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Myanmar, Nagaland, AFSPA and a ticking time bomb

Boycotts marred the Republic Day celebrations in Nagaland, and the question of the greater Naga identity is back
Last Updated : 30 January 2022, 04:52 IST

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There has been heightened gunfighting in the Chin region of Myanmar between its military and rebels. Nearly 20,000 Myanmar people are already in Mizoram. But the state government cannot recognise the hapless intruders as refugees since states are not authorised to do so under the law. Only the Centre can.

But the Union government faces a diplomatic quagmire. Entertaining the Myanmar intruders could upset that country's military junta. India needs its cooperation to deal with insurgent groups who take shelter and operate from the jungles of western Myanmar.

India's security apparatus is concerned over growing incidents of violence in Myanmar between the military and resistance groups. Several ethnic Naga, Mizo, Manipuri and even Assamese rebels from northeastern India have maintained bases in Myanmar's Sagaing region for years. The modus operandi used to be simple - launch attacks on Indian forces and then return to their camps and hideouts across the border.

Manipur witnessed one gruesome incident in November last year when Colonel Viplav Tripathi, his wife and their nine-year-old boy were killed. Forces wanted to hit back. So in Nagaland's Mon district, not far from the India-Myanmar border, innocent Naga civilians were attacked on December 4.

The fallout of 'mistaken identity' in a botched operation triggered anti-India and anti-Indian forces sentiment. Nagas and the Nagaland state government, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as an alliance partner, have demanded the "draconian" Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) be repealed.

Boycotts marked the Republic Day celebrations on January 26 in Nagaland. Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, a senior leader with good contacts in national politics, hoisted the national flag in Kohima, the state capital. Ministers and administrative officials did so in district headquarters but in front of empty stadiums, which had nothing to do with the Covid-19 protocols. The state administration was at pains answering frantic calls from the Union Home Ministry mandarins and others why such a situation prevailed.

The Naga Students Federation, an influential students' body, which can be compared with such outfits as the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) and Khasi Students Union (KSU) in Meghalaya, also called for a boycott. These student bodies in the northeast are often the stepping stones for student leaders to state-level politics. In other words, developments in Nagaland should not be brushed aside.

The intense fighting between the Myanmar military and the 'joint forces' of the Chin National Army (CNA) militants and Chinland Defence Force (CDF) is somewhat a new security dimension. The Lai tribe among Mizos shares an ethnic affinity with Chins and hence their bond and hospitality accorded to them.

Last year, the Mizoram government, run by the Mizo National Front (MNF), a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, made elaborate arrangements for the school education of the Myanmar children who have sneaked into Mizoram with their parents and guardians in the aftermath of the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021.

The dissident National Unity Government (NUG) had declared a "Spring Revolution" from September 7, 2021, marking the launch of a "civil war" to oust the military junta in Myanmar.

Recently one Chin rebel was arrested in Mizoram border smuggling arms from India. Four "injured cadres from Chin forces" earlier sneaked into Mizoram state. One of them died. Three are reportedly undergoing treatment in a private hospital in Aizawl.

Indian forces, primarily because of the ensuing elections in Manipur, another border state adjoining Myanmar, have intensified border security along the Indo-Myanmar border in Mizoram and the poll-bound state.

The anti-insurgency team of Assam Rifles seized contraband also included a thousand aluminium instant detonators, one Tata 912 truck, Rs 73,500 Indian currency and 9,35,000 Myanmar currency (Kyats). The Assam Rifles personnel also seized a huge cache of explosives, 2,500 kilograms of gelatin (dynamite) sticks, and 4,500 meters of detonating fuse at the Zawngling village in Siaha district on the border. Another twist in the tale is that the explosives reportedly originated from Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh and were allegedly being 'transported' to a fixed destination in Myanmar to arm the CNA militants.

In December, Foreign Secretary Harsh V Shringla visited Myanmar and tried to build a needed diplomatic bridge. Before that, in October 2020, India delivered a kilo class submarine, INS Sindhuvir, to the Myanmar Navy, its first submarine.

Amid this, Indian political parties, particularly the ruling BJP and its top leadership, are busy with election campaigns in the poll-bound states, including Manipur. The BJP hopes to retain power in Manipur, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the state on January 4.

Manipur is home to a sizable Naga population. Therefore, New Delhi is treading the path cautiously. However, officials had claimed last year that the Naga peace talks are in the final stages. The leading Naga group, the NSCN (IM), influential in the hilly region of Manipur, was still giving mixed signals. This group wants a separate flag and constitution for Nagas. The Centre has rejected the demand.

The Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs), a coalition of seven groups operating in Nagaland, are keen on an early peace pact. Its convener, N Kitovi Zhimomi, says all issues, including army deployment and AFSPA provisions, would end once a final peace pact is inked. This group signed a preamble agreement with the Centre in 2017.

A matter of concern is the question of 'indigenous' Nagas has returned to the debate. The NNPGs working committee now says that all "Naga national workers" after signing the peace pact must "return" to their ancestral Naga inhabited areas.

The phrase "Naga national workers" refers to Naga militants operating with bases in Nagaland state and outside, such as Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam and even Myanmar. Similarly, "ancestral Naga inhabited areas" refer to respective Naga tribes' home districts.

The NNPG working committee has said, "The political negotiations are over and to ensure that provisions of the agreement in respective Naga areas are meticulously and effectively implemented in letter and spirit, all Naga National workers, upon signing the political agreement, must return to their respective ancestral Naga inhabited areas to restrengthen and forge greater Naga historical and political identity".

Suffice it is to say that the region is sitting on a ticking time bomb.

(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi based journalist)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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Published 30 January 2022, 04:52 IST

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