IT HAD just rained. The white SUV cut through the paddy fields as the clouds etched their picturesque images in the pools. “But I, being poor, have only my dreams… tread softly because you tread on my dreams. Yes, I like that phrase. I have always been a fan of Yeats,” says the local liaison man, an MA in English from Delhi’s Jamia University.
Mountains, poetic vistas and long conversations — it could have been just another drive through the hills of Nagaland, but for the ‘underground’ operative sitting next to us with a 9 mm pistol tucked in his jeans and his associate with a Chinese made AK-47. The Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) had split, a factional war was on the cards and so TEHELKA drove to the NSCN’s Khehoi camp, about 35 km from Dimapur, to find out why.
Armed struggle Kitovi (sixth from left) and NSCN (Khole-Kitovi) minister
Photo: Avalok Langer
Starting in 1920, the political struggle for Naga sovereignty has had more twists and turns than a Hitchcock thriller. But for a country infested with internal struggles, does a people’s movement tucked away on the Indo-Myanmar border really affect you and me? Should it matter to the nation that on 18 July, Thuingaleng Muivah, the General Secretary of NSCN(IM), issued a joint statement with Central representative RS Pandey, stating that the differences between the two parties have narrowed and that sustained negotiations have thrown up multiple proposals for a mutually honourable solution? Or that SS Khaplang, a founding father of the movement, has been expelled? That Eastern Nagaland and Arunachal are on the verge of a factional war? The answer is a simple yes, but the ‘whys’ are complex.
‘There is no place in the modern world for bloodshed, or for terrorists; we have to talk,’ says Kitovi
Needing safe havens and routes across the border, the NSCN has armed, trained, mentored and harboured almost all the underground groups in the Northeast. It is believed that at present, the wanted ULFA leader Paresh Baruah is residing in one of the NSCN(K) camps in Myanmar and Ranjan Daimary’s Third Battalion of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) is being trained and harboured by NSCN(K) in the same camp. Intelligence and underground sources suggest that the Naga groups are providing arms and moral support to the Naxal movement in central India directly and indirectly. Known as the mother of all insurgencies, peace with NSCN holds the key to a large spectrum of our internal security.
As an underground source said: “For a solution, we have to approach India, but you can never rule out the China angle, they are always ready to help us.” While the Indian Army prepares for a conventional cross-border aggression, China has waged a proxy war since the late 1960s. Armed and trained by the Chinese in 1967, the Nagas have remained close to the Middle Kingdom and have opened the doors to Beijing for other groups in the region. There is a growing sentiment in the Northeast that the next Indo-China war will be decided by the people of the region. Though the people may not side with China, the Naga underground groups, with a combined standing army of over 10,000 are a cause for concern.
The Indo-Naga stalemate has always overshadowed any potential there might have been in the Northeast for economic gains — whether in alternative energy, infrastructure, horticulture, oil and minerals, agro-based industry or even uranium. A solution to the Indo-Naga dispute could bring peace and stability here, opening the region up for investment.
Headed By Gen Khole and Kitovi Zhimomi
National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khole-Kitovi)
Based in Nagaland, the new leadership believes in negotiations with the Centre, reconciliation and a solution for Nagaland first. Greater Nagaland can follow National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang)
Headed By SS Khaplang
With their headquarters in Myanmar, NSCN (Khaplang) has finally opened up for talks with the Indian Government, but will not agree to a solution without sovereignty
The fight for ‘Azadi’ and the horrors of the ‘Red Corridor’ have brought Kashmir and Chhattisgarh to our living rooms but for 64 years, the Nagas have harboured a sense of alienation, discrimination and exclusion. No one talks of the alleged brutalities at the hands of the armed forces, their aspirations or their demands. The Nagas may have grown weary of a disintegrating freedom struggle, but the idea of Naga sovereignty is still very real.
Though sovereignty remains close to their hearts, Nagas want peace and a sense of normalcy in their region. However, the recent split in the NSCN(K) doesn’t bode well for peace; rather it complicates the issue further. In a move to stay relevant in the Indo-Naga dispute, Khaplang’s former Prime Minister, Kitovi Zhimomi, and Commander of the Naga Army, General Khole, have broken away from the chairman and pillar of the Naga People’s Movement, Khaplang. On 7 June, the Tahtar Hoho (parliament) of NSCN(K) impeached Khaplang. The new leadership declared: “No man is larger than the nation.”
While Khaplang controls large stretches of Eastern Nagaland, Arunachal and Nagadominated Myanmar and has history backing him, Kitovi and Khole feel they hold the keys to the Naga future.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Kitovi Zhimomi, Prime Minister and General Secretary of the new NSCN. Khaplang is a leading figure of the Naga political struggle. What led to his impeachment?
