Sanjib Baruah’s ‘The Nagas of India and Myanmar’ (IE, May 14) speaks volumes about his scholarship. But there are many Nagas like me who have firsthand experience of the issue, particularly the recent developments highlighted by the article.
The NSCN-K’s first ceasefire meeting with the Myanmar authorities, to which Baruah refers in order to glorify S.S. Khaplang and criticise the Indian government, was at Hkamti on April 9, 2012. The meeting was undoubtedly a red letter day for the NSCN-K. The Myanmar government organised a fantastic cultural evening, followed by a gala dinner. The ceasefire agreement was drafted and signed by none other than Kilonser Wangtin Naga and Kilonser P. Tikhak, leaders of Baruah’s “yet-to-be-named group of former NSCN-K members”. Our group has aptly been named NSCN-Reformation.
Notwithstanding Myanmar’s hospitality, the initial political concessions did not reflect the mature political acumen touted by Baruah. The Myanmar authorities wanted to restrict Naga areas to only four towns. But we managed to get the main ceasefire office at Hkamti and asked for sub-offices in all towns. The Hkamti office was demanded to ensure that at least this town remained within Naga areas. We also asked Myanmar to immediately demarcate Naga areas, so that Naga areas that had gone to the Kachins and Shans could be brought back. Unfortunately, Khaplang had done little to prevent Naga areas from going to other communities. So much for his “ideological worldview” and “ideological commitments”.
The two Naga leaders from the Indian side, Wangtin Naga and P. Tikhak, expelled by none other than Khaplang himself, fought with the Myanmar authorities for these rights. These two were the architects of Khaplang’s authority in parts of Sagaing Region. Was it not a reflection of their commitment to a pan-Naga political and social identity? For us, the concerns of our brothers and sisters in Myanmar were as dear as those of our brothers and sisters in India. Both Khole Konyak and Kitovi Zhimoni parted ways with Khaplang, though these two leaders had stood by him and did not consider him a “Burmese Naga”.
Who, then, broke this bond? Who divided the Nagas into Myanmarese and Indian? Who gave the identity of “Indian Nagas” to us? Who betrayed the Naga cause? The answer is Khaplang. Khaplang exploited both leaders, who knew English, to ink the historic agreement with Myanmar only to enjoy its fruits with his Myanmarese brothers. When it came to a similar ceasefire with the Indian government, he opposed it tooth and nail. When it came to political dialogue with India, Khaplang wanted to wait for talks with the NSCN-IM (the Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah faction) to fail. Khaplang did not have any stake in a political settlement with the Indian government. This was political opportunism at its worst. Khaplang is answerable to the Nagas of the world as to why he has created Nagas within Nagas.
Khaplang is a fatherly figure (baba) in Naga society, and Nagas respect their elders. But one should deserve and inspire that respect through actions, not fear. Regarding Wangtin’s statement “to my great baba as no son has any bad intention towards his father”, he was not talking about the post-split period, but the one prior to it, when he tried to convince Khaplang to take into consideration several problems faced on the Indian side. But Khaplang turned a deaf ear to his pleas, thinking Wangtin was doing so only for his own benefit. That’s why he clarified that a son can never have any bad intentions towards his father. His pleas were meant to save the organisation from sinking because of the backbiters. Ultimately, it culminated in the current state of affairs. Therefore, it was not at all an apologetic statement as made out by Baruah.
As regards Khaplang’s influence on the Indian side, a few incidents of violence by fugitive followers don’t prove his influence. Indeed, the rising public resentment against violence and the call for non-cooperation speak against it. Sooner rather than later, the truth will prevail. There is a pantheon of Naga leaders who have sacrificed themselves at the altar of the Naga cause. Khaplang does not even merit a mention.
His protection to other Indian insurgent groups in Myanmar is not because of his influence. It is a marriage of convenience. Other groups take advantage of his ceasefire with Myanmar to seek refuge, while Khaplang takes “protection money”. As regards whether India should learn from Myanmar on how to deal with Khaplang, whether Indian security forces have the capacity to contain the NSCN-K, whether Myanmar will extend a helping hand by not allowing Khaplang to use its soil, and whether India can solve the Naga issue only by talking to the NSCN-IM, it is for the Indian government to ponder. In any case, nothing can be farther from the truth than equating the NSCN-K with Myanmar in the context of India’s engagement.
This article has been written by MIP, Secretary, NSCN-Reformation, Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland.