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Author: Arjoma Moulick, II year of M.A Politics: International and Area Studies from Jamia Millia Islamia

The Naga Conflict is the longest human drawn conflict for an independent nation of Nagalim, which constitutes parts of Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Myanmar. The map of Greater Nagalim is about 1,20,000 sq km whereas the state of Nagaland consists of 16,527 sq km. Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh have always been wary of the claims of Greater Nagalim fearing the effect it might have on their respective territories. The demand of Greater Nagalim has changed many meanings, but the most reiterated one includes “Integration of all Naga inhabited areas under one administrative umbrella” which was reiterated in the Nagaland Assembly in 1964, 1994, 2003, 2015[i]. India has repeatedly considered that Nagaland is an integral part of the union, and hence the question of Nagalim cannot be entertained in the context of integrity. The Nagas are a group of 17 Identified Naga tribes and several other unclassified tribes according to the Indian Census of 2001. The majority of these tribes still practice the Jhum Nagaland. The movement of independence from India started in June 1947.[ii]

The Naga National Council (NNC) is the political wing of the Naga Federal Government, the party has constantly constituted the Nagas as a separate nation. The major claim that they stake is that the British rule has never been subjected to the Naga people or in other words, they are not part of the Indian Nation.[iii]

NNC requested for an interim government to Mountbatten to look over defence forces to aid civil power in case of emergency. Due to the failure of the agreement, NNC organized a plebiscite which was on the question of whether Nagaland should be a part of the Indian Union, and to show that the call for independence is not a call of a few misguided Nagas.[iv]

The conflict can be divided into three main phases

I Phase: The 9-Point Agreement was an ambiguous agreement that the Nagas interpreted as the right to independence after the interim period of 10 years was over, to the Indian government it implied the right to administrative changes within the country. The in-text argument that was used in the 9-point Agreement between the Indian Government and the NNC called the Naga-Akbar Hydari Accord included that -

“The Governor of Assam as the agent of the Government of Indian Union will have a special responsibility for ten years to ensure that due observance of this agreement; at the end of this period the Naga National Council will be asked whether they require the above agreement to be extended for a further period, or a new agreement regarding the future of the Naga people arrived at.”[v]

By 1949 the agreement was revoked. By 1951 the Indian government asserted Nagaland as the legal heir to the land after the British Raj. Nagas rejected the other side of the deal “autonomy under its constitution.” NNC conducted a plebiscite which was rejected by the UN, the British government, and the Indian Government. They also rejected the 1951 election which led to the banning of NNC. By 1956 the Naga Hill district was declared a disturbed area under the Assam Disturbed Act of 1955. In 1958, it was replaced by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The Naga People’s Council (NPC) which was formed by a group of Naga leaders in 1957 proposed for the larger political entity comprising Naga Hill district and Tuensang (Now Arunachal Pradesh). The Indian Government proposed for the Naga-Hills-Tuensang Area, further they proposed for the elevation of the area to state. The 16-Point Agreement of 1960, between the Indian Government and NPC, suggested to elevate the position of Naga Hill District to a state and that no law /act should be passed in Indian parliament regarding religious practices, Customary laws, civil/criminal procedure and ownership and transfer of land of the Naga people. By 1963 it came to be known as Nagaland. But still, it failed to end the conflict but came as a victory to the pro- India lobbyist. In 1964, a series of talks under the Peace Mission was held under Jaiprakash Narayan, to explore ways of restoration of peace and normalcy in the region, which also ultimately failed. NNC was declared as an illegal organization with an assassination attempt on HokisheSema and AFSPA was renewed. [vi]

The Shillong agreement marked an important period in 1975 where six insurgent leaders from NNC and L.P Singh from the Indian Government signed an agreement to abide by the constitution of India and surrender arms. This failed majorly because the six leaders were weak and unpopular leaders and did not represent the people of Nagaland, and neither did they stand up to the expectation of the people’s demands in Nagaland. This led to the breakup of NNC in 1980 into the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) which further split into NSCN-K led by Mr S.S. Khaplang and NSCN-IM led by Mr I.C. Swu and Mr Th. Muivah. The Shillong Agreement re-energized the conflict. NNC rejected the Shillong agreement calling it an agreement to sell the Naga nation and the rights of the Naga people to the Indian Constitution. This is a reminder that in any conflict situation it is the most popular leaders who stand the chance on conversing on behalf of the people to the other counterpart.[vii] The accord stated:

“The representatives of the underground organisations conveyed their decision, of their own volition, to accept, without condition, the constitution of India. It was agreed that the arms, now underground, would be brought out and deposited at appointed places. Details for giving the effect of this agreement will be worked out between them and representatives of the government, the security forces, and members of the Liaison Committee. It was agreed that the representatives of the underground organisations should have reasonable time to formulate other issues for discussion for final settlement.”[viii]

The Shillong Accord was a major disappointment for the Naga aspirations because the 6 individual leaders were disappointed with their proposition of surrendering arms and abide by the country’s constitution, in return, there was no guarantee from the government side towards a resolution[ix]

II Phase: The factional divide in Nagaland due to Localism and Tribalism (Tribal superiority over collective effort) has clogged Naga effort towards achieving Nationhood, as they are divided along multiple fault lines. Pro-Independence groups were riddled with inter-tribal rivalry and a struggle for hegemonic domination of the tribals.[x]

In 2004-2006 multiple incidents were noted due to factional conflict. NSCN-IM emerged as the most acceptable armed group. In the current scenario, NSCN-IM signed the last ceasefire with the Central Government. It must be noted that the Government of India made no effort to reach out to the fraction which demands independence, whereas the NNC argument stands on the firm ground that those who have fought for the Naga people are the ones who can enter into authorized agreements. The formation of Nagaland created a political class, which gave the leaders from Nagaland a political stage, where secessionist ideas and campaigns can be challenged by their people whose loyalty rests with India.[xi]

(Imkong L. Imchen, the home minister of Nagaland, on the floor of the Nagaland legislative assembly at Kohima)

III Phase: The Self-Proclaimed Homeland of NSCN-IM is Nagalim is also problematic, the Nagas currently want a ceasefire to cover areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur, where the Naga tribes reside. The Nagaland Assembly has released resolutions demanding the central government to bring the Naga areas together in 1964, 1970, 1994, 2003.[xii]

Manipur is the largest Naga inhabited area outside Nagaland with Tribes like Kabui, Kacha Naga, Mao, Maram Maring, and Tangkhul. The people of Manipur fear that if such aspirations of the Greater Nagalim are realized it would hamper the territorial areas under it. In Manipur, anxieties were at their highest on 14th June and 18th June 2001 when protestors were agitated against the ceasefire being extended- without territorial limits’ with 18 dead. Manipur declared 18th June as ‘State Integrity Day’ and as a public holiday in remembrance of 18 Martyrs and is remembered as ‘Great June Uprising Day.’ The United Naga Council which supports the demand of the Nagalim launched movements called “Alternative Administrative Arrangement” to accommodate the Nagas living in Manipur without the involvement of the Manipur government. Moreover, the Naga People’s Front a political party tried to win the Naga support in Manipur by contesting elections on 4 fronts including protecting the Naga identity and land and continuing with the Naga peace process and the establishment of an alternative arrangement of the Naga in Manipur.[xiii] Manipur, Assam legislative assembly has passed several resolutions against the proposed Nagalim it has passed multiple resolutions in 1995 which urged all ethnic groups of the state to refrain from demanding new states. In 2002, they urged the Central government to protect the territorial integrity of the state.[xiv] The Indian Constitution can do so under Article 2(4)

Assam has been constantly wary of the formation of the Nagalim, in the past during the SarbanadaSonwal who stated that not an inch of state’s land will be parted and that the territorial integrity of the state would be protected, this was in the backdrop of 2015 framework. Assam government has been vociferous against the formation of Nagalim, in past, it had called for a special session in state assemblies fearing the propositions.[xv]

