By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On November 19, 2021, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Reformation (NSCN-R) split into two: NSCN-R and NSCN-R-Akato Chophy, a new faction led by Akato Chophy. Announcing the split, Nokrang Lanu, the spokesperson of the newly created NSCN-R-Akato Chophy, announced, “Today we declare the split and announce unilateral ceasefire with Government of India… it is not about power or any cause but we are sticking to the NPG [Naga Political Group, a generic term referring to all Naga political formations] cause and the Naga people.”
Akato Chophy was ‘vice president’ in NSCN-R and has now become ‘president’ of NSCN-R-Akato Chophy.
On the same day (November 19), NSCN-R, which was itself formed after a split in the NSCN-Khaplang in 2015, expelled Akato at an emergency meeting held at Thilixu village in Dimapur District from “active national service” for “his anti-party activities.” NSCN-R’s Tatar Hoho (parliament) speaker Iheshe Aye asserted that there would be only one NSCN-R, and they would not allow Akato’s group to have the same nomenclature. The parent group also questioned the claim of the support of over 2,000 members by the Akato-led Group. Aye said there were only 226 signatories and they were from only two regions – Ao and Sangtam. Aye also claimed that the Konyak, Chang, Phom region and Sumi regions were with the parent group. Each of these regions is named after the dominant tribes.
On November 21, the Working Committee (WC) of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) endorsed the decision of the NSCN-R to expel its ‘vice-president’ Akato Chophy from the fold for “anti-party activities.”
Retaliating on the same day (November 21), NSCN-R-Akato Chophy announced that it would sever all ties with the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs).
Akato Chophy, in an interview to a local newspaper, published on November 19, 2021, claimed that the split was not for “power or personal benefits” but in the interest of the Nagas. He blamed a section of NSCN-R leaders ‘who knew nothing about the history of the Nagas, and were only after money,’ for the split. Interestingly, Chophy has a history of ‘defection.’ On October 28, 2017, he was elected the new ‘vice-president’ of the NSCN-R. He had been associated with NSCN-NK till August 2017. Before August 2017, he had been, in succession, with both NSCN-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) and NSCN-Khaplang.
Commenting on the split, on November 23, 2021, the Sümi Kükami Hoho (SKH), Sumi Chiefs Association, condemned the division within political groups “as such move would only jeopardize and prolong the much-awaited solution.” SKH president H. Kashito Yepthomi, general secretary Hetoho S. Zhimomi and finance secretary Ghuhevi Khujumi, in a joint press note, expressed fear that at a time when Nagas were “eagerly anticipating final political solution of the vexed Indo-Naga issue,” further fragmentation within the Naga Political Groups was “unwelcome and undesired.”
The signs of a rift within NSCN-R first emerged in October 2021. However, NNPGs intervened and the situation was salvaged.
Significantly, NNPGs was formed on December 14, 2016, at the behest of the Nagaland Tribes Council (NTC), a civil society organisation, to steer a ‘permanent solution’ to the ‘Naga issue’. Initially, there were six groups in NNPGs – the Neokpao-Kitovi faction of NSCN (NSCN-NK), NSCN-R, and four factions of the Naga National Council (NNC). The four NNC factions were the Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN), NNC-Parent Body, National People’s Government of Nagaland (NPGN) and Government Democratic Republic of Nagaland (GDRN). Then on January 29, 2020, NSCN-K-Khango Konayak joined the NNPGs becoming the seventh member. All seven are part of the Naga peace talks under the NNPGs banner.
The Naga talks have two major parties – the NSCN-IM and the NNPGs. At a time when the talks with NSCN-IM have hit a roadblock, the Government was expecting to continue talks with the NNPGs unhindered.
However, the split in the NSCN-R has created some concerns. There is already one group, the Niki Sumi faction of the NSCN (NSCN-NS) with which NNPGs have difficulties. In a statement on July 4, 2021, NNPGs accused the Government of India (GoI) of “setting a wolf among sheep” and warned that “WC (Working Committee) will be forced to respond if its integrity and commitment to peace and solution is taken as a sign of weakness.” WC of NNPGs alleges that NSCN-NS was encouraging defection of its cadres with the lure of money and rank. Nevertheless, GoI signed a ceasefire agreement with NSCN-NS on September 8, 2021, and the group now maintains that it is not against the framework agreement signed by NSCN-IM or the agreement signed by NNPGs, and that it “stands with the aspirations of the people of Nagaland.” On October 7, 2021, the leaders of NSCN-NS met with interlocutor A. K. Mishra as a ‘separate entity’ in the Naga talks.
Meanwhile, on November 21, 2021, NNPGs maintained that it would “resolutely uphold the decision of the 14 Naga tribal Hohos and other frontal Naga organisations and would not entertain the formation of any new political faction. The statement implies that NSCN-R-Akato Chophy and NSCN-NS are unlikely to be included in the conglomerate.
Meanwhile, the Naga talks continue to drag on, with the political dispensation and the armed groups expecting divergent outcomes. On November 9, 2021, Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio thus observed,
The negotiations are going on. They [NSCN-IM and NNPGs] are the negotiating parties and I cannot say what is going to happen or what is happening. It is for them to say (something on the issue)… Many more new things will be added to us and we will be a very very special state if any agreement comes.
Earlier, on October 23, 2021, NSCN-IM had expressed its disappointment with the recent rounds of talks with A. K. Mishra, GoI’s newly appointed interlocutor for Naga talks. NSCN-IM asserted that the talks had failed to live up to the hype created and had been unable to resolve the Nagas’ demands for a separate flag and Yehzabo (constitution).
Now, with two groups outside the purview of the talks and at odds with the NNPGs, and with talks lingering indefinitely, there is a rising possibility of the bad blood between the divergent groups, potentially translating into clashes to maintain or enhance influence. There is a long history of turf wars between Naga factions, and one fatal clash between NSCN-NK and NSCN-NS has already been reported. On October 17, 2021, NSCN-NK militants killed Atoka Kinimi, ‘additional secretary’ of the NSCN-NS, near the Khehoi designated camp in the the Niuland area of Dimapur District.
The continuing protraction of the talks and the fissiparous tendencies among Naga factions could well put the peace achieved over the past several years in jeopardy. Unless focus, flexibility and pragmatism guide both sides, at least some of the factions will be tempted into a regression to armed violence.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management