Unfortunate Oting Incident in Nagaland: Way Ahead to Address the Naga Issue

 By Vaibhav Kullashri

The unfortunate incident in which  civilians got killed in an operation conducted by the security forces, in Oting village located in the  Mon district of Nagaland on 04 December 2021, has been rare since the ceasefire agreement between the government and the NSCN(IM) in 1997.[1]  Post this incident, the Union Government expressed regret and ordered a Special Investigation Team (SIT) probe to be completed within a month.[2] Simultaneously, a Court of Inquiry headed by a Major General rank officer will also examine the events that led to the unfortunate incident and scrutinize the failure of so-called “credible intelligence”.[3]

Following the incident, everyday life in Nagaland, especially in Mon, Tuensang, Longleng, Kiphire, and Noklak district, has come to a standstill, as the current unstable environment, is preventing the opening of the shops and vehicular movement paralysed. The Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO), the apex tribal body, and the Konyak Union protested to bring justice to the loss of lives of Konyak Nagas and even demanded the repeal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) from the state.[4]

This unfortunate incident raises serious questions, including the reason for such a regrettable incident, the credibility of intelligence sources, and the future of the long-standing Naga Peace accord (NPA), which is aimed at ending  the longest known insurgency in the Indian subcontinent—the Naga Insurgency. However, as the incident possessed various challenges, it also allowed the government to artfully manage the same, find a solution to long-standing insurgency, and move towards peace and prosperity in the region, especially Nagaland.

Lessons for the Indian Army

Counter Insurgency operations (COIN) are sensitive and falls under the secondary role of the armed forces —to assist the government in preventing any ‘proxy war’ and other internal security threats. However, these operations are carried out mostly against our people who are either not comfortable with the ‘Indian identity’ or are ‘the people who want to change the existing system of governance through armed rebellion’. Though, the use of an iron-hand approach against such rebellion is widely contested, statistically, only 7 percent of the insurgencies are known to have been resolved purely by the employment of security forces.[5]

While the prevailing situation in Nagaland necessitates the deployment of armed forces, measures must be in place to prevent the recurrence of any such incidents in the future. Or else, such incidents will lead to more alienation and will be misused by the hardliners to fuel the secessionist movement. It is evident from the statement issued by the NSCN following the incident — considering it a ‘Black day for Nagas.[6]  Thus, following lessons can be drawn from the incident:

  • The use of special forces could have been avoided within the Indian territory especially when Assam Rifles (AR), who are accustomed to the environment, could have been asked to operate.
  • A larger force rather than a small specialised force, aiming for a ‘neat kill’, could have been the better option while operating in such a contested and challenging environment. [7]
  • Validation and corroboration of multiple intelligence input from various sources must be stringent, authentic and analysed before operation.[8] The possibility of planting false intelligence input to armed forces by rival insurgent groups or local people with a vested interest cannot be entirely ruled out.

Managing Crisis and Way Ahead for Prosperous and Peaceful Nagaland

While the damage has already taken place, it is high time to look for solutions to achieve peace and prosperity in the region and solve the Naga issue. The culmination of this incident lingers the prospect of signing NPA, which was already under lots of ‘ifs and buts,’ following the removal of governor RN Ravi, who was the key architect of the framework agreement signed between the Government of India and NSCN (IM). [9] The Naga groups alleged that the government does not meet the demands mentioned in the framework. However, on the contrary, the government bodies believe that these demands that is having separate flag and constitution, cannot be accommodated as they are outside the ambit of the Indian Constitution and more so after the abrogation of article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir. Further, the Centre is of the view that these demands are nowhere mentioned in the framework agreement signed in 2015 and are made to delay the signing of the peace agreement further.[10]

From various ground reports [11], NPA is indeed an emotive issue of the people of Nagaland, and they are hopeful for the same. However, various contentious problems and recent incidents have put all these issues at stake and increased a sense of alienation among the local populace. Further, there are continuous unrest and protests against the AFSPA. Thus, the Centre must take the initiative to consider all the stakeholders, and adopt constructive measures to bring peace and prosperity to the region. The following points are pertinent in this regard.

