By M.A. Athul*
On August 23, 2018, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) recovered nine missing pistols from the residence of United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF) ‘chief’ Soson Haokip in Manipur. UKLF is one of the 25 Kuki-Chin-Mizo militant groups which has signed a Suspension of Operations (SoO) Agreement with the Government. A statement issued by the NIA noted, “Investigation established that some of the pistols were handed over to one Soson Haokip, ‘chief’ of UKLF. Accordingly… searches were conducted at his residential premises at Mantri Pukhuri, Imphal, and at his farmhouse in Palell and nine 9mm pistols were recovered from his residence. The pistols are believed to be from the same lot that went missing from the police armoury at Imphal. The search is continuing.”
On August 24, 2018, the ‘chairman’ of Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), David Hangshing, was arrested from Imphal East District of Manipur by NIA in connection with the Manipur missing arms case. 56 pistols and 58 magazines had disappeared from the Manipur Police armoury. On August 25, following Hangshing’s disclosures, authorities recovered another six missing 9 mm pistols from a location about 20 kilometres from Imphal, under the jurisdiction of the Imphal East District Police.
Earlier, on July 30, 2018, NIA had raided the house of Yamthong Haokip, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Saikhul, at Mantripukhri in Imphal West District, and he was subsequently arrested on August 24. In a Press Release, NIA stated, “During the course of investigation by NIA, one of the missing pistol bearing no. 18506735 was recovered at Mantripukhri, Imphal on 30.07.2018, during the search at the residence of Yamgthung Haokip MLA, Saikul Assembly Constituency, besides other incriminating articles.” According to an official, three missing pistols were recovered from members of various militant groups. At least 19 of the 56 missing pistols have now been recovered by the authorities.
Further, on August 3, 2018, NIA raided the residence of former Irrigation and Flood Control Minister Ngamthang Haokip, who is also a sitting MLA. According to NIA several consignments of the stolen 9 mm pistols were delivered to the former Congress Minister and to KRA ‘chairman’ David Hangshing, Haokip’s son-in-law. KRA is also under a SoO Agreement with the Government of India (GoI). Despite the raid the sitting MLA has not been arrested.
The case of missing arms was discovered on March 30, 2018, after P. Manjit, Commandant of the 2nd Manipur Rifles examined the current holdings of arms and ammunitions of both the unit and of the Police Headquarters (PHQ) Pool. The missing pistols were reportedly part of consignment of 570 pistols purchased on September 11, 2014, by the Manipur Government for State Security Forces (SFs). On April 1, 2018, Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh stated, “We discovered the loss of 56 auto 9mm 1A pistols from one of the storerooms. We arrested five persons while another policeman has been detained. Since this is a serious breach of national security, we wrote to the NIA on Friday (March 30) to investigate the case.”
According to the Chief Minister, the weapons were stolen between September 2014 and March 29, 2018. As on August 30, 2018, at least 11 persons have been arrested in connection with the case. The arrested individuals include MLA Yamthong Haokip, Thokchom Diamond, Laishram Anil Kumar, Laishram Damudor aka Thembung, Haobam Brojendro, Ngamboi Haokip aka Raju, Paonam Shantikumar, Mathurabashimayum Hiranjoy Sharma aka Ngoubi, Narayan Chhetry, and Nellikattil Podiyan Damodaran.
Meanwhile, four Police officers, including an IPS officer have been suspended: F. Gomlin, Kamjong District Superintendent of Police (SP); Th. Vikramjit Singh, Commandant-in-Charge of Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB); Ajith Kumar Sharma, Additional SP of Jiribam District; and H Basulal, Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) at Mayang in Imphal.
Separately, on July 2, 2018, NIA had carried out a raid at the house of Mutum Shyamo Singh, the ex-Director of Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences (JNIMS) in Imphal West District and recovered INR four million and other incriminating documents. The accused was arrested in New Delhi on July 6. According to an NIA Press Release, the accused/suspects were actively associated with the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) and also involved in raising of terror funds, supply of arms, ammunitions and explosives for KCP. Later on, August 30, 2018, NIA recovered INR 4.8 million from the wife of arrested the JNIMS ex-director. NIA recovered the money from an individual identified as K. Pramodini, an employee of the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS). NIA disclosed, further, ”This amount belongs to one N. Sobita Devi, wife of accused Dr. Mutum Shyamo Singh, who was arrested by NIA on July 6 for his involvement and supporting the proscribed organisation KCP.”