In Arunachal Pradesh, most Naga tribes inhabit the areas in Longding, Tirap, and Changland. The All-Arunachal Pradesh Students Union has strongly opposed the decision to redraw the state outline to accommodate the aspirations of the demand of Nagalim. The current Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh had also opposed the 2015 framework which said not to have undertaken the aspirations of the people of the Stakeholders namely – Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh.[xvi]

Why are Rebel Groups Supported: The most popular rebel group at this point is NSCN-IM. Apart from these, there are different Naga armed groups all to secure an independent state for Naga with the integration of the Naga populated areas in the Northeast into a single entity. The rebel groups have established an administration that serves social welfare to gain public support. They have laid down rules which allow them to control resources and enforce them. Further, this weakens the support of the population to the state institutions and thus de-legitimizing the public support towards these institutions. The armed groups have parallel governments such as the Federal Government of Nagaland, Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland. They have parliaments like institutions with local names like Tatar-Hoho and as well as Standing Armies like Naga Home Guards and Naga Army. Extortions are very common to extort money from the government and the public. These illicit taxes are collected from the traders, contractors, politicians, and common people. These are a few ways through which the rebel groups collect money to run their programs. The tax collection along the Dimapur-Mao-Imphal stretch was under the control of the rebel groups, ultimately, they made common people dependent on the armed groups as these groups asserted their control over the highways. Even localized groups have started promoting community-based peacebuilding. [xvii]

Why is the Naga Issue being in the news again? Muivah who is the general secretary of NSCN-IM has warned the Indian government not to make past mistakes it did back in 2015, and the past peace process. The external factors trying to break the Naga movement and its unity, Muivah, thus, wanted a resolution at the earliest. The rebel group agreed the framework that was agreed in 2015 was hurriedly rushed into between India and NSCN-IM.

However, the 2015 Framework stood out for the following reasons:

1. The shift in the goal of NSCN(IM) from the demand of Greater Nagalim as a completely separate nation to more constitutional sovereignty which deals with ‘greater autonomy’ to the Naga Tribal areas through autonomous districts, such agreements are facilitated through the Sixth Schedule in the Indian Constitution.[xviii]Further, the agreement of supra-state without territorial division of Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh was presented by the Government in 2011. However, Manipur fears that any such goal towards the creation of such aspiration would further lead to the realization of Nagalim as an actual entity thus has always refrained from signing.[xix]

2. The framework was signed at such a time when it was believed that it had the political as well as the social support of the NSCN(IM) towards a path of conflict resolution.

3. NSCN (IM) leader Muivah and Isak Chisi wanted a quick solution for the promise upheld by the government to preserve the culture, history, and traditions of the Nagas and achieve constitutional autonomy for the Naga inhabited areas.[xx]

4. The current government’s outright promise of solving the Naga Conflict within 18 months time frame was the major factor in signing the agreement in haste.[xxi]However, in 2021 there seems no solution in place which will pacify both sides.

A peaceful solution to the problem would be on the plank which is sustainable and has public support. The Naga leadership also hinted towards the next generation of Naga’s leaders to carry forward the struggle for Nagalim as a way of recognizing the Naga Conflict, as a political issue rather than an ethnic conflict.[xxii]

The NCSC-IM demands the issue of Nagaland should be treated in terms of politics and deliver a political solution which was discussed in the 1997 ceasefire between Indo-Naga political talks. Lastly, the NSCN-IM reminded the government not to drag the issue more than it was supposed to and not to attempt to undermine the Naga issue to failed agreements like Shillong Agreement.[xxiii]

Way forward: Cultural Autonomy is a way through which the Indian government can satisfy the aspirations of Northeast India. Here, ethnically diverse areas are detached from the geographical dimension. Thus cultural autonomy should be granted to all ethnic groups, irrespective of their administrative boundary. The nature of this autonomy is broad and can include religion, culture, language, social practices, customary laws, and welfare matters.[xxiv]However, the non-territorial framework also favours the Naga demands of identifying the ‘unique history and culture’. [xxv]

