Rest in Peace?

India Today - - STATES - By Kaushik Deka

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.

CAISII MAO/GETTY IM­AGES

GROUND SUP­PORT

A can­dle­light vigil for Kha­p­lang in Dima­pur

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