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Monday Morning Report on Nagaland Incident: Background and Future Prospects

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  • December 20, 2021
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Col. (Dr.) Divakaran Padma Kumar Pillay, Research Fellow, Non-Traditional Security Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, spoke on the “Nagaland Incident: Background and Future Prospects” at the Monday Morning Webinar held on 20 December, 2021. The webinar was chaired by Ms. Ruchita Beri, Senior Research Associate and Coordinator, Africa, Latin America, Caribbean and United Nations Centre, MP-IDSA. Director General, Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, and the scholars of the institute participated in the webinar. Shri Shambhu Singh, former Special Secretary to Government of India also participated in the meeting as a special invitee.

    Executive Summary

    The recent incident that led to the killing of unarmed civilians which occurred on 4 December 2021 in Mon district, Nagaland raised multiple questions for the government and the security forces operating in the region. It has also brought into question the legitimacy of the existing Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), which provides security forces with certain powers to undertake the counter-insurgency operations in the region. The tragic incident at the hands of one of the most elite forces allegedly killing unarmed coal mine workers (mistaken as militants), has led to anger among the common people against the Indian Security Forces operating in the region.  This anger manifested in further violence and deaths and has been simmering since then.

    Detailed Report

    Ms. Ruchita Beri, the chair, made opening remarks on the topic and introduced the audience to the recent Nagaland incident in which 14 civilians and one soldier died. She mentioned that this incident has opened the debate on the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) in these areas, where some people say that the AFSPA should be repealed because the special powers are being misused. The chair after introducing the topic and the speakers, called upon Col. Pillay to deliver his talk for the day.

    Col. DPK Pillay started his presentation by mentioning that the incident on 4 and 5 of December 2021 was deeply regrettable and most likely preventable as there were no reports of retaliatory firing from the occupants of the mini-truck. He highlighted that such errors of judgment and intelligence failures do not usually happen in forces, particularly when it is 21 SF – a highly accomplished, decorated and professional elite force. He mentioned that the exact reason that led to this incident is difficult to comment on at the moment. 

    He said that the origins of the Naga insurgency lie in the British policy of divide and rule and where to establish control. They divided people on the lines of race, faith and other measures. They sowed discord and disturbed the harmony that existed in the region among the rulers and ruled in the various kingdoms. A pan Naga identity was non-existent before their arrival and they sought to demarcate and delineate people as and when they needed it as the tea estates spread across the North East region. The first international exposure to the Naga people came when they joined the auxiliary forces in World War-I that took Naga and Kuki tribes abroad which engraved a sense of nationalism in them. 

    Moving on to the issue of the AFSPA, Col. (Dr.) Pillay mentioned that Article 352, Article 355 and Article 356 of the Indian constitution allows the Government of India to deploy the Armed Forces in disturbed areas. He highlighted that the implementation of AFSPA was necessitated in Northeastern states of India in the wake of disturbances caused by the Naga insurgency in these regions. He highlighted that for the implementation of AFSPA in a particular region, the area needs to be first declared as ‘disturbed’. Highlighting the provisions under AFSPA, Col. Pillay mentioned that the act provides armed forces with special powers:

    1. To open fire or use force, even causing death, against any person in contravention of the law for carrying arms and ammunition;
    2. To arrest any person without a warrant, based on “reasonable suspicion" that they have committed or are about to commit a cognisable offence;
    3. To enter and search any premises without a warrant;
    4. To destroy fortified positions, shelters, structures used as hide-outs, training camps or as a place from which attacks are or are likely to be launched.

    These sweeping powers are augmented under Section 6 of the Act, which grants the personnel involved in such operations immunity from prosecution without sanction.

    Col. Pillay also mentioned that such a law when used over several areas for decades is a bit draconian in a country like India which is a constitutional democracy, as it tends to violate Article 21 of the Indian constitution. He further mentioned that though such an act creates a sense of discord in the minds of common people, we still cannot say that the army is at fault for operating as per this act. Supporting this argument by giving the classical historical example of Pontious Pilate who at the trial for the crucifixion of Jesus, washed his hands off as the Governor of Judaea and passed on the burden of the Judgement of crucifixion of Jesus to the Jews. Col. Pillay mentioned the Army is only carrying out its duty at the request of the Union Government. He also mentioned that the state government well understands the importance of the Army in maintaining law and order situations under AFSPA in the states. The very fact that the Army was present in these areas indicated that the state law and order machinery has failed and has therefore requisitioned the services of the forces.

    For a discussion on the second part of his presentation, Col. Pillay invited Mr. Shambhu Singh who was the Joint Secretary North-East and collaborated with the interlocutor for the 2015 framework agreement on behalf of the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

    Mr. Shambhu Singh started his talk by highlighting that it is only at the state’s request to the Central Government that the Armed Forces are deployed in addition to state police, to support civil administration. In the case of the insurgency areas which are beyond the state’s control, the armed forces require some kind of special powers to operate in the region, which otherwise they would be constrained to operate in. Mr. Singh did not comment on the recent Nagaland incident and said that we need to wait for the committee’s report on the incident. 

