GUWAHATI: Rarely have the Indian armed forces earned sympathy from the Naga civil society. So, the condemnation of the recent ambush on an Assam Rifle patrol party by the SS Khaplang faction of insurgent group National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) in Nagaland’s Mon district bordering Myanmar was perhaps the first display of public outrage and displeasure in probably decades.
The security forces have usually been cautious while dealing with the public at large, and civil society groups in particular, in Nagaland. The Naga populace does not regard the state’s armed resurrection in the last six decades as terrorism or insurgency. They generally address the rebels as “national workers” who are working for the “Naga national cause”.
Hence, the condemnation of the NSCN-K-orchestrated attack came as a surprise as it, in a way, appeared as a dilution of the strong feeling of Naga nationalism.
Some feel that it’s this very feeling of Naga nationalism that led to the condemnation. “The NSCN-K is expected to be humane and have a sense of respect for the efforts of fellow negotiators whose sole aim is to bring about sustainable peace to our land. They should shun violence and look for the path of peace for the sake of peaceful co-existence,” the influential Nagaland Tribes’ Council (NTC) said in a statement following the ambush that left three personnel, including a Naga, dead and as many others injured.
The NTC added: “Nagas are now tired of tolerating violence, be it among ourselves or between the Nagas and the Government of India. This very act of violence is considered to be disrespectful to the popular desire of the Nagas for peace and progress.”
The Nagaland Gaon Buras’ (village chiefs) Federation (NGBF) expressed its “utmost resentment and anguish” over the attack which it termed as a “sadistic act”. “Our Naga political leaders under any organisation or group (must) understand the gravity of the people’s desire for peace at this juncture,” NGBF said.
The organisations were miffed that the attack was perpetrated at a crucial juncture of the ongoing peace negotiations between the Central government and the NSCN’s Isak-Muivah (IM) faction.
The Nagas have been waging an armed struggle for over 60 years now, demanding a solution to the “Naga political problem”. Their initial demand was sovereignty. However, some outfits have since climbed down from that position and now demand “shared sovereignty” and the creation of a ‘Greater Nagalim’ by integrating the Naga-inhabited areas of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. The three neighbouring states are opposed to the idea.
After 40 years of bloody struggle, the NSCN-IM had entered into a ceasefire with the Centre in 1997. Over the past 21 years, both sides held over 70 rounds of talks within and outside the country, but the settlement of the issue continues to elude them. Some other outfits in the state are also in a virtual ceasefire, but without formally signing any agreement. They remained outside the purview of the peace process until coming on board a few months ago.
The NSCN-K, too, had signed a ceasefire agreement but abrogated it unilaterally in 2015. Since then, it has been intermittently targeting the security forces. In a deadly ambush in 2015, it had gunned down 18 Army personnel in Manipur.
The NSCN-K is an insurgent group comprising of Indian as well as Myanmarese Nagas. The outfit, which now operates from Myanmar’s soil, often asserts that it is fighting for all Nagas, irrespective of geographical boundaries, and will not accept anything short of Naga sovereignty.