Naga insurgency is said to be the longest as well as a complicated insurgency, more so than the situation in Kashmir. If we go back in history, we find that the people of Nagaland always used to consider the land independent.
In 1826, the British occupied Assam, the land at the time was called Naga Hills. In 1881, Naga Hills became part of British India. During the World War I, the British India government sent 2000-3000 Naga people as labourers and porters to France. These groups were then named as Naga Labour Corps. After returning from the war, a Naga Club was established in Kohima. When Japan attacked the Nagas from the East in World War II, they successfully made the Japan troops retreat and defended the area. After this war, Naga Hills District Council was established to repair the damage of the war.
So, it seems that the Naga people were defending and re-building the area themselves. Later, the organization was renamed to Naga National Council (NNC). An important objective of this organisation was the call for local autonomy and safeguarding the interests of the Naga. The then Governor of Assam, Sir Akbar Hydari was selected to negotiate with NNC. A 9-point agreement was drafted named– Naga-Akbar Hydari accord. The final clause of this accord proved to be problematic, or poorly worded. As a result of disagreement over the clause, the agreement was never adopted. And, prior to a day of India’s independence i.e. on 14 August, 1947, under Angami Zapu Phizo, NNC announced independence of Nagaland.
After 1947, NNC continued to establish Nagaland as a sovereign state. In 1951, they carried a referendum, and 99% Nagas voted in favor of independent Nagaland, but the Indian government did not accept it. In 1952, first general election was organized, and NNC boycotted it. Angami Phizo, then, established Naga Federal Government and Army.
In 1955, Assam government passed the Assam Disturbed Area Act. Assam rifles were to tackle Naga insurgency. This is how operation against insurgency and a new chapter of unrest in the area began.
In 1956, the leader of NNC, Angami Phizo escaped to East Pakistan, and subsequently to London in 1960. Meanwhile in 1958, Indian government made a new law: Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). In the month of September, the same year, the Act was enacted in Nagaland. Until then, Naga hills were considered part of Assam.
But in 1963, the government created the state of Nagaland. A peace mission was formed; and to suspend the resistance, the government signed an agreement with NNC. But there were still a few hardliners who did not want anything less than a sovereign Naga state. These people believed in keeping historic independence of Nagas. So, even after 6 rounds of talks, the peace mission was abandoned in 1967, and a massive counter insurgency operation was launched again.
In 1972, NNC, NFG and NFA were declared as unlawful associations, and hence banned. The attempt was to force insurgents to compromise. In 1975, Shillong accord was signed between Centre and a section of NNC and NFG. They accepted the constitution of India, and agreed to come over-ground and surrender their weapons.
It might seem that the conflict ended at this point in history, but not exactly. There was still a section of NNC who wanted sovereign Nagaland. Their demand was creation of greater Nagalim. In 1980, they separated themselves from NNC and formulated Nationalist Socialist Councilof Nagaland (NSCN). The leaders were Isak, Khapland and T. Muviah. From here onwards, NNC lost its stronghold and NSCN gained power. In 1988, NSCN was further divided due to internal conflicts. Groups were formed such as, NSCN (K) under Khaplang, and NSCN (IM) under Isak, Muviah. In 1991, Angami Phizo died in London, and his NNC was also divided into two NNC (A) and NNC (K).
Due to the internal conflicts between these groups, the entire problem of Nagaland got further complicated as infighting started to achieve primary importance in Nagaland. All faction of NSCN and NNC (A) were banned in 1991 under UAPA. In 1997, a ceasefire agreement was signed with NSCN (IM) after 80 rounds of talks! So many attempts with no final solution, and a long struggle from the government ended.
In 2015, NSCN (IM) and the government signed a peace accord. It was called a masterstroke and historic to attain Naga peace finally. But the masterstroke did not deliver as promised. In 2017, Naga National Politics Groups (NNPG) participated in talks with government. These groups were different in stand from NSCN (IM) because they wanted solutions within Nagaland and not demand greater Nagalim. On the other hand, the main demand of NSCN-IM was creation of Greater Nagalim, the area in which Naga tribes live including parts of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Myanmar. But the other three states were also not ready to shrink the area under their control.
The second demand, now, is to repeal AFSPA. AFSPA, since 1958 gives special powers to armed forces in disturbed areas. In 1972, other northeast states – Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh were under AFSPA. One version of AFSPA is in place in Jammu & Kashmir too since 1990. This is often being criticised as a “draconian Act” for the unbridled power it gives to the armed forces and the impunity that security personnel enjoy for their actions taken under the law. And these forces can act merely on the basis of opinion and suspicion. AFSPA in Nagaland has much more history, and it gives special powers like, to fire at anyone carrying anything that may be used as a weapon and so and so forth.
NSCN-IM emphasizes that Naga region was never a part of India, and that Nehru’s claim that India ‘inherited’ the Naga area is fallacious. Both Swu and Muviah argued that “the fate of a people cannot be passed on like an inheritance from one party to another”. This separatist thinking might gain stronghold after the recent tragic incident if situation is not handled well.
At this time, people of Nagaland are agitated, and the CM says that it is time to revoke AFSPA. At that time when AFSPA was implemented, the situation was different. AFSPA has not ended insurgency and the recent incident might further create tensions in the region.
The provision of punishment in AFSPA is very weak. So, it is important that Centre takes note, the inquiry should be unbiased, and AFSPA should be reviewed.
What if the country has to see through Naga agitation after farmers’ agitation? Let’s see who emerges on top – human rights or AFSPA, because it is time to act humbly, extend a brotherly hand.