NSCN (IM) has instituted a novel method to ‘include’ Tirap and Changlang into their Greater Nagalim. Conversion to Christianity has been one of its stratagems
If an angular aspect of a nation’s frontier policy hinges on the extent to which the exploitative machinery of the core can penetrate the borderlands, then another determining feature would clearly be the geo-strategic consideration that drives it. Centric concerns about periphery stem principally from the need to fortify the limits against attempts to redraw the boundaries. Indeed, both pre- and post-independent Indian policy for the North East and the North West has been driven by concerns of geo-strategy. Whereas the British undertook military campaigns to secure the North West Frontier, it laid more stress on “exclusion” and “partial administration” for the North East, allowing instead socio-religious campaigns to annex the area.
The ingress of Christian missionaries into the region engineered an inclusion of sorts and although the British were suspicion of the missionaries from America, the ones from the continent brought Bible and Christian education to the region quite decisively. Today, the states of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland have a predominant Christian population. However, World War II and the threat of a Japanese invasion brought the Allied war effort into the North East and a famous battle was fought in Kohima to repel the Japanese army.
Post-independence, India’s policy has unfortunately not been able to completely break away from colonial motivations, with allegations of commercial interests and indifference to its ailments continuing to make their rounds. Indeed, most insurgencies and movements for separate homelands in the North East have come to the fore because of the insensitivity with which New Delhi continues to perceive the region. The present situation in Manipur, for instance, which has arisen as a result of an alleged rape by personnel of the Assam Rifles, is a clear case of indifference. On the other hand, although the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN) has ceased hostilities with New Delhi, the fact of the matter is that myopic Indian perception has not been able to glean the entrails of the ceasefire agreement with the Naga organisation, which is slowly utilising the arrangement to abet a situation in the region in order to engineer a triangle of new concern.
Tirap and Changlang area of Arunachal Pradesh is a region which geo-strategically connects Assam, Myanmar and Nagaland. It is also a region that lends itself to the trans-border insurgent agenda and showcases a motivation, strength and concern, which stem from subterfuges that allow a level-playing field to various anti-India organisations.
This author has undertaken multiple visits to the region and has witnessed the manner in which the expanse lends itself to (a) the cross-border agenda vis-à-vis India and Myanmar (b) geo-strategic engineering by the NSCN (IM) which is extremely novel. Indeed, this author had kept entries in his diary even as he was patrolling with the Assam Rifles in the two districts. Excerpts from the pages from the diary are being reproduced for the reader to comprehend the real manner in which the NSCN (IM)’s usage of Christianity by way of what it terms as “Op Salvation”.
“It was 0545 Hrs when our company entered Pongchou Village. The climb to the village was steep, a good 45-degree gradient. The Company Commander told his men to keep their eyes peeled on the overhanging cliffs — we were apparently negotiating an area where we could have come under militant fire. It had been reported the previous night that the ‘Naya Party’, the name by which NSCN (IM) is known in Tirap and Changlang as opposed to NSCN (K) which is the ‘Purana Party’ had been seen in the vicinity. But, the young captain assured me that ambushes on the Indian Army by the NSCN (IM) were few and far between. It was a more likely possibility that they would spirit away at the sign of our approach. Indeed, he sought my attention to the tom-tomming that was emanating from the village. It was, I was told, a message for the militants, to warn them of Indian Army presence. Later, one of the Indian Army jawans brought me the bamboo receptacle that was sending out the “message”. It was a fine homemade instrument and I could imagine the timpani it sent out across the cliffs, warning the ‘Naya’ and ‘Purana’ parties that it is time to decamp.”
The Pongchou Village church greeted us. But for its largeness and the cross on top that indicated that we were on hallowed grounds, it looked like an ordinary hut. Only the “Raja’s” hut was bigger than the church. The “Raja” invited us into his hut, it was rather dark and some sort of meat was being smoked in a corner. The “Raja” could speak Assamese. I asked him about the “Parties”. He reluctantly agreed to the fact that the “Parties” were visiting them, but would not be drawn into a discussion about what they sought (a Ranapio — a person who acts a “go-between”/dak runners/informer — later told me that the “Naya Party” had been good to the villagers, teaching them about hygiene). The “Raja” also told me that it had been days since the “parties” visited his village. We were getting ready to leave when a man entered the “Raja’s” hut singing hymns. He was the village pastor. In fluent English, he told us that he had come to the village a couple of years ago (after he graduated from the University of Delhi) to spread the word of Christ. He told us that he had settled in this village, having wed all the daughters of the “Raja”. He was also a Naga”.
Although a communal statement is not merited in the article, the fact of the matter is that the NSCN (IM) had (at the time) instituted a novel method to “include” Tirap and Changlang into their Greater Nagalim. The phrase it used was “Op Salvation”, and conversion to Christianity was one of the stratagems. It has succeeded, too, as was evident from my diary entry above. Almost every village had a Naga pastor, who was also invariably the “Raja’s” son-in-law. In Pongchou village, the Naga pastor had married all the daughters of the “Raja”. It reminded me of the Mel Gibson blockbuster Braveheart, where there is a scene which shows the King of England, Edward I “Longshanks” telling his generals about enforcing Prima Nocta, the “privilege” of English Noblemen to sleep with a woman on the first night of her marriage in an attempt to breed the Scots out instead of fighting them out. The NSCN (IM), therefore, is trying to elbow itself into areas where it would provide it the depth engineering it seeks.
The organisation’s efforts in Arunachal Pradesh have already showcased the methodology. In Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong it has a tacit understanding with the militant outfits operating in the area, and there was a “Hebron Agreement” some years ago between Dima Halam Daogah and the NSCN (IM). But inclusion of areas in states outside Nagaland will not be easy: the communities that are sought to be forcibly termed Nagas would resist it, as would the dispensations of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur. A resolution to the problem that characterises the Naga issue is, therefore, not going to be one that can be ushered in with ease.
The author is a conflict analyst and author. Views expressed are personal.
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