Muivah’s return was one step forward. But the factional fight will kill peace moves

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By Avalok Langer

Light of hope In a show of unity, Naga people participate in a candlelight vigil at Dimapur
Photo: Esther Kemp

AS 25-YEAR-OLD Azule knelt among the candles at Dimapur’s City Tower Junction, she noticed something amazing. Framed in the viewfinder of her camera were the faces of Nagaland — tribal, nontribal, Muslim, Bihari, Marwari — standing united, demanding one thing: that the peace and reconciliation process go forward.

But her hopes may be belied if clashes between the two factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) continue. Already, they have brought life in the Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh to a standstill. The death toll officially quoted by the underground is seven but is likely to be more than 30. With security forces led by the Assam Rifles moving in, an all-out war may have been averted for now but the aggressive posturing by both groups continues.

The return of Thuingaleng Muivah, the General Secretary of NSCN(IM) to India has triggered moves to reassert the group’s dominance in Nagalim. Despite its commitment to the ongoing peace process with the Centre, the NSCN(IM) continues to purchase arms, train cadres and push into border areas (see interview, TEHELKA, 10 February), Muivah has underplayed the role of other groups, causing friction: “We have always fought for the Naga cause. The Government of India chose to speak to us.”

The NSCN(IM)’s push into Eastern Nagaland and Arunachal, originally the stronghold of the NSCN(K), seems like an attempt to restrict the other group to Myanmar and undermine SS Khaplang’s authority. A recent press release by NSCN (IM) stated: “They started attacking and killing our boys in Changlang with a combined operation of three battalions of the Assam Rifles under the name of Rocket Operation.”

“People who stay in Lodhi Estate, an official residence for Indian MPs, fully manned by Indian paramilitary forces, should not invent such stories,” the NSCN(K) retorted. Pulling out of the upcoming Forum for Naga Reconciliation’s (FNR) “meeting at the highest level”, it has questioned Muivah’s aggressive intentions. “We cannot accept the double standards of IM. On one hand, they talk of peace, but on the other, they brag that they can send armed cadres anywhere, even into Eastern Nagaland,” says G Jimomi, who handles publicity for NSCN(K). On its part, the NSCN(K) has also stepped up operations. Recently, a letter from Khaplang called on legislators and ministers from Tirap and Changlang to withdraw support from the Dorjee Khandu – led Congress government or face consequences.

The sporadic clashes have greatly hampered the peace process. If the Naga factions are unable to reconcile, the talks between NSCN(IM) and Delhi may become irrelevant. Anything less than sovereignty will not be accepted by other groups and will give rise to multiple factional movements. On the other hand, if the NSCN(IM) continues to marginalise the other groups, clashes could escalate to an all-out war drawing in the Indian security forces and derailing the peace process completely. Many underground sources allege that reconciliation between the Naga underground factions does not benefit India: “By keeping the internal conflict festering, they can avoid dealing with the core issues of sovereignty and Nagalim.”

Stuck in the middle of this uncertainty are the people of Nagaland. As the groups champion “the peoples’ cause”, they suffer in silence. Plagued by corruption, underground ‘tax’, violence and underdevelopment, all that they can do is hope tomorrow will be better. The question is: Will it?

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