In Sungkomen ward of the north-western town of Mokokchung in Nagaland, on August 24, 2003, two senior
cadres of the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-K), the Secretary and the
Chairman of the outfit for the Lotha region, Wobemo and Chumthungo, decided to celebrate the death of a cadre
of their rival NSCN-IM (the Isak-Muivah faction) in the adjacent district of Wokha the previous day. They took
out their guns and started firing in the air, causing great panic among the people. As residents repeatedly
asked these cadres to stop disturbing their children, who were preparing for their examinations, the
insurgents turned their guns on the residents, leading to the death of a student. What followed was
unprecedented in the history of insurgency in the State of Nagaland.
Irate residents of Sungkomen, one of the fifteen wards in Mokochung town, lynched the two militants responsible for the killing. The reaction did not stop there. On the next day, August 25, a mob joined by residents of other wards went on to set afire eight houses of top NSCN-K leaders, including that of the organisation's General Secretary, Ketovi Zhimomi, as well as 22 vehicles belonging to the militant group. It was nothing sort of a little revolution, which cleaned out Mokokchung of the menace of the NSCN-K.
What is so symbolic about the 'little revolt' in Mokokchung, the bastion of the Ao tribe? Most of the top ranking leaders of the NSCN-K faction, kilonsers (ministers) in the outfit's parlance, have their residences in Mokokchung and, even though the organisation's chief, Khaplang, operates from his mobile headquarters in the jungles of Myanmar, Mokokchung is, for all practical purposes, the de facto headquarters of the NSCN-K. Cadres and middle ranking leaders are obliged to report at Mokokchung to the kilonsers, such as Captain Lanu Ao, the second rung leader of the outfit, 'Major' Aheto, Niki Sema, and R. Lotha Mhatsung. A central intelligence officer, posted at Mokokchung, speaking to the writer, disclosed, "If NSCN-IM cadres have to come to Mokokchung, they will come through Wokha district, but not through the Dimapur-Mokokchung road, because this area is mostly controlled by the NSCN-K."
After the infamous vertical split in the NSCN in 1988, both the factions have clearly demarcated areas of operation in Nagaland's 13 districts. Since those days, the NSCN-IM gradually built its base in the Manipur Hills among the Thangkuls, and around Kohima, while the NSCN-K, coming under pressure from the Myanmarese Army in the Hukwang Valley, moved to the friendlier Konyak and Ao areas in the Tuensang and Mokokchung region. Thus, at present, the IM group draws most of its cadres from the Semas, Thangkuls and Phoms and is strong in districts such as Zunheboto, Wokha, Ukhrul, Dimapur, Kohima and parts of Tuensang, while the Khaplang group is active in Mokokchung, Mon and parts of Tuensang district, with a sizeable following among the Konyak, Ao and Burmese Nagas.
The NSCN-K, till the recent incident, carried on with rampant extortion activities in Mokokchung, with public resentment increasingly finding expression in complaints to the police. In July alone, for instance, police arrested a NSCN-K cadre while extorting money from a shop in the Daily Market area on the 17th; on July 21, police apprehended two NSCN-K militants who were demanding goods and money from the shops in the town; again, on July 26 police arrested two NSCN-K cadres extorting money from a shop in the Daily Market, and recovered a pistol with six rounds of ammunition.
The lynching incident and the violence that followed, threatens the very existence of the NSCN-K in the area. So great has been the anger of the people - who have not only tolerated the outfit's presence in their area but also provided the cadres with 'tax' regularly, albeit under the point of gun - that local organizations have taken up the responsibility of teaching the insurgents a lesson. Under the initiatives of local organisations like the Ao Senden (Hoho or Tribal Council), the Town Ward leaders, and the Ao Students Conference (Ao Kaketshir Mungdang, AKM), people of the area have decided to stop paying 'tax' to the outfit. The sizeable income, which the outfit used to make from all wards and villages of the district, could, consequently, now simply dry up.
Further, under the aegis of Ao Senden, the AKM, the Village Councils and the Town Ward leaders, a public general meeting was held on August 29, where citizens of the district decided that no payment of 'tax' would henceforth be made to either faction of the NSCN; and that the NSCN-K cadres, who used to stay overnight at villages and the district headquarters, would not be allowed to do so in future.
This is a serious setback for the NSCN-K, which lost one of its great patrons when the previous Chief Minister, S.C. Jamir, was ousted in the State Assembly Elections in February 2003. Speculation is rife that the present Chief Minister, N. Rio, with an alleged pro-NSCN-IM, stance, may be behind the Mokokchung violence. Evidently, in a State, where hardly any leader exists without some sort of links with either of the factions, the marginalisation of the Khaplang group would serve the present regime in no small way. There is, however, a dominant feeling in Mokokchung that the violence did not, in fact, point significantly to the role of 'interested' politicians, but is, rather, an outburst of the people's anger against 'unnecessary harassment' by the insurgents who had 'threatened peaceful existence through their unjustified action'.
The incident also appears to have had dramatic reverberations on the NSCN-IM, with a similar lynching at Tuensang town on August 28. The Tuensang incident occurred during a meeting between NSCN-IM cadres and leaders of the Tuensang and Mon Students' Federation (TMSF), to settle a dispute over the assault on two of the Federation's leaders on August 21.
The lynching took place during a 12-hour bandh (general strike) called by leaders of the TMSF and the Tuensang Mon Public Organisation (TMPO) to register their protest against the assault and harassment of the two leaders by the NSCN-IM militants. Tempers flared during the meeting, and a large crowd beat up Raising Tangkhul, one of the two NSCN-IM cadres who had allegedly assaulted the student leaders on August 21. Raising Tangkhul died of his injuries, while his companions managed to escape.
In a hurried reaction to the incident, the NSCN-IM announced a 'code of conduct' for its cadre, which
warned them against harassing members of the public and also banned the collection of 'tax' from any
individual or organization - in the process conceding what it had long denied, that widespread extortion by
its cadres has long been the norm.
The lynching and mass protests will certainly force some rethinking within the leadership and ranks of both the factions of the NSCN. However, those who hope that this may be the beginning of a larger mass movement for peace in the State need to accept there are still many miles to traverse before such an eventuality can be realized. The five-decade-old insurgency in Nagaland has created its own networks and complexities, and these are too strong to be broken by such impulsive and sporadic reactions by the people. It can, however, reasonably be expected that such unprecedented jolts from the suffering public will impose a measure of sobriety on the armed cadres of both groups, who have long subjected the people to indiscriminate bullying, harassment and extortion.
Sashinungla is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management Database and Documentation Center, Guwahati. Courtesy, South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal