By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On March 22, 2021, unidentified gunman in ‘camouflage’ killed three Zeliang tribesmen – Itingwangbe Haikam, Hangyi and Asiambo – in an area located at the border between the Peren and Dimapur Districts of Nagaland.
Zeme Council-Nagaland (ZC-Nagaland) president, Tumda Newme, accused Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Kitovi-Neopak (NSCN-KN) cadres for their involvement in the incident. NSCN-KN ‘chairman’ M.B. Neokpao Konyak and Ato Kilonser (Prime Minister) N. Kitovi Zhimomi denied their involvement and expressed deep sorrow over the killing of three “Zeliang brothers” by unknown assailants.
On March 2, 2021, NSCN-KN cadres had abducted three civilians from Lamhainamdi village in Peren District. The trio was safely released on March 15, 2021, after Zeliang civil society groups made a representation to Governor R. N Ravi.
Significantly, NSCN-KN is a major constituent of the Naga National Political Group (NNPG), a militant conglomerate involved in talks with the Government of India (GoI). 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). The NNPGs were included in talks with GoI on September 27, 2017, in an effort to widen the peace talks.
The March 22 killing is the lone incident of killing reported in 2021, thus far (data till March 28). According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the State registered two insurgency-linked fatalities, both militants, in two separate incidents in 2020. These were the lowest ever fatalities recorded in a year in the State since 1992, with the previous low of three recorded in 2010. There were four such fatalities, including one civilian, two Security Force (SF) personnel and one militant, in three incidents in 2019. There were seven fatalities (three SF personnel and four militants) in 2018, and eight fatalities (three civilians, one trooper, four militants) in 2017. Fatalities have thus been on a continuous decline since 2018.
At the peak of the insurgency, Nagaland recorded 360 fatalities (104 civilians, 38 SF personnel, and 218 militants) in 1997. The highest civilian fatalities in a year, 144, were recorded in 1996. The maximum number of SF personnel killed, 48, was also in 1996.
In 2020, the geographic spread of the violence was also limited. Fatalities were recorded in two Districts – Zunheboto (1) and Tuensung (1) – as against three Districts in 2019 – Mon (2), Dimapur (1) and Kohima (1).
One incident of explosion (no fatality) was reported in 2020 as against two such incidents resulting in two fatalities (both SF personnel) in 2019. One incident of internecine clash resulting in the death of one militant was reported in 2020, as against two such incidents (one militant fatality) in 2019. Turf wars between various Naga militant factions to expand influence and dominance were common till 2015. There were no such clashes in the subsequent three years (2016, 2017 and 2018). These incidents were also recorded beyond the State. Fatalities resulting from instances of internecine clashes between Naga militant groups outside Nagaland increased slightly from one militant, in Arunachala Pradesh, in 2019, to three militants, in Manipur, in 2020. Although, the fatalities increased, the number of incidents reduced from three in 2019 to two in 2020.
Meanwhile, SFs arrested 117 militants in 59 incidents, adding to 187 militants arrested in 108 incidents in 2019. Those arrested in 2020 included 56 from NSCN-IM; 12 from NSCN-K Khango Konyak; 15 from NSCN-KN; nine from NSCN-Khaplang-Yung Aung; seven from NSCN-K; six from NNC; two each from NSCN-K Nikki Sumi, Zeliangrong United Front-Kamson (ZUF-Kamson), United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) and NSCN-R; and one militant each from the Nyemlang Konyak-led NSCN-K, and Kangleipak Communist Party-Noyon (KCP-Noyon).
The broad trends indicate an improved security situation in the state.
Incidents of abduction and extortion, however, remained unabated. On June 26, 2020, Inspector General-Range (IGP -Range) Limasunep Jamir disclosed that, over the preceding five years, the Nagaland Police had registered a total of 893 criminal cases and arrested 1,238 people of various Naga political groups for involvement in various crimes, including abduction/kidnapping for ransom and extortion. In Dimapur alone, 507 cases were registered against extortionists over this period, and a total of 723 extortionists had been arrested. Meanwhile in Kohima, 72 cases were registered and 96 extortionists were arrested. The recorded incidents of extortion/abduction are likely a fraction of the total incidence, as a majority of victims comply with the demands of militant formations and fail to report cases.
