TODAY -

The Naga insurgency and the conditions for peace in the region
- Part 1 -

L B Singh *



17 tribes of Nagas were living independently in relative isolation in the Naga Hills and adjoining areas before the British annexed Assam in1826. These tribes have distinct dialects, dress, culture and tradition. They practiced various forms of worships before conversion to Christianity. The Nagas considered the people from other places as outsiders and dangerous to their culture and traditions.

In 1873, the British promulgated "Inner Line" which prevented outsiders except Christian missionary to enter the area. In 1881, the Naga Hills became part of British India and the Naga wanted to be independent after the departure of the British.

In 1947, the Naga National Council (NNC) demanded for "Sovereign State of Naga" in the then Naga hill district of Assam and the Tuensang tract. It was actually instigated by the British to create a foothold for the future. In fact NNC was established at the initiative of C. R. Pawsey, then British Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hill as the "Naga Hill District Council" in 1945 and after one year it was renamed as NNC.

In 1956, underground Naga Federal Government (NFG) and the Naga Federal Army (NFA) were formed. The Army was deployed in the same year and Armed Forces Special Power act was enacted in 1958. The counter insurgency operations caused extreme misery to the tribal villagers. There were serious allegation of burning down of Naga villages, human rights violations and many precious lives were lost.

However, the Government could not curb the Naga insurgency in the initial stage and it led to the spread of insurgency to Manipur and other states. It was due to withdrawal of troops from Nagaland for Indo-China War 1962 and many other factors. Some are enumerated below.

The Naga are a gifted guerrilla fighter and born commando who can live off the land on any diet including snakes, insects etc. The insurgents were friendlier with the inaccessible terrain, the porous border and had friendly tribes in Myanmar. They were initially equipped with the weapons abandoned by the Japanese during WWII.

In the early 1950s, the CIA handed the tribal leaders millions of Rupees, weapons and secret instructions from USA [1 (a)]. Then East Pakistan supported them till 1971 and China provided training to the insurgents in addition to the supply of weapons till 1987 [1 (b)]. They also procured various sophisticated weapons through Kachen Independent Army (KIA) and international market [1 (c)].

ISI still supports the insurgents, China and Bangladesh may change their policies depending on the condition of bilateral relation or the Government in Dacca.

In July 1960, sixteen point agreements were signed between the GoI and the moderate, Naga People's Convention (NPC). In 1963, Nagaland State was formed by adding Tuensang tract to the Naga Hill District with the special provision of Article 371A. The state was put under MEA (Till 1972) and the GoI had fulfilled most of the demands of NPC.

The special status to Nagaland and the statehood did not bring peace in the state. The spread of the insurgency in the North East also coincided with the spread of Christianity in the region. In 1872, American Baptist Mission (ABM) came to Naga Hills and in 1951, 46% of the Nagas converted to Christianity.

In Manipur, the first mission school and the first Baptist church established at Ukhrul in 1901 and 1902 respectively. By 1961, 19% of the population of the Manipur or 48% of the tribal population converted to Christianity. The English language and the common religion of Christianity provided a new link between various Naga tribes in the region.

Some missionary educated Naga youths and certain Christian organization saw the potential to establish a "Christian Nation" in the region by integrating the Naga inhabited areas of NE India and NW Myanmar.

In order to attract the tribal to Christianity, a section of the Christian missionary in Manipur highlighted the shameful treatment of the tribal as untouchable at that time by the orthodox Meitei Hindus. It had alienated the tribal from the majority Meitei community. On the other hand, development in the remote hills of Manipur was severely affected by rampant corruption and inefficiency of the officials who came to NE on punishment posting.

As a result a large number of Nagas in the hill district of Manipur became easy prey to the propaganda of hatred and discontentment by the Naga insurgents. Ukhrul had the maximum number of mission educated youth at that time and it became a hub for the recruitment of Naga insurgent. The founder and General Secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, NSCN (IM), Th. Muivah was one of the recruits from Ukhrul.

During the Simon Commission in 1929, the Nags demanded "to leave us alone to determine for ourselves as in ancient time", but never mentioned anything about the Nagas in the kingdom of Manipur. However, the aspiration of the Naga changed after the spread of Naga insurgency to Manipur and Eastern Arunachal Pradesh. This led to the Change of demand of NNC from "Sovereign Naga State" to "Greater Nagalim".

The religious sentiments of the newly converted Nagas are being exploited by urging the Nagas to work for the formation of God's Kingdom and make Nagaland a Christian country Nagalim for Christ. There are 34 schedule tribes in Manipur and out of which 19 are Nagas. The number of Naga tribes may increase in future due to the pressure on smaller tribes to identify themselves as Nagas.

The tribal villages in Manipur came under the Meitei King during the reign of Garibniwaj Maharaja (1709 - 1751 CE) [2 (a)]. Various clans of Meitei in the valley are closely related to the tribal of the nearby hills and the Nagas of Manipur are ethnically close to the Meiteis in the valley due to conversion of Meitei to Naga/Kuki or vice versa [2 (b)].

It was only after 1947 that the activities of NNC influenced the Nagas in Mao area of Manipur located close to Kohima. The Nagas of Manipur were from a different kingdom till the state's merger with India in 1949. Now, Nagaland and Manipur are the states of the same country and various tribes of Naga from both the states can live as good neighbours. The Naga of Manipur would progress faster without the interference and extortion by the Naga Insurgents.

There are also three, five, and four tribes of Nagas in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Myanmar respectively. The area of Nagaland state is 16579 sqkm and the Nagas claim 120000 sqkm for the creation of Nagalim. In addition to a portion of the Kachin State and the Sagaing Region of Myanmar, their claim includes eight, five and seven districts in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam respectively.

In Myanmar the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), NSCN (K) signed a regional level bilateral ceasefire agreement in 2012. However, the Government of Myanmar did not allow them to be a part of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in February 2019, as NSCN (K) insisted on sovereignty.

Eight hill districts (four before reorganization) of Manipur and two Christian majority districts of Arunachal Pradesh are largely affected by Naga insurgency. However, there is a limited influence in the districts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh where the Christians are in the minority. Manipur is most severely affected as there are only two national highways connecting the state to the rest of the country which passes through Nagaland and the Naga dominated areas of Manipur.

NSCN (IM) and its umbrella organizations imposed a number of economic blockades of the national highways to pursue their objectives. Further, in addition to the ransom demands and extortion, the Naga insurgents also illegally collect money from the commercial vehicles passing through Nagaland and the amount varies from Rs 2000/ to 10000/ per truck, depending on the nature of the load. It increases the cost of all essential items and affects the day to day live of the common people.

To be continued....


* L B Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is retired Captain, Indian Navy, NM and can be reached at bimollaishram(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 28, 2019.



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