  • The People are demanding to repeal AFSPA at the earliest, while the insurgent groups are asking for a separate Flag and Constitution as prerequisites to sign the NPA. The government must take all stakeholders on board, including insurgent groups, and propose removing armed forces from active duty in the state, which automatically leads to the repeal of AFSPA as a prerequisite for signing NPA.
  • The repeal of AFSPA will surely win the hearts and minds of the ordinary people who have been asking to repeal the law for many decades and will cement the bond of integration with the country.
  • Further, creating a strong police force in dealing with insurgency on the line of the ‘greyhound’ force of Andhra Pradesh and other Naxalite affected states, comprising officers and cadre from the region. It will bring more confidence among the people as police forces are seen as more people-friendly, being the son of the soil. In contrast, armed forces are deployed for short periods with less knowledge of the people’s culture, customs, and feelings.

Though the iron-hand approach has been able to shed the insurgency in the region to a large extent, for complete elimination, the Government, now, must focus on winning the people’s hearts and minds by development, especially in the border areas. Such an initiative will undoubtedly impact and fulfil India’s dream of Acting East.

End Notes

  1. Sugata Srinivasa Raju, “How Deva Gowda tried to solve the Naga Problem”, The Times of India, 09 December 2021. Available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/how-deve-gowda-tried-to-solve-the-naga-problem/articleshow/88183849.cms. Accessed on 15 December 2021.
  2. PTI, “Centre expresses regret over Nagaland firing incident”, The Economic Times, 06 December 2021. Available at https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/centre-expresses-regret-over-nagaland-firing-incident/articleshow/88123998.cms. Accessed on 15 December 2021.
  3. Rajat Pandit, “Major General to head Court of inquiry”, The Times of India, 07 December 2021. Available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/major-general-to-head-court-of-inquiry/articleshow/88132776.cms. Accessed on 15 December 2021.
  4. PTI, “Nagaland firing: Bandh over killing of civilians disrupts normal life in five districts”, First Post, 16 December 2021. Available at https://www.firstpost.com/india/nagaland-firing-bandh-over-killing-of-civilians-disrupts-normal-life-in-five-districts-10216941.html. Accessed on 16 December 2021.
  5. VK Ahluwalia, “Re-calibrating Strategies to Combat Maoists’ Violence”, CLAWS, 06 April 2021. Available at https://www.claws.in/re-calibrating-strategies-to-combat-maoists-violence/. Accessed on 16 December 2021.
  6. Team East Mojo, “NSCN-IM calls Mon Killing ‘Black day for Naga, barbaric act against Humanity”, East Mojo, 05 December 2021. Available at https://www.eastmojo.com/nagaland/2021/12/05/nscn-calls-civillian-killing-incident-black-day-for-state/. Accessed on 16 December 2021.
  7. Rajeev Bhattacharyya, “Nagaland civilian killings: Vital lessons army needs to learn from the Mon ambush”, First Post, 15 December 2021. Available at https://www.firstpost.com/india/nagaland-civilian-killings-vital-lessons-army-needs-to-learn-from-the-mon-ambush-10211901.html Accessed on 16 December 2021.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Alice Yhoshu, “Uncertainty regarding Naga peace process prevails as guv RN Ravi shifts to TN”, The Hindustan Times, 10 September 2021. Available at https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/others/uncertainty-regarding-naga-peace-process-prevails-as-guv-rn-ravi-shifts-to-tn-101631279220828.html Accessed on 16 December 2021.
  10. Deeptiman Tiwari, “Explained: Why has peace process for Naga Accord been stuck, what is the way forward?”, The Indian Express, 13 October 2021. Available at https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/naga-peace-talks-nagaland-insurgent-group-7533021/. Accessed on 16 December 2021.
  11. The author visited Nagaland to understand the Northeast region (NER) in a greater context of India’s Act East Policy. Through interaction with various stakeholders, he came to know that the people are very emotional and hopeful about NPA and want it to be signed at the earliest.