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Explained: The Nagaland Conflict | Naga Insurgency

The killings of the civilians in an anti-insurgency operation by the Indian Army in Nagaland has caused widespread outrage… and the focus is once again back on this troubled state.

Nagaland continues to witness one of the longest and bloodiest standing insurgencies—one that has existed longer than the Kashmir insurgency. The political dispute has spanned over six decades, and to understand it, it is important to understand the ethnicity, culture, history, geography, and demography of the Naga tribes.

The various tribes of the state of Nagaland and its neighbouring regions who have been connected to the state are collectively called the Nagas.

Some of the prominent Naga tribes are the Konyaks (popularly called the head hunters), Ao, Rengma, Zeliang, Angami and Chang.

Their languages are different; however, they belong to the Sino-Tibetan group of languages.

Nagaland is one of the smallest states in India, bordered by the state of Assam to the west, shares a very important border with Arunachal Pradesh to the north, and then Manipur to the south and Myanmar to the east.

Now that we have established a basic understanding about the Nagas and the geography of the place, let’s understand how the conflict started.

Reasons For Conflict

The British took over Assam in 1826, and in 1881, the Naga Hills too became part of British India. The Naga Hills, reaching a height of around 3,825 metres, lies on the border of India and Burma, now known as Myanmar. 

The Nagas accuse the British of having betrayed them, leaving their fate in the hands of India and Myanmar. 

The state of Nagaland was divided into two administrative areas: one half under India and another under Burma, now known as Myanmar. 

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Nagas say that this partition was so indiscriminate that the house of the Angh—the king—in Longwa village was said to be partitioned, with his bedroom in India and his kitchen in Burma.  

Interestingly, The Longwa village is also known as the “Village with Two Countries”. 

The first sign of Naga resistance was seen in the formation of the Naga Club in 1918, which told the Simon Commission in 1929 to leave them alone to determine their future for themselves.

In 1946 came the Naga National Council (NNC), which, under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo, declared Nagaland an independent state on August 14, 1947. 

The NNC resolved to establish a “sovereign Naga state” and conducted a “referendum” in 1951, in which “99 percent” supported an “independent” Nagaland.

In 1952, Zapu established the Naga Federal Government and the Naga Federal Army. This was met with a military response by the Indian government and AFSPA was enacted in the region.

AFSPA,1958

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act or the (AFSPA), 1958 is an act of the Parliament of India that grants special powers to the Indian Armed Forces to maintain public order in “disturbed areas” in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland
and Tripura.

This is precisely what happened in Nagaland in the recent incident. A special unit of the Army was on an operation targeting Naga insurgents—apparently based on “credible intelligence, and reportedly killed civilians in place of them.

In the 1950s and 60s, especially after the enactment of AFSPA, many of the Naga Army’s cadres were arrested,and killed.

Now that we have understood the Act, let’s get back to understanding the conflict.

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Peace Initiatives

Still deeply affected by the violent partition of its northern reaches, Indian leaders were against any further partitioning of the country, which compounded the plight of the Naga independence struggle.

In 1963, the government of India created the state of Nagaland.

Between 1964 and 1968, a Peace Mission attempted to reach a solution that would be acceptable to all stakeholders, but it too fell through.

In the 1970s, dialogue was initiated to resolve the issue and in 1976 the Shillong Accord was signed.

The Shillong Accord was an agreement signed between the Government of India, and the Naga Federal government, or the Naga rebels, to accept the supremacy of the Constitution of India without condition, surrender their arms and renounce their demand for the secession of Nagaland from India.

However, the accord was rejected by prominent NNC leaders, since they were not ready to accept complete Indian sovereignty.

Another organization, calling themselves the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed in the Burma region in 1980. It has 2 factions, NSCN-K and NSCN-IM.

The NSCN (IM) wants a separate flag and constitution. And more importantly, they insist on the creation of a Greater Nagalim—a homeland that includes large swathes of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. A demand that is obviously unacceptable to those states.

For over a decade—starting in 1997—the government entered into ceasefire agreements with key groups, each time sparking hopes of a settlement.

The most significant was the Shillong Accord in 1976—which quickly fell apart. Factions within the original Naga National Congress rejected the agreement as it forced Nagaland to accept the Indian Constitution—and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed in 1980.

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Again, differences over whether they should negotiate with the government split the NSCN into multiple factions after 1988.

In 2015, the NSCN (K) unilaterally canceled the agreement—and joined forces with a number of other extremist groups in the Northeast.

A faction of this group—headed by Yung Aung and based in Myanmar—has since been implicated in a number of incidents of violence.

In fact, the Army was on the hunt for members of this group on 4th of December, 2021—and killed the civilians instead.

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