The Naga Accord & its Adverse Effects in Manipur
The Naga Peace Accord was signed between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) and the Government of India (GOI) on 3 August 2015. While terms of the Accord are shrouded in secrecy, they have indicated that there will be no modification to State boundaries, however, “cultural integration of Nagas will be facilitated through special measures and provide for the financial and administrative autonomy of the Naga-dominated areas in other states”. Recognition would thus given to the “unique history” and culture of the Nagas.
NSCN(IM) alteration of their core demands, from complete sovereignty and Greater Nagalim, to acceptance of the constitutional framework with greater autonomy and NSCN(IM)’s/GOI urgency to clear the Accord, was because of NSCN(IM) leaders growing old & infirm – sadly Isaac Swu has since died; a bitter secession battle when these leaders pass away; public pressure; cadres losing faith and breaking away due to disillusionment; and the PM promising quick resolution.
Unauthenticated leaks from reliable sources indicate that points agreed are – a separate Constitution???, Flag for Nagaland, separate currency and passports for Nagas. Nagaland would have a UN representative; Foreign Affairs and Defence would be a joint subject and a Pan Naga Government to cover all Naga inhabited Areas. Consequently, Manipur has been in flames since the Accord. A similar proposal was made in 2011 but was rejected by Manipur. A brief historical review is essential to understand adverse reactions.
The Naga/Kuki/Chin/Meitei (Manipur) tribes migrated through Myanmar/Tibet/Assam, in waves spread over centuries, before the birth of Christ. Meitei tribes in Manipur, gradually gained suzerainty over the others.
The ‘Naga(term coined by others)’ tribes all have different languages, culture, customs, traditions, dress and have throughout fought each other. 20 of the 35 main tribes are in Nagaland. The remainder is in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Myanmar. The claimed total Naga population is about 3 million. Nagaland’s 2011 census population is 19,78,502.
A.Z. Phizo, used the concept of ethnicity to band the Naga tribes together. He formed the Naga Club in 1918. In 1929, the Naga Club presented their memorandum to the Simon Commission against being bracketed with India. Thereafter a Naga Hills District Tribal Council was formed. Political awakening reinforced demands for independence. In 1946 the Naga Hills Tribal Council was converted into the Naga National Council. In 1947, a Nine-Point Agreement was signed, wherein considerable autonomy was granted but this did not satisfy them. Phizo unilaterally declared Naga independence from India in August 1947, as the self- proclaimed representative of the Nagas.
Insurgency started (insurgents declared themselves, ‘Peoples Sovereign Republic of Free Nagaland’) from 1953. In 1955 the Naga Federal Government(NFG) replaced this. Between 1957 and 1960, there were three Naga People’s Conventions for peace. The GOI agreed to a 16 Point Proposal and the State of Nagaland including Tuensang district of NEFA was formed. Subsequently, the Shillong Accord of 1975 was signed, wherein the NFG agreed to lay down their arms. Due to birth of the NSCN out of the anti-Shillong Accord factions insurgency continued.
The 80s split the NSCN on ethnic lines, with NSCN(IM) and NSCN(K) fighting to gain control over Naga-inhabited areas. 90% of NSCN(IM) leadership and 50% cadres are Tangkhuls from Manipur; 40% are other Manipur, Assam and Arunachal tribes – only 10% are from Nagaland. The NSCN(K) cadres are from Myanmar & areas they control.
The NSCN(IM) were forced into a ceasefire(CF) in 1997. CF was similarly brokered with the NSCN(K). NSCN(K) then controlled most of the Naga inhabited areas. The NSCN(K) was headquartered in Myanmar. Talks commenced between GOI and NSCN(IM), as they are Indian Nagas. NSCN(IM) thus became the favored group, gradually wresting control from NSCN(K) by force of arms and considered the mother insurgent group.
Consequently, the Nagaland tribes, NSCN(K) and other groups, viewed these talks with suspicion, distrust and skepticism, as they consider GOI negotiations with NSCN(IM) to be talks with the Tangkhuls, forcing their will on them by force of arms. The NSCN(IM) coercion ensured a pro NSCN(IM) Government in Nagaland, to facilitate their actions.
NSCN(IM) is the strongest insurgent group and is well equipped with latest weapons. It dictates terms to others, runs a parallel government and extorts taxes from all in Naga areas. The factions that have broken away are NSCN(U), ZUF and MNRF. They now oppose them. The NSCN(K) who abrogated the ceasefire as GOI sidelined them and have since repeatedly attacked the SF, also have break away factions- NSCN(KK), NSCN(R). They however remain a force to reckon with and are allied with Meitei and anti IM insurgents.
Manipur’s, 2011 census population was 25,70,390. The demographic profile is - Naga Tribes - Ao, Kabui, Angami, Zeliang, Khongazai, Mao, Tangkhul - 13%; Kuki-Chin -Anal, Chiru, Chothe, Gangte, Koira, Kom, Lamgang, Mizo, Mansang, Paite, Ralte, Sahte, Simte, Thadou, Vaiphei, Zou - 14%; Meitei - 58%; Others - 15%.
Manipuri Nagas resident in hills bordering Nagaland and Myanmar feel neglected on issues of economy, jobs, development, culture and governance; claim that Meiteis have seized their lands and livelihood; and the settlement of the Kuki-Chin tribals on their lands was wrong. NSCN(IM) have control of most Naga areas. Their demand for the Naga tribal areas of Manipur, Assam, Arunachal and Myanmar, is the main reason for conflict with Meiteis. They are also fighting all others for control over illegal trade with Myanmar and for being in occupation of Naga areas.
Most Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes reside in south Manipur in Chandel and Churachandpur districts, with pockets elsewhere. The Kukis-Chin-Mizo tribals are fighting for survival. The Meiteis and the Nagas had tried to evict and killed a large number of them. They have now fortified themselves into insurgent groups, whose role is to strike back. Their demand is amalgamation of their areas with Mizoram/separate state.
Meiteis inhabit the valley of Manipur and extend into Cachar district of Assam. They are the majority and consider themselves superior. They feel they are being oppressed to meet demands of the hill tribes. Meitei insurgent groups that formed in ’60s-’70s, demand independence; are agitating over: neglect; ceding of Kabaw Valley to Burma; granting only ‘Union Territory’ status to Manipur when Nagaland had become a state; not being given scheduled tribe status whereas the hill tribes had; and preferential treatment to the hill tribes. At present the Meitei Groups control the valley and routes to Cachar & Moreh partially.
Manipur has inter-ethnic conflict between the Naga tribes; Meitei (Manipuri) and Naga tribes, Kuki-Chin tribals versus both the Nagas and the Meiteis, and Valley (Meitei) versus Hill inhabitants. Politicians have aligned themselves with insurgent groups based on ethnic considerations.
The NSCN(IM), controls part of the hills bordering Nagaland and Myanmar, with NSCN(K), NFG, ZUF, MPRF, NSCN(KK) controlling the rest. The Southern Hills bordering Myanmar are controlled by Kuki Chin, Meitei & NSCN(K) groups.
The NSCN(IM) through blockade of routes into Manipur are trying to strangle the Meiteis into submission. Since the SF counter-insurgency operations are currently only against non NSCN(IM)/CF groups (primarily Meiteis and NSCN (K) and its surrogates), the Meiteis feel beleaguered and aggrieved.
After the Accord, the Meiteis/Kukis/others also demanded ‘Shared Sovereignty’. Meiteis then agitated violently for ‘Restricted Area Status’ to prevent hill tribe migration into Manipur. Manipur Government on 31 August 2016, passed ‘Protection of Manipur People’, ‘Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms’, and ‘Manipur Shops and Establishments Bills’. Under the Protection of Manipur People Bill, 1951 would be the base year to differentiate foreigners from natives. This adversely affects all hill tribes. The Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms Bill prohibits purchase/selling land without Government permission. Manipur Shops and Establishment Bill, allows opening of shops/establishments only with permission of DC/Government. Following violent hill tribe protests, the first bill was withdrawn by the President; the remaining two were sent to an Expert Committee. The United Naga Council retaliated, blockading all routes into Manipur, to try to force the Meitei Government to capitulate – the blockade and agitation continues, with prices of all commodities soaring. The Government on December 9, declared creation of seven new districts which is viewed as detrimental to Nagas. There has since been extensive violence by Nagas and NSCN(IM).
With an almost five month long Naga blockade, all day long protests, violence, money crunch due to demonetization, life remains paralysed in Manipur, as people fights shortages and high cost of essential commodities. The Meiteis feel Delhi is punishing them. Due to the complex issues above, irrespective of who holds political power in Manipur, implementation of the Naga Peace Accord may prove to be extremely difficult.
The article was written originally by Lt Gen J R Mukherjee, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd)
“The author is a Retired Lt Gen from the ASSAM Regiment, which recruits men only from the North East Region. He has lived with men of his Regiment and people from the North East almost all his life, is married to a Mizo lady and has a physical service of 26 years in India’s North East.”
This excerpt was taken from a facebook post of Mohan Sir