    Mr. Singh in his talk mentioned that in May 2011 when he was Joint Secretary Northeast, they were successful in convincing NSCN-IM (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) leadership that there would neither be a separate flag nor a separate constitution. He also mentioned that there was even a small press release that said, that in the spirit of shared sovereignty, both the parties (Government of India and NSCN-IM) agree to carry forward the dialogue and to come to the conclusion of hostilities. He mentioned that the whole problem started when Muivah went back on his initial commitment and approach. Mr. Singh mentioned that Muivah came up with his own interpretation of the framework agreement brought forward by Shri RN Ravi, who was appointed as an interlocutor for Naga peace by the government. Mr. Singh also mentioned that Shri RN Ravi’s letter to the Chief Minister regarding the unlawful collection of taxes by NSCN-IM also led Muivah to harden his own stand in the region. Apart from this, he said that various other small things happened that led to the breakdown of ongoing talks between the representatives of the Government of India and NSCN-IM. Mr. Singh mentioned that from that very point Muivah rejected his previous stance of integration with India and also started his earlier demand of a separate constitution. Mr. Singh mentioned that with this we are again back to where things stood in 1997, and the net results of all the talks stand zero at the moment.

    On the comment made by Dr. Pushpita Das regarding the endless extension of AFSPA in the Northeast, Mr. Singh commented that it is currently applicable in 8 police station areas in Arunachal Pradesh and in bordering areas of Assam and Arunachal which are disturbed. AFSPA continues in the states of Nagaland and Manipur, except for the Imphal Municipal area in Manipur, from which it has been removed as a result of the surrender of insurgent groups. 

    Mr. Singh also highlighted that the Central Government has imposed AFSPA only in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and J&K. Tripura has imposed AFSPA on its own and subsequently, AFSPA has been extended by states like Assam and Arunachal Pradesh on their own. Mr. Singh mentioned that it is therefore completely wrong to say that the AFSPA has been only imposed by the Central Government everywhere in the country.

    Responding to an important comment made by Col. Pillay regarding the judgement of the Supreme Court on AFSPA in 2016, Mr. Singh pointed out that the Supreme Court in its 2016 order clearly mentions that AFSPA doesn’t allow unbridled authority to the Army, though the Act remains valid given the situation in the country. Mr. Singh further highlighted that the Supreme Court has also imposed certain additional restrictions on the Act that completely agree with the Do’s and Don’ts listed in the Act. He mentioned that since then AFSPA has never been the subject of controversy except for sporadic incidents which are more of an exception than the rule.

    Questions and Comments

    Following this extensive talk by both the speakers, Ms. Ruchita Beri, first called upon Director General, MP-IDSA, Amb. Sujan Chinoy for his comments. Ms. Beri later opened the floor for the panelists and participants for their comments and questions.

    Director General, MP-IDSA, Ambassador Sujan Chinoy, thanked the chair and congratulated Col. DPK Pillay and Mr. Shambhu Singh for their extensive presentation and in-depth perspectives on the subject. Ambassador Chinoy asked the speakers to throw some light on the ‘way forward’ on this particular subject.

    Dr. Uttam Kumar Sinha, Centre Coordinator, Non-Traditional Security, MP-IDSA complemented Col. Pillay for his upfront approach in demystifying the Nagaland incident without really faulting the army. On the issue of stalemate in Nagaland Peace talks, Dr. Sinha asked Mr. Singh, “Do you think that negotiations do not work in the Northeast?’’ He also asked the speaker to share his comments on the ways for India to better deal with these groups operating in the region.

    Col. Vivek Chadha, Research Fellow, Military Affairs Centre MP-IDSA, commented on the importance of 'Perception Management' while dealing with AFSPA. He also highlighted that the AFSPA provides armed forces with the flexibility of operations. Col. Chadha mentioned that if AFSPA would have been that bad, states would not have gone to impose it on their own in the disturbed areas. Lastly, he mentioned that the Nagaland incident that happened is deeply regrettable, but it has nothing to do with AFSPA.

    Dr. Nihar R. Nayak, Research Fellow, Non-Traditional Security, MP-IDSA asked the speakers to comment on the Union Government’s plan to deal with the ongoing non-cooperation movement by civil society groups, student organisations and tribal groups in Nagaland. Dr. Nayak also asked the speakers about the role of external forces, especially Chinese and Pakistani agencies that support the Nagaland insurgency in the region.

    Mr. Bipandeep Sharma, Research Analyst, Non-Traditional Security, MP-IDSA asked the speakers to share their views on the future of civil-military relations post this Mon incident. He also asked the speakers to comment on the way forward for developing positive civil-military relations post such incidents.

    Col. DPK Pillay and Mr. Shambhu Singh gave extensive and insightful remarks and a detailed discussion was held on all the comments and questions raised by the panelists and the participants.


    Report prepared by Bipandeep Sharma, Research Analyst, Non-Traditional Security Centre, MP-IDSA, New Delhi.