointly declared their unconditional commitment to collaborate for the resolution of the Naga political issue. This declaration came after four months of signing the “September Joint Accordant”, inked on September 14, 2022, in which NSCN-IM and NNPGs agreed to form the “Council of Naga Relationships and Cooperation”, led by the convener of the NNPGs and the chairman of NSCN-IM, to explore, at the earliest, realistic ways for Nagas to move forward on the basis of Naga historical and political rights.
Despite the assurances of the Government of India, and the rhetoric and posturing of the NSCN-IM and the NNPGs, the peace talks are in a deadlock, and a final settlement looks unlikely within the present scenario.
Despite several rounds of talks between the incumbent interlocutor for the peace talks, Akshaya Kumar Mishra, the former Intelligence Bureau (IB) Special Director and advisor to MHA (Northeast India) and the leadership of the NSCN-IM, the stalemate has persisted. On April 25, 2022, the Union Government’s interlocutor in the Naga peace talks conveyed to the NSCN-IM that there would be no change in the Government’s stand on the group’s demand for a separate flag and constitution for Nagaland. Meanwhile, the NSCN-IM remain firm on its insistence on a separate flag and constitution as key conditions of the proposed final settlement.
Another challenge to the peace talks is the frequent infighting amongst the NNPGs, who are important stakeholders in the peace talks. The NNPGs are a militant conglomerate that comprises seven Naga groups: NSCN-Kitovi Neopak (NSCN-NK); NSCN-Reformation (NSCN-R); NSCN-Khango Konyak (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).
Recently, on December 15, 2022, the Akato Chophy-led faction of (NSCN-R), which is one of the groups constituting the Working Committee of the NNPGs, announced that they have joined the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) who are in talks with the Government of India for a solution to the Naga political issue. However, the group’s claims were refuted by both the Working Committee of the NNPGs and the Kilo Kilonser (Home Minister) of the NSCN-R. Such frequent infighting complicates the resolution of the peace process.
In addition to the peace talks, the Government of India has also extended the ceasefire pacts with various Naga insurgent groups in order to bring lasting peace in the regions affected by Naga Insurgency. The Government extended the ceasefire agreement with the Nikki Sumi-led faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K-NS) for a period of one year, with effect from September 8, 2022, to September 7, 2023. The ceasefire agreement with the NSCN-K-NS has been in operation for a year, since September 2021.
The Government also extended the ceasefire agreements for a further period of one year, with effect from April 28, 2022 to April 27, 2023, NSCN-R. The ceasefire agreement with the NSCN-K Khango faction has been extended from April 18, 2022, to April 17, 2023. These Agreements were signed on April 19, 2022.
Another issue affecting political stability in the state is the issue of the ‘Frontier Nagaland State’ demand by the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organization (ENPO). ENPO which was formed in 1997, after the Eastern Nagas walked out of Naga Hoho, is stewarding the movement for the creation of a separate state, comprising the six districts of Tuensang, Mon, Shamatore, Longleng, Noklak and Kiphire, which are settled by the Konyaks, Sangtams, Changs, Phoms, Khiamniungans, and Yimchungrus tribes. On December 6, 2022, UMHA Amit Shah met with delegates of ENPO in New Delhi to discuss the demand for ‘Frontier Nagaland’. Shah highlighted a clear roadmap for an amicable, legislative and sustainable solution for Eastern Nagaland, which will include consultation with the people of Eastern Nagaland and the Nagaland State Government. Subsequently, on December 16, 2022, a three-member committee of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), constituted by the Centre to deal with the matter, arrived in the Tuensang District of Nagaland.
The escalating differences between the backward Eastern Nagas and the more developed Naga tribes are fueled by a sense of neglect of the Eastern Nagaland Districts by successive Governments in Nagaland and a perceived lack of development in the Eastern Naga Districts. The elite Naga tribes in Nagaland, such as the Angami, Sema, Ao and Lotha, oppose the idea of a “Frontier Nagaland State,” since this would further fragment the Naga movement, diluting the idea of a ‘Greater Nagalim’. Moreover, ENPO’s demand for ‘Frontier Nagaland’ implies Nagaland’s bifurcation and would compromise Naga unity and cohesion. Nevertheless, NSCN-IM has maintained an ambivalent position on the issue, since the key stakeholders in the ‘Frontier Nagaland’ issues are the Nagas of Nagaland. These issues among the constituents of the peace process and Naga society might impact adversely on the security situation in the State.
