| Khaplang in his office. Picture by Samir K Purkayastha
NSCN-K Council headquarters (somewhere in the jungles of Myanmar), Feb. 4: In a move reflecting his eagerness to end fratricidal clashes, insurgent leader S. S. Khaplang berated a section of his men for claiming that the Tangkhuls were not Nagas.
“They are Nagas like any of us. If they are not, then Muivah (NSCN-IM general secretary Th. Muivah), who is a Tangkhul, would not have been appointed general secretary of the Naga National Council and the NSCN,” he told The Telegraph at his headquarters deep inside the jungles of Tenup Tephak Joku Valley in Myanmar.
The Tangkhuls are natives of Ukhrul district of Manipur. The NSCN (K)’s “ministry of information and publicity” had repeatedly described the Tangkhuls as “a tribe outside the Naga family” when Muivah and NSCN (I-M) chairman Isak Chisi Swu visited New Delhi last month.
In an obvious reference to the NSCN (I-M) general secretary, the NSCN (K) had asked the Tangkhul community not to meddle in the Naga peace process. It criticised the Centre, too, for holding a dialogue with an “outsider” to end insurgency in Nagaland.
While vetoing the NSCN (K)’s anti-Tangkhulcampaign, Khaplang said people should not read too much into it. He termed it as an “outburst of emotion from some younger members”.
The NSCN (K) chief denied that the campaign was aimed only at the Isak-Muivah group and not the entire Tangkhul community. He appeared keen to bury the hatchet and was guarded in his criticism of his former colleagues-turned-rivals.
During the five-hour-long interview in his modest office room, Khaplang once even praised Muivah as a courageous man. “Muivah to mota aase (Muivah is a real man),” he said in Nagamese, the dialect that links Nagaland with neighbouring Assam.
The insurgent leader said Muivah was one of the few Nagas to have the courage to condemn the Shillong Accord of 1975. However, he criticised Muivah and Swu for running the NSCN (I-M) from foreign soil. “From Phizo to Laldenga, any leader who distanced himself from his people ultimately failed to achieve his goal. But Mao Zedong, who stayed with his people through thick and thin, succeeded.”
Though critical of Delhi for “dividing the Naga people”, Khaplang lauded it for continuing development activity in Nagaland. “India has fought with us, but at the same time it has brought about development. Myanmar has completely ignored us as far as development is concerned.”
The 63-year-old NSCN (K) chief warned that if the Centre did not make a serious attempt to end the impasse in Nagaland, the Naga community would take help from countries like China and Pakistan. “We can always take their help. China is ready to help us, so is Pakistan. Nagas were helped by these countries in the past, but we don’t want any external help at present,” he said.
Khaplang had met a senior official of the ISI during a visit to Dhaka in 1996. However, he claimed to have turned down the Pakistani agency’s offer to help his outfit continue its struggle.