It needs to be also noted that the term unique history has been subjected to scathing criticism, that the term has no fixed definition and thus resides in ambiguity. The term has more than one interpretation.[xxvi] It must be considered that the Indian Government cannot solve an age-old issue with peace agreements, it must be noted that the 9-point agreement specifically asked for Cultural Autonomy.[xxvii]It needs to be noted that India itself is a melting point of various cultures, identity politics plays a major role in sustaining the greater good for India, by identifying that all the states have heterogeneous populations and not homogenized populations.[xxviii]

The unique history and the Naga tribal culture are constituted under the form called Pan-Naga Hoho. The Indian Constitution could legally recognize this under an act of the Indian Parliament. Thus, this will take care of the interests of the Nagas of Nagaland and as well as Nagas living outside Nagaland. The apex body may have representation of Nagas from all the Naga areas. A central law that excludes the administrative and legislative jurisdiction of other states in which Nagas reside, will ensure avoidance of conflict between the Hoho and the State Jurisdiction. The Hoho could further function as an advisory body on the Naga cultural affairs to both Center and the states. Such a framework would ensure the longevity of the promise of upholding and protecting the Naga culture, identity, and history. However, if such a demand is approved it must be made sure it stays within the “Basic Structure” of the constitution.[xxix]

The Disarming of the insurgent groups and absorption of insurgent cadres into state forces has been a common proposition that has been made by the government repeatedly and has been done in the past, but it needs to be strategically understood that this proposition brings internal security threats. However, Assam Rifles, a central force, is manned by different groups.[xxx]But any promise of surrendering of the insurgent cadres for government jobs in the police, army creates a wrong example in the state which suffers from unemployment problems, this proposition was seen with the surrendered ULFA cadres in Assam. Instead, there should be avenues which are made for self-employment,[xxxi]this will ensure sustenance in the system and would not further create problems in the recruitment in the government jobs.

Hard-fencing the border areas along with Nagaland, will never solve the problem, even now when Myanmar is witnessing a military coup in the state, this is because both Myanmar and Nagaland are dependent on each other for social-economic reasons. Therefore, livelihood and welfare would be adversely affected. A possible solution can account for smart vigilance and adopting innovative ways of border security, particularly when trade and social exchanges are at stake.[xxxii]

Thus, the resolution to one of the oldest armed conflicts in the Northeast would offer a way towards resolving other ethnic-political conflicts. The policymakers must not rush towards delivering a quick solution to the people but rather a detailed solution that will accommodate the aspiration of all the stakeholders in the conflict.

[i]Gupta Kashyap, S., 2015. Towards the Govt-Naga peace accord: Everything you need to know. [online] The Indian Express. Available at: <https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/simply-put-towards-accord-step-by-step/>

[ii]Singh, M., 2013. Revisiting the Naga conflict: what can India do to resolve this conflict? Small Wars & Insurgencies, 24(5), pp.795-812.https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2013.866420

[iii]Misra, U., 1978. The Naga National Question. Economic and Political Weekly, [online] 13(14). Available at: https://www.epw.in/journal/1978/14/special-articles/naga-national-question.html

[iv]Singh, M., 2013. Revisiting the Naga conflict: what can India do to resolve this conflict?. Small Wars & Insurgencies, 24(5), pp.795-812.https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2013.866420

[v]Peacemaker.un.org. 1947. [online] Available at: <https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/IN_470628_Naga-Akbar%20Hydari%20Accord.pdf>

[vi]Singh, M., 2013. Revisiting the Naga conflict: what can India do to resolve this conflict?. Small Wars & Insurgencies, 24(5), pp.795-812https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2013.866420

[vii] Ibid.

