Nagaland Unrest: Fate of “Indian Balkans”

  0 comments   |     by Andrew Korybko

Indian State of Nagaland is fuse which could easily light “India’s Balkans” ablaze in the Northeast. It could be a headache for Modi if the unrest doesn’t fully stabilize sometime soon. The Indian state of Nagaland is poised to once more create a major headache for India if the unrest there doesn’t fully stabilize sometime soon, although this story is almost completely overlooked by the Mainstream Media’s blackout on the topic. This situation has calmed, at least for now, but the history of sudden explosive outburst of violence reminds us all those who followed the events that Nagaland is fuse which could easily light “India’s Balkans” ablaze in the Northeast. This isn’t by any means a new realization, but the contemporary domestic and international context has markedly changed since India’s independence and the original onset of the Naga conflict shortly thereafter. In light of the recent violence, and taking into consideration the relevant  geopolitics of the New Cold War and the Modi Era, it’s worthwhile to conduct a strategic analysis about this long-standing issue and forecast the implications that an intensified renewal of the Naga Conflict could have for India and the “Greater South Asia” region at large. The research begins by bringing the reader up to speed with the historical and recent context of this issue, and then proceeds to identify the most realistic interconnected catalysts which could spark a more pronounced aggravation of violence in and around Nagaland. The next part of the work then analyzes the domestic and international implications of an intensified Naga insurgency, while the final segment takes a look at the most feasible way that this conflict could be resolved in order to avoid the negative scenarios previously described.

Background Briefing 


The Naga were never a part of what is generally considered to be “Indian Civilization”, at least in the sense of not going through the same historical experiences as most of contemporary India did during the Mughal Empire and its many predecessors. This is because the rugged and mountainous geography in the group’s homeland, as well as the ‘civilizational buffer’ of the Bengalis, served to insulate them from the rest of the subcontinent’s affairs. As a result, Nagaland wasn’t even conquered by the British in the same way as they wrested control of the rest of India, but rather was taken from what was then Burma as a result of the Treaty of Yandabo which ended the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1826. Other Naga populations in what is nowadays northern Myanmar were occupied after the Third Anglo-Burmese War ended in 1885 with the annexation of what was at that time Upper Burma. Following the conclusion of that conflict, all the Nagas were living in British India until London decided to make the Burma Province its own separate colony in 1937, arbitrarily giving Assam (of which most of the Nagas were administratively a part of at that time) to India despite its lack of historical connections with the rest of that political entity. This had the effect of drawing the modern-day dividing line between the Nagas in North-eastern India (then referred to simply as Assam) and their cross-border kin in Burma (nowadays Myanmar). Prior to their separation, however, both groups of Nagas converted en mass to Christianity as a result of the frenzied missionary activity which took place under British rule, and this further exacerbated this demographics’ sense of identity separateness relative to the rest of their Indian ‘compatriots’.

The distinct feeling of pride that the Nagas had retained during the British occupation became a political issue after London granted independence to its South Asian colonies, as the Nagas in the North-eastern Indian state of Assam did not want to be part of the newfound union and instead agitated for independence. According to New Delhi, they voluntarily acceded to join India, while Naga nationalists refute this and say that it was done under severe pressure and that they didn’t really have a choice. The contradiction between these two narratives gave rise to an armed insurgency that began in the early 1950s and intermittently continues into the present day, though many of the militant actors have changed since then and the Indian government officially classifies some of them as being “terrorist groups”.  Throughout the course of the conflict, a new demand began to arise, and that’s the desire for Naga nationalists to create what they call “Nagalim”, which is their term for “Greater Nagaland”. Different groups have various interpretations over how large this entity should be, but its maximum extent covers almost half of Northeast India and a strip of northern Myanmar. Some organizations favour the sub-state creation of “Nagalim” purely within India’s existing international borders but through the revision of domestic ones in the Northeast, while others want an independent state either on this territory and/or in northern Myanmar. After numerous rounds of peace talks, the government and the powerful National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) militant faction signed a Framework Agreement in August 2015, though the text has scandalously not been made public ever since.

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