In Nagaland, the limbo of a decade and a half has broken, with tragic consequences. On March 27, a ceasefire between the government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), signed in 2001, came to an end, triggering a familiar cycle of crackdown and reprisal. In the latest incident, NSCN(K) cadres ambushed a party of soldiers in Mon district on Sunday, killing eight. The government’s policy of signing ceasefires with various militant factions and waiting out the insurgency seems to have reached its limits.
Naga ethnic nationalism intensified in the 1980s, when the NSCN was formed, drawing a section of Myanmarese Nagas into its fold. The insurgency found its focus in the demand for “Greater Nagaland” or “Nagalim”, an imagined homeland that would engulf Naga-dominated regions in surrounding states and contiguous areas in Myanmar. Riven by clan rivalries, the NSCN split in 1988, into the Khaplang and Isak-Muivah factions. In 1997, the NSCN(IM) signed a ceasefire with the government and has been in closed door talks ever since. Careful not to upset the dialogue with the NSCN(IM), the government barely engaged with the rival faction, except for renewing the ceasefire every year. It proved to be a costly omission. Marginalised in India, the NSCN(K), based out of Myanmar, has drawn closer to Naypyidaw, signing a ceasefire with its army in 2012. As hostilities waned, the Naga faction agreed not to support rebel groups targeting the Myanmar army and is even allowed to run a government-in-exile, styled as the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland-NSCN(K). In recent years, reports have spoken of a consolidation of separatist outfits from the Northeast, some of which have found refuge in Myanmar.
Under the circumstances, the Indian government urgently needs to address the gaps in its policy on insurgencies in the Northeast. For instance, it needs to review its habit of choosing to engage with some militant factions above others, which has created festering resentments, as seen in the Naga insurgency now and the Karbi insurgency of Assam. Separatist groups of the Northeast have typically been volatile and constantly splintering, and the government’s approach must factor in the variegated nature of these movements. Most crucially, in this case, Delhi must reach out to Myanmar and formulate a coordinated mechanism to deal with separatist and terror groups, on the lines of the 2013 agreement with Dhaka. These are questions and decisions the ceasefire had postponed. The government can no longer put them off.