Whether the death of SS Khaplang, a Naga rebel leader, will change the scenario of Nagaland or North-East India is a big question. He was the founder of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (K) and was based in Myanmar (Burma). The Indian government has banned his organisation and declared it as an unlawful organisation. The best known and charismatic leader of Naga people was Angami Zapu Phizo in 1960-70.
The word Nagalim means Greater Nagaland and it is much more than today’s Nagaland.
The recent well-known Naga leaders include Th. Muivah and Isak Chi Swu apart from Khaplang. Swu passed away last year and Khaplang recently. Only Muivah is surviving from the original group of Phizo.
Muivah is a Tangkhul Naga from Manipur and had joined Phizo’s Naga National Council (NNC) in 1964. Khaplang had joined NNC in 1968. The NSCN (IM) was formed in Myanmar in 1980 against the background of 1975 Shillong Accord signed between the Indian government and NNC. Swu was appointed as Chairman and Khaplang Vice-Chairman of the outfit. Muivah was declared as General Secretary. The accord said that underground Naga organisations will give up their arms and discuss with the government. The NNC had also accepted ‘Constitution of India’.
Various Naga rebel groups saw it as a sellout and surrender. Muivah, Swu and Khaplang were the founders of NSCN. The Greater Nagaland includes Naga dominated areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and even Myanmar. The map of Nagalim has around 1,20,000 sq km while the state of Nagaland has only 16,527 sq km. The people of Assam and Meitei majority Manipur are not willing to allow their state to be bifurcated again.
Within NSCN, there were differences and finally, the outfit was split in two - NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K) - in 1988. Khaplang’s supporters tried to assassinate Muivah. In early 1990s Muivah, Swu and couple of other leaders of NSCN (IM) escaped to Thailand. Khaplang shifted his base to Myanmar. The NSCN (K) now lacks someone of the stature of Khaplang. He had massive influence over Naga people in Myanmar. He had also developed cordial relations with the military junta. Khaplang was a Hemi Naga of Myanmarese origin. After his demise, the group has appointed Khango Konyak as the chairman. He is from Nagaland and so he may not be acceptable to Nagas living in Myanmar. In the rebel movement, the leader’s image always plays an important role. His rival faction still has charismatic leader Muivah. In the absence of a charismatic leader, the group may find it difficult to survive. In all probability, it will be divided into a couple of groups and gradually may become irrelevant.
For a long time, informal dialogue with NSCN (IM) leaders was going on. In 1995, then PM PV Narasimha Rao met Muivah and Swu in Paris. In 1997, then PM HD Deve Gowda met them in Zurich. In 1997, NSCN (IM) signed a ceasefire agreement with the Government of India. Then PM IK Gujral announced the agreement in Parliament. The NSCN insisted that ceasefire should be applicable to all Naga inhabited areas. K Padmanabaiah, the former home secretary, made it clear that nobody from the Government agreed to it and if NSCN wants the ceasefire to include all Naga inhabited areas, then they should have made it clear that extension of the ceasefire area will not be interpreted as recognition of Greater Nagaland.
In 1998, then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee had a meeting with NSCN leadership in Paris. NSCN (K) signed the agreement with the Government of India in 2001. Muivah and Swu held a discussion with Vajpayee and Advani in Delhi in 2003. In December 2004, they met then PM Manmohan Singh. In 2007, the ceasefire was extended indefinitely. The NSCN (K) broke away from the agreement in March 2015. On September 16, 2015, Indian government declared NSCN (K) as an unlawful organisation for a period of five years, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, following the “continued hostility and violence on the part of NSCN (K) against the Indian security personnel, from their base in Myanmar.”
In 2015, Indian government led by Narendra Modi signed a framework agreement with NSCN (IM). The agreement has not been made public and so nobody really knows what the framework agreement is. In the Manipur assembly elections held early this year, it became an issue. The Congress had alleged that the “BJP is hand-in-glove with the group.”
Interestingly, Khaplang in his last days had started talks with the government. The CM of Nagaland Shurhozelie Liezietsu, in his condolence message, said,” It was encouraging to learn that Khaplang had a few months back conveyed his willingness to have a dialogue with the government.”
It is the right time for the followers of Khaplang to restart dialogue with the government. The government of India should send a message to the rebels to come forward and resume a dialogue. It is also necessary that the government becomes transparent and release the details of the framework agreement signed with the NSCN (IM). Nagaland and North East India need peace.