By Oyindrila Chattopadhyay*
On July 20, 2021, the Working Committee (WC) of Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) issued a statement questioning Nikki Sumi on his intention “to give peace a chance.”
The statement of the Working Committee read, “If his intention is what he says, why is he inviting and decorating vagabonds, social outcasts, petty thieves, multiple defectors, rank/position collectors, proven traitors and morally bankrupt elements into his fold?… The Naga public in general and business community in particular have had enough of these unprincipled elements. Even footpath vendors surviving from hand to mouth during pandemic are not spared by these social parasites acting as Niki’s collectors.”
The statement further said,
[The WC of NNPGs] is absolutely clear that all post-December 26, 2020, recruits of Niki Sumi’s group are men of questionable characters, conducts and reputations and, therefore, will never be considered as Naga patriots in any manner. All defectors must return to their original organisations. WC, NNPGs is firm that Niki Sumi must walk the talk and find a way to think and act for future Naga generations.
Earlier, on July 4, 2021, the WC of NNPGs, in a statement, accused the Niki Sumi-led faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K-NS) of indulging in “anti-Naga activities.” Asserting that the time had come to “save the land and people from traitors,” the WC of NNPGs reminded Niki Sumi that “it is better to remain a Naga in flesh, mind and spirit.”
On July 21, 2021, NSCN-K-NS refuted the allegations, stating that “it has not come out to point fingers at others or to create enmity but to pave way for peace to prevail in the land.”
It is pertinent to recall that NSCN-K recorded another split in July 2020, when Niki Sumi, Nyamlang Konyak Naga, and Starson Lamkang were expelled by the Yung Aung faction of NSCN-K (NSCN-K-YA).
Nikki Sumi became the ‘president’ of the new faction while Starson Lamkang Naga became the ‘general secretary’/’Ato Kilonser’ (prime minister). NSCN-K-NS had a cadre strength of about 120 at this stage.
On September 6, 2020, NSCN-K-NS suffered a setback when NSCN-K-YA attacked its general headquarters (GHQ) in Taga, Myanmar. The three leaders of NSCN-K-NS – Nyemlang Konyak, Sumi and Starson – however, escaped unhurt. The attackers seized arms, ammunition, and rations, and took control of the GHQ. This incident, along with the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on cross border movement on the India-Myanmar border by the Assam Rifles, created operational and logistical challenges for the group, and finally forced the leadership to rethink its future course.
On September 27, 2020, Nyemlang Konyak joined NSCN-Reformation (NSCN-R), after he had surrendered on September 22. NSCN-R is a part of the NNPGs.
On December 23, 2020, Sumi declared that his group has decided to revive ceasefire with the Government, with immediate effect, “by revoking the earlier decision of unilateral abrogation” of the ceasefire in 2015. Back then, the outfit was led by its founder, S.S. Khaplang, who died in 2017. “We expect GoI [Government of India] to respond positively by honouring our decision as a confidence building measure in the larger interests of peace in Nagaland and Naga people in general,” the statement continued. After Khaplang’s death, the NSCN-K named Khango Konyak as its new head. In 2018,Yung Aung ‘impeached’ Khango Konyak and tried to take over the group, which resulted in a split in the group: Yung Aung led NSCN-K-YA and Khango Konyak-led NSCN-K-KK. NSCN-K-KK joined the peace talks with the Government in early 2019.
On December 25, 2020, Starson Lamkang surrendered, along with 52 militants, in the Phek District of Nagaland. Another five cadres have surrendered in the current year.
In the meantime, when reports started emerging that the Sumi faction had surrendered, Sumi asserted, on December 27, 2020, that “we stand strong with our aspiration and commitment for our Naga political rights till the time we achieve it.” He clarified, further,
On the invitation from the Government of India to join the peace process, NSCN/’GPRN’ established contact with the Government of India in order to revive the ceasefire and that should not be misconstrued in any way as a sign of surrender or giving up Naga political rights.
Again, in a press statement issued on December 31, 2020, Niki Sumi declared,
Being mindful of the past, present and future consequences on Naga generations, we have opted despite some reservations to heed to the call of the Nagas to give peace a chance… I do request all to introspect on the wishes and aspirations of the Naga people to give peace a chance.
Again, there was no mention of laying down of arms.
Indeed, the extortion activities of the NSCN-K-NS continue on the ground. Some of the recent incidents involving the outfit include:
July 19: One NSCN-K-NS cadre, identified as Meyiwapang aka Wapangmeren, was arrested from the Mokokchung main town area of Mokokchung District in Nagaland on extortion charges. Wapangmeren had extorted a sum of INR 11,000 from two shops in Mokokchung Town. Some demand slips and incriminating documents were seized from his possession.
July 12: Four NSCN-K-NS cadres were arrested from Seitheke Basti of Lower Agri area in Kohima District, Nagaland. Police recovered one AK-47 rifle with three magazines, 77 rounds of live ammunition and INR 11,500 in cash from the possession of the militants.
June 23: 11 NSCN-K-NS cadres were arrested for running an illegal mess and carrying out extortion activities on National Highway, at Thilixu village in Dimapur District, Nagaland.
According to partial data collected by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 27 NSCN-K-NS cadres have already been arrested in the current year, so far (data till July 25, 2021). A total of eight cadres were arrested through 2020, all before Sumi’s reported ‘surrender’. Since July 28, 2020, when NSCN-K-NS was formed, at least 35 NSCN-K-NS cadres have been arrested, including 27 in the current year.
This is why the WC of the NNPGs raised objections over the intentions of the Sumi faction.
Despite this, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) extended the ceasefire agreement with NSCN-K-NS along with NSCN-R and NSCN-K-KK on April 12, 2021, for another year.
Clearly unsettled by the long delay in reaching to a final agreement with the Isak-Muivah faction of the NSCN (NSCN-IM), the Government of India (GoI) is making efforts to rope in all Naga groups into the peace process, without any consideration of the long-term ramifications for the overall outcome of the talks.
Indeed, the NNPGs, which are a vital cog in the entire peace process and are unhappy with the Sumi factions’ actions and intention, have also blamed the GoI. The WC of the NNPGs’ July 4, 2021, statement accused the GoI of “setting a wolf among sheep”, asserted that Niki Sumi had “gone too far,” and warned that “WC will be forced to respond if its integrity and commitment to peace and solution is taken as a sign of weakness.”
The incoherence of GoI’s approach in dealing with Naga groups like NSCN-K-NS is creating uncertainty and instability, jeopardizing the future of the protracted talks process. The Government’s present and lackadaisical approach may further hamper an already derailed peace process.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management