For a cabal of India’s security officials, ending the Naga rebellion has, besides combat, for long extended to waiting for the demise of the two leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim’s biggest faction, Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah of NSCN (I-M). The same principle applied to their arch-foe, S.S. Khaplang and his band, NSCN (K). The idea was also to clean up should the factions splinter thereafter in turf wars among the next level of rebel leadership.

It would be part of the diligent application of a Chanakyan upaya, or way: sama, dana, bheda, and danda—conciliation, concession or gifts, rupture or difference, and force.

I-M chairman Swu died on 28 June in New Delhi, at 87. His longtime colleague Muivah, the general secretary and also ato kilonser, or prime minister, of I-M’s administrative structure, is an ailing though agile-minded 82.

In August 2015 I-M converted a 15-year ceasefire with the government of India to a framework agreement for peace. That was the easy part. There is immense pressure on Muivah and his colleagues to be integrated into the Naga structure (see What Swu’s death means for Nagaland which appeared on 1 July 2016), which includes major tribal and political accommodations in Nagaland as well as Naga homelands in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Besides the political arena, leaders and cadres also need to be ‘mainstreamed’ in administration, paramilitaries, others pensioned off or provided seed money to fund businesses, and younger cadres provided retraining or education.

If this complex to-do pans out, it would help diminish other I-M demands expressed over the years. Though I-M scaled back its once cast-in-stone demand of absolute sovereignty for the Naga people more than a decade back, several other matters have remained on the table besides the sticking point of integrated Naga homelands—Nagalim. These have included the joint defence of Nagaland; its internal security; consultation for foreign affairs issues of direct interest to the Nagas; and a separate flag for Nagaland alongside the Indian.

Meanwhile, I-M continues to train, recruit, arm and maintain a several thousand-strong army from its headquarters at Camp Hebron, south-west of Nagaland’s commercial hub, Dimapur. I-M’s nearby training area of Mt Gilead is for real. Its ‘Town Commands’ across Naga areas impose parallel administration. Its Alee (or overseas) Command stations troops in areas of Myanmar adjacent to Manipur’s Ukhrul district. It could prove a sanctuary for I-M’s leadership and cadres if the peace process collapses; even for some next-gen leaders, should they disagree with succession realpolitik after Muivah.

Thus far, though, the talk is not war, but peace.

A Naga political insider told me after Swu’s death: “Muivah would like to see this through."

It would be a stunning legacy for which Muivah needs more time as much as determination on his side. It would also need to be a comprehensively Naga agenda, and have on board all Naga rebel factions for any peace and reconciliation process to be meaningful. While smaller factions are proactively jockeying in this space, the major thorn in I-M’s (and India’s) side continues to be Khaplang, now 76. NSCN (K), ironically for long seen by I-M as an Indian lever to keep it at bay, broke away from a ceasefire in March 2015. Myanmar-based Khaplang is also a patron of a loose coalition of rebels including groups from Manipur and Assam.

Muivah set a conciliatory tone upon his arrival in Dimapur from New Delhi on 12 August 2015, just days after signing the framework peace agreement. At a civic reception he reached out to other Naga nationalist factions—with which I-M still aggressively jostles for personnel, territory and revenue. “…No matter what, the past is past," Muivah announced. “Before god and before man, we will forgive each other."

Like other faction chiefs, Khaplang, too, expressed grief at Swu’s death, but his gesture is not yet a firm flutter of an olive branch.

Wouldn’t you like to see it all work out after so much horror, so many sacrifices? I asked Muivah during an interview for my 2012 book, Highway 39. “In your presence," I gently added.

He lost his temper. “Do you think the movement will end with Mr Muivah?"

“That is a serious mistake," he rasped. “… more than a thousand people will come and do much better than what we have done… Let us see how strong the Indians will be."

It remains a valid point. India can play games. But India also needs to secure peace.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights in India and South Asia, runs on Fridays.

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