The godfather: Khaplang with NSCN(K) cadres in eastern Nagaland. Photo by Rajeev Bhattacharyya SS. Khaplang, or Baba, as he is popularly known, is behind the confederation of ultras in northeastern India. He calls himself president of the Government of the People's Republic of Nagaland (GPRN), and he sheltered in eastern Nagaland several rebel outfits during Indian and Bhutanese military operations against them. Excerpts from an interview:
Looking back, how do you see the movement that you have headed for so many decades?
Nagas in eastern Nagaland have come a long way since the beginning of the revolt in the early 1960s. The Naga National Council did not make much of an impact in our areas. A decisive phase was when the National Socialist Council of Nagaland was founded in 1980. But, unfortunately, it split after a few years, for reasons that were beyond our control.
But our movement never suffered reverses, since we had overwhelming support. The scenario has changed greatly. The time has come to join hands with like-minded organisations to achieve independence and sovereignty.
Your role in bringing together northeastern rebel organisations?
Eastern Nagaland and the northeast are natural allies. Our relationship with northeastern revolutionary organisations goes back several years. Groups like the United Liberation Front of Asom, United National Liberation Front and People's Liberation Army [both from Manipur] have worked in close collaboration with us. We all had a role, in different capacities, in forging the united front.
What difference will the united front make in your campaign for independence and sovereignty?
The northeast was never a part of India. Likewise, eastern Nagaland has always remained independent. If we work together, it would be easier to achieve independence, sovereignty and recognition in international fora. A united front would benefit us, in terms of sharing information and operational coordination.
How safe are the camps in eastern Nagaland?
Our policy is simple—if you don't attack us, we won't attack you. Myanmar had proposed a ceasefire, but we have rejected the proposal. Signing the agreement would mean accepting other demands, gradually. There is an informal understanding with Myanmar and there has not been any offensive against us in the past few years. This agreement has helped all organisations work in cooperation and chalk out a common agenda.
But India has been pressuring Myanmar to initiate action against rebel camps.
We are quite aware of that and we will be extra careful. On several occasions, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Indian Army ventured into Myanmar and launched campaigns against us. All these have stopped now, but we will be prepared for all eventualities. Our issue is genuine, and it will be difficult to crush the movement.
The NSCN(K) also has a ceasefire agreement with India. You seem to have struck a fine balance, unlike other revolutionary groups in the region.
Yes, we told the Indian government that we will remain friendly if you do not launch operations against us. The ceasefire agreement was signed in 2001.
About the split in NSCN(K) and the ongoing peace process between NSCN(IM) and India.
Commander-in-chief Kholie Konyak and general secretary N. Kitovi Zimomi snapped ties with us because they are not committed to our objectives. They are unlikely to achieve anything for the Nagas as they do not have any agenda. They played into the hands of the Indian intelligence agencies.
The same holds true for the NSCN(IM), by and large. In fact, NSCN(IM) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah has already indicated the possibility of an accord with India, which would never grant independence to the Nagas. This is unacceptable to us. The [best] opportunity to integrate Naga-inhabited areas was in the early 1960s. This opportunity was not grabbed.
Future projections of the movement?
Our movement is getting stronger. We will achieve independence and sovereignty, if all organisations fight together. This will be some kind of a confederation comprising eastern Nagaland and the northeast, similar to the [federation in the] US.