Some say that it was individual enmity that led to the expulsion. However, the NSCN constitution says “no one is above the nation”. Khaplang was expelled for his arbitrary decisions that went against the will of the Naga people and stood in the way of the peace and reconciliation process. Violating the ‘covenant of reconciliation’, pulling out of the reconciliation process, which was steered by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) to reconcile all groups, and going so far as to ban us from attending the meeting were enough to impeach him. Since he is based in Myanmar, he was unwilling to start talks with the Indian government. Also, his continued support for other underground groups in the region had created a negative atmosphere for peace. As for numbers, 120 out of 135 members of our parliament, including 18 regional commanders, voted in favour of his impeachment. There is some talk about where the Konyak tribe stands; but we have all the ministers and top Naga army brass with us. While NSCN(IM) is pushing for a solution with Delhi, and expanding its support base in Nagaland, Myanmar-based Khaplang has pulled out of the reconciliation process and talks with the Indian government. Was his ‘impeachment’ a move to stay relevant?
This is the main issue. Every political problem has to be solved politically. There is no place in the modern political world for bloodshed, or for terrorists; we have to talk. I find no reason why the Government of India would entertain Khaplang. He is from another country and lives across the border. It would be illogical for India to interfere with the integrity of Myanmar. The split has created a lot of confusion amongst the people here — what nomenclature will you use? Will the ceasefire apply to you? Will you be accepted by the FNR?There is no question of a split. Khaplang was impeached. Had he died a natural death, would the ceasefire be abrogated? The ceasefire ground rules clearly state that it applies in Nagaland. The nomenclature of our party is National Socialist Council of Nagaland, and we are in Nagaland. Unfortunately for Khaplang, he is based in Myanmar. The ball is in the Centre’s court — do they want a ceasefire in Nagaland or Myanmar?
There is no confusion. We have already given our assent to FNR, which has been accepted and very soon you might see an understanding between us and NSCN(IM).
‘The recent split means one more group, another tax and more burden for the Nagas,’ says theNagaland Post
Till now, Naga groups have always spoken of Nagas as a collective, but you want a solution for just Nagaland. What happens to Greater Nagaland?
When we talk about integration of the Nagas, it inevitably means the disintegration of others. When Muivah talks of integrating Nagas living in Manipur with other Nagas, Manipur state will be divided. I don’t think India will split her states for the integration of Nagalim. For now, we can only emotionally integrate our people living in the neighbouring states, but I don’t think physical integration is possible. THE NEW outfit, NSCN(Khole-Kitovi), seems to have taken a bold and progressive stand, possibly an attempt to balance Naga aspirations with the Indian Government’s reservations. But will Khaplang give up power without a fight? Calling from an undisclosed location, Wangdin Naga, a leading member of the Khaplang faction says, “No one can deny the existence of Khaplang, he is a founding father of the Naga political struggle and without him we cannot have a national movement. He has given the Nagas a political sanctuary in Myanmar.” About the new faction, he says, “How can you fight the Indian government sitting in Dimapur? Kitovi doesn’t have the backing of a single tribe; what solution will he bring?”
Scoffing at the impeachment process, Wangdin alleges that the parliamentary meeting that decided the fate of Khaplang was unconstitutional and stage-managed. According to him, no one was aware what the meeting was about until the members were seated inside. Backed by armed men, Kitovi and Khole got their way. “However, since then, many key leaders have crossed over to our side because by impeaching Khaplang, Kitovi has committed a crime against the nation.”
Wangdin believes Kitovi and Khole have been holding meetings with Muivah and Swu, the leaders of NSCN(IM), to isolate Khaplang in Myanmar and promote themselves. “But they have no support base. The Konyaks and the army have aligned with Khaplang. Our army is in the thousands, theirs is in the hundreds. If we wanted, we could crush them in a fortnight but we know that the people of Nagaland don’t want bloodshed and we respect that.”
Though Khaplang is now open to talks with the Indian government, sovereignty and uniting all Naga-inhabited areas remains his goal. “For us, a solution without sovereignty is like surrender, we will not surrender,” avers Wangdin.
The people of Nagaland are growing tired of the stalemate. The growing sentiment of disillusionment was reflected in a statement carried by Nagaland Post: “Yet another difference and a split, this time in the NSCN(K) camp does not augur well towards resolving the decades old Naga problem. Our leaders fail to shed their differences and seem to forget that we are fighting for a unified nation. From a layman’s point of view — we are fed up. The recent development means one more group, one more tax and one more additional burden.”
Avalok Langer is a Correspondent with Tehelka. email@example.com