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The Attempt to Sideline Muivah

Dr. M. Amarjeet Singh is Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution, School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Banglore, India. Prior to this he was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • February 02, 2008

    The ongoing attempt to unify Naga insurgent groups is unlikely to end the two-decade old factional rivalry and killings in Nagaland. This is because the unification idea is largely seen as a deliberate attempt to sideline Thuingaleng Muivah and his Tangkhul tribe’s hegemony over the Naga insurgency movement. The end result of this effort is likely to be an escalation in fratricidal killings.

    On November 23, a section of Naga insurgents led by Azheto Chophy of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and C. Singson of the NSCN-(NSCN-K), signed a ‘Joint Declaration’ at Niuland near Dimapur, which claimed that the two warring factions are being united. This development also confirmed rumours about a split within the NSCN-IM, with a small section led by Azheto Chophy forming a new group under the name of NSCN-Unification Camp. The new group, reportedly stationed at Vihokhu near Dimapur town, seeks to unite all Naga insurgent groups for the common cause. In its view, Muivah has been an obstacle to the unification of Nagas and was wont “to give vent to his ire on those opposing his hegemony.” For its part, the NSCN-IM has announced the dismissal of 27 of its former members who had “defected” along with Azheto Chophy.

    A few days after the ‘Joint Declaration’ was signed, a six-month inter-factional ceasefire was announced between the NSCN-K, the Naga National Council (NNC), the Unification Core Committee (UCC), and the Azheto Chophy-led NSCN group, as has been proposed by civil society groups like the Joint Forum of Nagaland Goanbura Federation and the Nagaland Dubashis Association.

    While a section of Nagas hailed this development, others chose to remain silent. The Western Sumi Hoho, for instance, appealed to all Nagas and civil society groups to support the recent unification move. But most of the major civil society groups, which are known to be close to the NSCN-IM, remained silent.

    The NSCN-IM has criticised the unification move as “something against the honesty of approach towards initiating a genuine search for unity among the Nagas.” General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah said in a statement on December 21, 2007 that: “Some talk of unity devoid of common agenda, some talk of unity only for the sake of unity. And some other talks of it with ulterior motive behind to deceive the people. Unity among the Nagas is a serious matter which can never be dealt with by any irrational, un-authorised and un-mandated individual or group of individuals…”

    Muivah put out the view that some Indian-backed elements were attempting to disturb the on-going peace process. The NSCN-IM also accused the union government of using vested groups of a particular tribe to confuse the people. It accused Sumi/Sema civil society groups like the Western Sumi Hoho and the Sumi Hoho of collaboration with Azheto Chophy and betraying the Naga cause.

    On January 12, 2008, the NSCN-IM declared an ‘emergency’ in Nagaland and its Tartar Hoho (parliament) was placed under suspended animation from the next day. It has said that this move was necessitated by the precarious situation in the state that increasingly threatens “peace and normal state of affairs.” Two days later, NSCN-IM cadres gunned down three senior members of the NSCN-K.

    The ongoing unification move – sugar-coated unification as the NSCN-IM calls it – can be seen as an attempt to sideline Muivah and his Tangkhul tribe’s hegemony over the Naga issue. This was evident from the recent ‘Joint Declaration’, which proposed that the unification move would be led by the current NSCN-IM chairman Isak Chishi Swu (who seems to have had no prior knowledge of this) and the NSCN-K chairman S.S. Khaplang. Earlier in 2006, the Khaplang faction had issued a ‘Quit Notice’ asking the Tangkhuls to leave Nagaland at the earliest. At that time, it had alleged that Nagas have borne the brunt of the cruelty of the Tangkhuls who are from Manipur.

    The recent unification move also seems to be an attempt to strengthen the NSCN-K’s position, in collaboration with other smaller groups/factions. It is doubtful that this move will succeed because Muivah is still considered the most respected leader among Nagas and his hold over the NSCN-IM remains intact. The outfit is unlikely to be affected in a major way by the defection of Azheto Chophy along with 27 others. Here it is worth noting that, since entering into a formal ceasefire with the union government in 1997, the NSCN-IM has reportedly raised its cadre strength from 3,000 to 5,000 and has also nearly doubled its weapon holdings. At the same time, almost all major Naga civil society groups like the Naga Hoho, the Naga Mother’s Association, the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights, the Naga Students’ Federation and the United Naga Council are known to be actively supporting the NSCN-IM’s cause. For instance, in its reaction to the ‘Joint Declaration’, the influential United Naga Council said in a press statement that “it demeans the very purpose of Naga political struggle … Any kind of unification must be inclusive of all Nagas and that unification must be achieved in uniformity with the political aspiration of the Naga people and the ongoing political negotiations."

    One possible outcome of the latest development could be the emergence of a Sema/Semi- based militant outfit. This would, no doubt, strengthen the NSCN-K. But it would also certainly pave the way for a further escalation in factional killings in the state.