Rest in Peace?
On August 3, 2015, when the Narendra Modi government announced the signing of the Framework Agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN(IM), to end the armed struggle by the insurgent group demanding a sovereign land for Nagas settled in India and Myanmar, many stakeholders were sceptical. It was said that permanent peace could not be achieved by keeping the other NSCN faction, led by Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, out of the negotiations.
In 1975, the Shillong Accord had failed to bring peace in Nagaland because Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah had walked out. They later joined hands with Khaplang and formed the NSCN. The friendship was short-lived, and in 1988, Khaplang parted ways with Isak and Muivah.
Now, with Khaplang’s death on June 9, the Union government is sniffing an opportunity to crush the armed struggle in the Northeast. Swu died a year ago, and an ageing Muivah is desperate to complete the framework dialogue with the Centre. “Khaplang was the heart and soul of the NSCN(K) and other insurgent groups of the region,” says Kiren Rijiju, Union minister of state for home affairs. “The NSCN(K) will be in a disarray after his death.”
Political observers, however, warn it’s too early to predict the end of insurgency in the region. “It’s unlikely the next generation of leaders of these two outfits will give up extortion and abduction,” says Kishalay Bhattacharjee, an expert on Northeast insurgency. “It will be interesting to see how the existing leaders of other armed outfits position themselves and influence the NSCN(K)’s line of succession.”
New Delhi’s talks with Khaplang had remained a nonstarter. Though Khaplang signed a ceasefire in September 2001, he abrogated it in 2015 once he got an inkling of the Centre’s agreement with his rival faction. Khaplang was a Hemi Naga from Myanmar and spent most of his time in that country. Khango Konyak, the new NSCN(K) chairman, is from Nagaland and may be keener to return home and join the peace process.
“If Khaplang’s successor can continue to maintain the judicious balance he had established, offensives against the security forces might continue for some more time,” says author Rajeev Bhattacharya, who had spent nearly two months in Khaplang’s camp in 2011. “If there is internal strife in the NSCN(K), a sharp division between the Nagas of Myanmar and the Northeast cannot be ruled out.”
The division may have already started as there is speculation that some Nagaland-based NSCN(K) functionaries have decided to make the outfit’s current commander-inchief, Khumchok Pangmei, the ‘caretaker’ chairman.
A candlelight vigil for Khaplang in Dimapur