[viii]Peacemaker.un.org. 1975. Shillong Agreement between the Government of India and the Underground Nagas | UN Peacemaker. [online] Available at: <https://peacemaker.un.org/india-shillong-agreement75’>

[ix]Singh, M., 2013. Revisiting the Naga conflict: what can India do to resolve this conflict?. Small Wars & Insurgencies, 24(5), pp.795-812https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2013.866420

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii]2012 TNN / Mar 18, 112 killed in factional clashes in four years: Guwahati news - times of India The Times of India: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/112-killed-in-factional-clashes-in-four-years/articleshow/12320086.cms

[xiii]Singh, M., 2013. Revisiting the Naga conflict: what can India do to resolve this conflict?. Small Wars & Insurgencies, 24(5), pp.795-812https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2013.866420


[xv]B Singh, Won't part with even an inch OF Assam: SARBANANDA SONOWAL The Economic Times, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/wont-part-with-even-an-inch-of-assam-sarbananda-sonowal/articleshow/61343558.cms?from=mdr.

[xvi]PrabinKalita, Khandu: Will not part with any territory For nagalim: Guwahati news - times of India The Times of India (2019): https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/khandu-will-not-part-with-any-territory-for-nagalim/articleshow/71951792.cms.

[xvii]Singh, M., 2013. Revisiting the Naga conflict: what can India do to resolve this conflict?. Small Wars & Insurgencies, 24(5), pp.795-812https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2013.866420

[xviii]Joshua, V. S. (2015). “Autonomous Councils Key to Naga Deal Success”. The Hindu.https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/autonomous-councils-key-to-naga-deal-success/article7500506.ece

[xix]Goswami, N. (2011). “A Non-Territorial Resolution to the Naga Conflict”. IDSA Strategic.https://idsa.in/idsacomments/AnonterritorialresolutiontotheNagaethnicconflict_ngoswami_151111

[xx]Joshua, V. S. (2015). “Autonomous Councils Key to Naga Deal Success”. The Hindu.https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/autonomous-councils-key-to-naga-deal-success/article7500506.ece

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii]Ahuja, N. B. (2021). NSCN(IM) Warns the Government against repeating past mistakes. Retrieved from The Week: https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2021/03/25/nscn-im-warns-government-against-repeating-past-mistakes.html

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv]Singh,:. M. (2013). Revisiting the Naga conflict: what can India do to resolve this conflict? Small Wars & Insurgencies, pp. 795-812.https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2013.866420

[xxv]Goswami, N. (2011). “A Non-Territorial Resolution to the Naga Conflict”. IDSA Strategic.https://idsa.in/idsacomments/AnonterritorialresolutiontotheNagaethnicconflict_ngoswami_151111

[xxvi]Baruah, S. (2020). Question about stakeholders in the Naga conflict still needs a satisfactory answer. The Indian Express.https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/bridging-the-narrative-divide-naga-peace-talks-sanjib-baruah-6564714/

[xxvii]Singh, :. M. (2013). Revisiting the Naga conflict: what can India do to resolve this conflict? Small Wars & Insurgencies, pp. 795-812..https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2013.866420

[xxviii]Kalbag, C. (2019). How do Naga peace and Article 371A belong together? Retrieved from The Economic Times: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/the-needles-eye/how-do-naga-peace-and-article-371a-belong-together/and-article-371a-belong-together/

[xxix]Sen, G. (2017). Way Forward to a final Naga Settlement. Retrieved from IDSA: https://idsa.in/idsacomments/way-forward-to-a-final-naga-settlement_gsen_310717

[xxx]Sen, G. (2017). Way Forward to a final Naga Settlement. Retrieved from IDSA: https://idsa.in/idsacomments/way-forward-to-a-final-naga-settlement_gsen_310717

[xxxi]Singh, M. A. (2004). Challenges before Bodo Territorial Council. Economic and Political Weekly, 784-785.https://www.epw.in/journal/2004/08/commentary/assam-challenges-bodo-territorial-council.html

[xxxii]Sen, G. (2017). Way Forward to a final Naga Settlement. Retrieved from IDSA: https://idsa.in/idsacomments/way-forward-to-a-final-naga-settlement_gsen_310717