The nexus between insurgents and State actors is not a recent phenomenon, nor is the funnelling of Government arms to insurgents. Indeed, in a significant incident highlighting the pan-regional character of the problem, NIA and Assam Rifles (AR) in a joint operation on January 23, 2018, arrested three militants including one identified as ‘brigadier’ Aheto H. Chophy, wanted for acquiring weapons and ammunition belonging to Nagaland Police for National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM). According to a supplementary charge sheet filed by NIA, 75 firearms, 62 magazines and 26,098 rounds of ammunitions had been pilfered by the arrested militants.
The acquisition of weapons by NSCN-IM from state forces came to light after SFs conducted a raid at the residence of Head Constable (HC) Enyimi Chakesang in Sukhovi in Dimapur District on April 20, 2012. SFs recovered 3,700 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition, 38 SLR magazines, one .303 magazine, 100 empty cases of 7.62 rounds, seven ammunition containers and two rifle boxes. Three persons besides Chakesang, identified as Tsuyenla Yimchunger, Zungkum Yimchunger and Laniku Yimchunger were arrested. According to the NIA charge sheet, the accused were able to pilfer Government ammunition by fudging the records of ammunition expended for general training purposes.
Another high-profile incident of senior Government functionaries hand in glove with militants came to light in a NIA case registered on August 1, 2016, for extortion and illegal collection of money by insurgent groups. On April 26, 2017 arrested three officers, Tulula Pongen, Joint Director/DDO, Department of Social Welfare, Kohima; Alienba Pangjung Jamir, Joint Director/DDO, Department of Land Resources; and K. Lashito Sheqi, UDA/Cashier, Department of Land Resources, in connection with the case, for siphoning substantial amounts of money to militant groups, including NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K), from 2012 to 2016. The facts were discovered during the scrutiny of official documents, demand letters and payment receipts of militant groups seized during a search operation carried out by NIA in 13 Government offices on January 18, 2017. Two NSCN-K militants, S. Khetoshe Sumi, the ‘finance-in-charge’ of Kohima and Dimapur area (arrested on July 31, 2016) and Victo Swu (arrested on September 28, 2017) were earlier arrested in this case.
Later at least seven other Government officials have also been arrested. The arrested individuals were identified as Vilepral Aja, Additional Director attached to Directorate of Agriculture, K. Hutoi Sema, executive engineer, irrigation and Flood Control Department, Purakhu Angami, Retired Director, Department of Tourism, and Kekhriesatuo Tep, Superintendent of fisheries were arrested on October 13, 2017. G. Ikuto Zhimomi, Director, Directorate of Agriculture, Sangtemchuba, Divisional Accounts officer, Directorate of Urban Development and Ketouzo Peseyie, Executive Engineer, Directorate of Rural Development, Kohima were arrested on March 25, 2018. All the 10 officials were booked under Sections 39 and 40 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
Furthermore, T.R Zeliang the ex-Chief Minister of Nagaland appeared before the NIA for being questioned on March 30, 2018. Earlier on February 13, NIA had summoned the Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to T.R Zeliang, identified as Ruokuovizo Chupuo and two of his office staff for questioning in connection with a case of alleged terror funding. The involvement of political actors, including Chief Ministers, is not a new or isolated phenomenon.
The NIA probe revealed that militant groups in Nagaland were reportedly getting money from 14 State Government Departments: the Directorate of Information Technology; the Directorate of Soil and Water Conservation; the Directorate of Irrigation; the Directorate of Rural Development; the Directorate of Urban Development; Public Works Department (PWD); Roads and Buildings Department; and the Directorate of Information and Public Relations. An NIA officer stated: “We have found documents that show that at least 14 Government Departments made regular payments to Naga groups, including NSCN-IM… We have seized receipts that show payments of INR 20 million.”
Despite the decrease in insurgent violence, the nexus of militants with Government officials and politicians feeds an underground economy of violence and prevents any final resolution of the multiple conflicts in India’s Northeast. More worryingly the nexus has sustained and prolonged the insurgency in the region. The NIA has uncovered the tip of a vast iceberg that has reinforced violent movements, when these insurgencies were raging across the Northeast and now, in their dying flickers.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management