The Great Deception: India’s Government and the Manufactured Insurgency in Nagaland

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During 2015, there was talk of the Government of India having reached an agreement with the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), the preeminent insurgent organization of Nagaland and a couple of smaller outfits to end the Naga insurgency. While no specifics of the agreement were made public, the impression given was that a ‘ceasefire’ would be observed as a prelude to finding a permanent solution, for which no specific period was set. No progress on the issue was made for the next eight years became apparent in 2023 when the ceasefire was extended for another year. While the extension was supposed to end in April this year, as of today, there is no sign of any final solution. In fact, the latest update is that NSCN-IM commemorated the ‘Naga Plebiscite’ of 1951 at the NSCN-IM ‘Headquarters’ at Hebron near Dimapur, with civil society groups of Nagaland in attendance.

For the uninformed, the said plebiscite arbitrarily organized by the father of the Naga insurgency, Angami Zapu Phizo, heralded the launch of the insurgency, pronouncedly marked by the brutal murder of T Sakhrie, respected public figure and secretary of the Naga National Council (NNC), which manifested the Naga people’s ethnic aspirations, when he refused to fall in line with Phizo’s secessionist agenda, like many other straight-thinking Naga leaders. Phizo had his way with malicious propaganda, which a complacent Government of India failed to counter, but fled the scene when fighting broke out and situation turned hot, to die in exile in London in 1990, leaving a legacy of turmoil for the Naga people. The subsequent fractionalization of the insurgent leadership and emergence of NSCN (IM) as the prominent group, eventually assuming the role of an umbrella organization for multiple insurgencies across the Northeast, spawning its venom over the entire region, is a disgraceful ground reality the hapless authorities of the region have come to live with.

Nevertheless, it is inconceivable that an outlawed insurgent organization can maintain its camp like an army unit, with governmental blessing, and carry on their activities with impunity in any part of the Indian union. It sounds bizarre that the Government of India could turn so impotent in the face of such audacity. I have fought insurgency in Nagaland as a soldier and am sure that the Indian Army had virtually killed it decades ago, restricting its cadres to their jungle hideouts. How matters deteriorated to such a sorry state when they can flaunt their presence in public defies logic. Could anyone imagine the LTTE being permitted to set up a camp in Tamil Nadu or the Khalistanis to have one of theirs in the Punjab? Even given the fact that insurgencies tend to remain dormant for a period before being finally extinguished, curtain should have been down on Naga insurgency by now. The only explanation for the kind of resurgence we see is political patronage.

When political parties enjoying national status have no qualms in partnering state parties who blatantly support the secessionist agenda of the insurgents for electoral gains, who would stop the insurgents having their heyday? It is no big deal for the army to wipe out these insurgents; but why should they when their orders are to maintain a laissez faire status? In a democracy, the civilian government calls the shots, not the armed forces.

The entire scenario is so ridiculous when we consider that the present-day insurgent cadres are not even an ideologically committed lot like the original ones, who were men driven by a cause they believed was right. What we see today are petty criminals masquerading as insurgents to make some easy money, besides enjoying unmolested freedom to live lives on their terms with drug abuse, debauchery, and whatever other perversity they are prone to.

And where does the money come from? Indian taxpayers’ money that the central government liberally squander away to such insurgency-prone states in the pretext of developmental aid does not fill the coffers of the state or is spent for the benefit of the common man. Instead, the lion share of it is pocketed by the political bosses and the rest thrown as crumbs to these hoodlums posing as insurgents, who are mostly their own henchmen anyway. Neither the politicians nor the ‘insurgents’ want to secede from India or even believe in the Naga sovereignty they preach. It is all about money, the free lunch they have been enjoying for long. As long as they can keep up the pretense of an ongoing insurgency, the money would keep flowing in. The army, which knows better, would not spell it out either. Why should they, as long as the status quo offers them another field posting with perks and medals that go with it?

Nagas, essentially, are an honest, God-fearing people who, left to themselves, would have loved to live a peaceful and happy life. However, that is not what happened after the active insurgency was put down. Despite laws regulating people from mainland India making inroads into Nagaland, there has been a massive influx of greedy businessmen from elsewhere into the state, once peace dawned. With customary chicanery, they outmanoeuvred the regulations restricting outsiders from owning businesses, to run their establishments as proxies for locals. It was free-for-all for a while, with fortune-seekers from all over India crowding the state to make hay while the sun shone. The Naga politicians, as unscrupulous as their ilk in the rest of the country, duly chipped in for a piece of the pie. It was not long before an unholy nexus of businessmen, politicians and criminals took the once-serene state in its grip, polluting the very psyche of its hapless people.

Today, the people of Nagaland find themselves in a quagmire they are hard put to extricate from. Their situation is not much different from that of their neighbours, the Manipuris, who are enmeshed in an ethnic strife, no one knows how to put an end to. The entire conundrum is a consequence of the complacence and flawed policies of the Indian government over the years. All that is required is a firm policy to deal with insurgencies, real or pretended. The government needs to spell out unequivocally that the law of the land cannot be challenged by force of arms and stand by it at whatever cost. All kinds of insurgencies need to be put down ruthlessly. Why, you do not even need the army to do it. A committed police force can quite well accomplish it, as it was evidenced in Tripura some years ago. In fact, during all these years of the so-called ceasefire, there was hardly any fighting between the security forces and the insurgents. The only fighting there was, was between different factions of insurgents. Yet government after government keeps ‘talking’; to what end except to whitewash their inefficacy while compromising the national interest? What is needed is a government committed to the rule of law. Could we aspire to have one someday?

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1 month ago

Succinct overview

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