On January 26, 2021, Governor R.N. Ravi observed,
The menace of rampant extortions under the guise of illegal taxation by anti-social elements has not yet been fully curbed despite best efforts by the police and security forces. It has created a sense of fear among businesses and entrepreneurs which severely undermines the economy and growth of the state.
Meanwhile, the Naga peace talks are yet to reach any definite conclusion, despite the 2015 Framework Agreement. Significantly, the crucial issue of a separate flag and constitution demanded by NSCN-IM, based on a ‘unique Naga history’, remains the major bone of contention. Interlocutor turned Governor R.N Ravi observed, on December 1, 2020,
The Indian National Flag and Constitution are the pride of the people of India. The Government of India is absolutely clear that there is and shall be only one National Flag and Constitution in India. Anyone talking anything contrary is peddling preposterous lies. They are trying to confuse and mislead the people.
On February 12, 2021 Governor R. N. Ravi claimed that negotiations between the Centre and Naga groups on the Naga political imbroglio had concluded, and there was now need to move swiftly for a conclusive solution. Governor Ravi claimed that a seven-point unanimous resolution was adopted at the October 15, 2020, consultative meeting, which asserted that there would be a single solution for the Naga political issue. However, on March 3, 2021, NSCN-IM declared that it would not sign any agreement that is “short of mutual standards agreed upon.”
Meanwhile, 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.
Thereafter, on January 2, 2021, Nikki Sumi announced a ceasefire with the Government,
I, as a Naga, cannot unilaterally go against the wishes and aspirations of our people and, consequent to our decision to give peace a chance, I might have hurt or let down the sentiments of a few which was never my intention. Therefore, I do request all to introspect on the wishes and aspirations of the Naga people to give peace a chance.
Reacting to the Sumi’s statement, an unnamed senior NNPG leader said,
They have not yet approached the NNPGs. The seven groups will then take a decision. The GoI will not entertain a new kind of group for talks. If at all the Niki Sumi faction wants to be part of the peace process, they will have to be part of NNPGs. The Khango Konyak faction of NSCN-K has already joined us.
There are, however, indications of a revival of armed groups resorting to violence in case of the failure of the Naga talks. On March 23, 2021, NSCN-IM warned,
This is going to set of another long-drawn struggle as Naga people will never barter away the political rights given to them by god.
Further, the question of demographic threat and local privileges continues to mobilise people. On March 19, 2021, the civil society conglomerate, Joint Committee on Prevention of Illegal Immigrants (JCPI), took out a silent rally in Dimapur to demand immediate implementation of the Register of Indigenous Citizens of Nagaland (RIIN) exercise in Nagaland. JCPI demanded that the State Government immediately act on the Banuo Commission report on RIIN and make necessary law to implement the RIIN exercise before March 31, 2021, with December 1, 1963, as the cut-off date. They demanded that an ordinance to this affect be promulgated in the State Assembly. The aim of RIIN is to prevent issuance of fake indigenous inhabitants’ certificates. The RIIN is intended to be the master list of all indigenous inhabitants of the state. Significantly, NSCN-IM is opposed to RIIN. On April 4, 2019, NSCN-IM had claimed,
All Nagas, wherever they are, are indigenous in their land by virtue of their common history. We uphold this principle to the last and it should not be distorted by anyone under any circumstances.
Further, in a letter dated March 12, 2021, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) asked Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram to take appropriate action, as per law, and maintain strict vigil at the borders to prevent a possible influx of people from Myanmar into India. These four States share a 1,643-kilometre-long international boundary with Myanmar (Nagaland shares 215 kilometres). Myanmar is facing turmoil in the aftermath of the February 1, 2021, coup d’état by Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army). According to a March 25 report, 733 Myanmarese had entered Mizoram since the February 1 coup. Three people were confirmed to have entered Manipur. No influx has yet been reported from Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland.
The peace in Nagaland is tentative and it is consequently imperative for the State to ensure that the political approach and security measures don’t botch up the peace process at this critical juncture.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management