While the confusion over ‘Nagalim’ continues, the security situation remained in control over the past year. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Nagaland registered no insurgency-related fatalities in 2022 (though there were some Naga insurgency-linked fatalities outside the state). For the first time, in nearly two decades from 1992 to 2022, this is the first time that not a single insurgency-linked fatality was reported in the State, which saw a peak of 360 fatalities in 1997. The last Security Force (SF) death in the State was reported on May 25, 2019, when two Assam Rifles (AR) personnel were killed and another four sustained injuries, after suspected militants ambushed an AR patrol along the Indo-Myanmar border in Mon District. Though there was no surrender in 2022, there were two incidents of arrest, in which one cadre of NSCN-K2-Issac and two cadres NSCN-U, were arrested from the Dimapur District of Nagaland.
On April 1, 2022, responding to the improved security scenario in the state, the UMHA removed the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act (AFSPA) from 15 Police Stations in seven Districts of Nagaland. But AFSPA was extended for another six months in Dimapur, Niuland, Chumoukedima, Mon, Kiphire, Noklak, Phek, Peren and Zunheboto Districts of Nagaland.
However, some insurgency-linked incidents did occur in 2022. On August 9, 2022, NSCN-KYA militants, opened fire on the 14th Assam Rifles camp in the Dan village of Noklak District, situated near the Indo-Myanmar border. Again, on August 15, 2022, two Assam Rifles personnel were injured in an encounter with the NSCN-KYA, in the Nyasa area of Mon District.
Moreover, the extortion rackets prevail across Nagaland due to illegal taxation imposed by various Naga insurgent groups. On December 1, the Dimapur Police arrested two persons, Zhehoto Sumi and Kughato Sumi, for extorting money in the name of NSCN-U, from the Dimapur District of Nagaland.
In another incident, close aides of the top NSCN-IM leaders, Rayilung Nsarangbe alias Colonel, the treasurer of NSCN-IM, and his wife Ruth Chawang, were issued notices by a special Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) Court of the District and Sessions Judge of Dimapur District, after the Enforcement Directorate (ED) filed a chargesheet against them on December 19, 2022. The accused were charged with operating a well-organized extortion racket in Nagaland and Manipur, resulting in the diversion of government funds. The ED stated that “in pursuance of their conspiracy for terrorist acts, the terrorist gang of NSCN (IM) had been criminally intimidating construction companies undertaking road construction projects in Manipur and collected huge sums as illegal tax (extortion).”
Further, the activities of Naga insurgents continue to affect the neighbouring state of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. In Arunachal Pradesh, Changlang and Longding Districts remain the operating ground of Naga militants. The NSCN-KYA the most active groups in Arunachal Pradesh and works in alliance with other militant groups, such as the United Liberation Front of Assam – Independent (ULFA-I).
Some of the inter-State activities of Naga militants include:
On October 9, 2022, suspected NSCN-KYA militants killed a businessman, Atar Singh Sharma (40), in the Longding District of Arunachal Pradesh.
On May 8, 2022, a Gaon Burah (village headman), Napho Boham of Lauksim village, was kidnapped by suspected militants of the NSCN-KYA, in the Longding District of Arunachal Pradesh.
Meanwhile in Manipur, the NSCN-IM was involved in an ethnic clash with the Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF), who signed a peace accord with the Government of India on December 27, 2022. On January 12, 2022, a ZUF militant, Pouluanthai Gangmei, was abducted and later shot dead by militants of the NSCN-IM, between Awangkhul and Warngkhung village, under the Noney Police Station of Noney District, Manipur.
Despite the improved security scenario in Nagaland, varied challenges remain. The NSCN-IM’s intransigence on the issue of separate flag and Yehzabo (constitution) continues to stall the peace process. Infighting and factionalism within the NNPGs also erode the possibilities of resolution. Further, there is a need to neutralize the capability of splinter NSCN groups to operate in other states of the Northeast region, which creates a domino effect in these states. Bringing all these divergent interest and issues to a pragmatic and inclusive solution is of utmost importance, since the Naga insurgency is the “mother of all insurgencies” in India’s Northeast.
*Mutum Kenedy Singh
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management