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Multiple Rebel ‘Naga Armies’ in Nagaland

Namrata Goswami was Research Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • July 06, 2012

    On June 30, the NSCN (Khole-Kitovi) faction held its ‘first batch passing out programme’ for its avatar of the Naga army at the designated Khehoi camp near Dimapur. The chief guest on the occasion, Kilonser (Minister) of the faction’s Government of the Peoples’ Republic of Nagaland (GPRN/NSCN) Akato Chophi, compared the task before this Naga army to that undertaken by the Hagannah, which was responsible for the defence of the newly formed Israeli state against attacks from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon in 1948. The ‘passing out parade’ of the rebel army duplicated the ceremonies of a legitimate state army, with the oath of allegiance confirmed by ‘Brigadier’ Vihoto Chophi GSO-I, followed by a prayer, drill display and a smartly turned out parade. The induction of this new Naga army adds another violent actor to the Naga landscape; the other two factions—NSCN (IM) and NSCN (K)— already have their own armies.

    In all of this, what is astonishing is that these rebel recruitments, military training and passing out parades are not conducted in secret in some far away impenetrable jungle camp. Instead they are held in the designated camps amidst the full glare of the local media, with press statements giving notice of forthcoming events as well as op-ed pieces calling for more support for armed recruitment. Take the case of the NSCN (IM), which has the largest force among the Naga factions with more than 5000 armed cadres. Each year, the outfit holds its passing out parade of newly inducted armed cadres in its designated camp called “Camp Hebron”. The camp is at a distance of about 40 km from Dimapur. The recruitment and training of its army is undertaken by the General Field Training Department (GFTD) at the Hebron Mount Gilead Training Centre. During the time that the NSCN (IM) has stayed in this Union government-designated camp, its recruitment drive and armed cadres have shot up.

    Insurgencies by their very nature aim to gain power and influence over a targeted population through persuasion and coercion and their military wing plays a critical role in this regard. In the case of the Naga armed outfits, while their stated political goal is to establish a Naga nation outside the framework of the Indian Union, their major activities on a daily basis include political propaganda through their websites and the local media, establishing social networks based on ethnic linkages, and fostering an illicit economy through extortion. All these activities are possible due to the fear psychosis generated by the armies they maintain. The presence of these armies in their midst is a clear signal to the target population that if they fail to cooperate with the armed groups, the consequences could range from physical harm to death. Their armies have also made it possible for the three NSCN factions to function like parallel governments in their respective areas of dominance.

    The capability of the Naga armed outfits to function in this manner is directly related to the inability of state structures to govern. This state of affairs in Nagaland also defeats the Indian Army’s sub-conventional warfare doctrine’s main dictum: maximum application of attrition warfare in order to enable transition to peaceful “law and order” and conflict resolution. Despite cease-fires, peace talks and designated camps established for the Naga armed factions, the Indian state has been unable to disarm these groups. In fact, within the state-funded designated camps, the armed outfits have carried on their subversive activities and increased their cadre strengths. Even more worrisome is the fact that the state has been unable to enforce the rule of law and provide for the security of the common people. With three different rebel Naga armies on the prowl, everyday existence in Nagaland is a precarious affair. To have a safe passage through the National Highways in Nagaland, one has to pay the armed groups. To start a business, a business pass has to be issued by the armed group that dominates a particular area. Migrant workers have to apply for work permits to work in Nagaland. For instance, in Dimapur, work permits are issued by either the NSCN (IM) or NSCN (K) on payment of Rs.150 to 200. To build a house on one’s own land, a tax amounting to 10 per cent of one’s basic pay has to be paid to the armed groups.

    Given that all three Naga armed groups are in direct contact with government functionaries, it is critical that a zero tolerance attitude is adopted in response to the continuing increase in the number of armed cadres in the designated camps. Also, a comprehensive Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme needs to be worked out and implemented in a phased manner so that non-state actor violence is quelled in Nagaland. Without rooting out the parallel structures of an illegitimate economy and violence existing in Nagaland, efforts undertaken by Naga civil society to bring about peaceful reconciliation would only deliver sub-optimal results. There can be no excuse offered by legitimate state structures for shirking their prime responsibility to create a secure and safe environment for its citizens in these peripheral yet strategic border states of India.