Revolution in the Time of War

revolution (n) the transformation of darkness into light
Images taken from East Imphal in 2014

A peek into the armed conflict and the alliances of rebel groups in and around Northeast India and beyond

KYKL, KCP launch ‘Alliance for Socialist Unity, Kangleipak’
The proscribed Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) and Kanglei Yawol Kana Lup (KYKL) have announced that the organisations have jointly set up the “Alliance for Socialist Unity, Kangleipak, or ASUK”.  S Mangal, the information & publicity secretary of KCP, informed this through a press statement on Friday. The statement (mentioned) that the biggest problem (in) the revolutionary movement in Manipur is the inability to correctly consolidate organisational structures.
Source: HUIEYEN LANPAO 16 October 2015

In August 2015, the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi announced that the government has struck a framework-agreement deal with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – the Isaak-Muivah faction (NSCN-IM). At the same time, there was a new development in a corner of distant Southeast Asia. It was unrelated to the internal affairs of India, but a few Thai government mediators were flying to Kuala Lumpur to meet the representatives of the Majlis Syura Patani or Mara Patani, an alliance of six Thai rebel groups.

Somewhere else in Burma, government and military officials met several leaders of armed groups to finalise the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, which the stakeholders had been developing from the previous eighteen months or so. The ongoing negotiation was planned with 15 groups as per the assertion of the government, with which it has ceasefire agreements already.

Footnote   On 16 Oct 2015, the Burmese government signed the NCA with seven groups, while the other eight have backed out over disagreements on the constituent members of the NCA. Two of the largest organisations, the United Wa State Army and the Kachin Independence Organization were not a part of the treaty. Pro-talk parties blame China for putting pressure on these organisations to back off from the agreement and unsurprisingly China has denied the allegation as politically instigated. 

Two months earlier to these developments across South and Southeast Asia, the Burma-based NSCN-Khaplang ambushed and killed 18 soldiers of an infantry unit of the Indian army in Chandel, Manipur. That was the official figure and one of the deadliest militant attacks in recent times. The United National Liberation Front of the Western Southeast Asia (UNLFWSA), under the leadership of NSCN-K’s SS Khaplang, claimed responsibility for the onslaught.

Officials records also show that the UNLFWSA is an alliance of nine groups comprising the NSCN-Khaplang (from Manipur/Nagaland), the United Liberation Front of Assam-Independent and National Democratic Front of Bodoland-Songbijit (both from Assam), Kangleipak Communist Party, Kanglei Yawol Kunna Lup, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, People’s Liberation Army and the United National Liberation Front (all from Manipur).

However, a press release from the joint front had mentioned only four names: NSCN-K, ULFA-I and Assam’s Kamtapur Liberation Organisation and National Democratic Front of Boroland. Apparently the nine-group confusion stemmed from the fact that the nine groups and others were present in the front’s inaugural meeting in April 2015 that was held in the Taga region of Burma.

In the same congregation, the member groups also agreed to disband the Indo-Burmese Revolutionary Front that was created in 1989 and consisted of NSCN-K, UNLF, ULFA, KNF (Kuki National Front) and KIA (Kachin Independence Army).

Footnote There is enough literature to prove that India’s Research & Analysis Wing has been helping the KIA with cash and kind, much to the pain of the Burmese junta. In the Eighties, this was a job for the Chinese authority. The Big Brother changes nationality but he’s always the boss!

There are two things glaringly noticeable from these issues. One, a stretch of Southeast Asia is in deep shit with the same issue known by different names such as an armed movement, demand for sovereignty, right to self-determination, neo-colonialism and a liberation struggle and so on. Two, the groups, particularly the non-state actors have been experimenting with alliances and united fronts. Non-state actors, in our context, refer to the armed NSAs and militias.

Their main antagonists, or the governments of India and China are no far behind. Since mid-October 2015, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indian Army have been undergoing a joint counter-terrorism exercise (12–22 October), codenamed Hand-in-Hand 2015 in Kunming, Yunnan. This military cooperation was started in 2007 and this is the fifth occasion.

The intensity of how the non-state actors are affecting the political dynamics in South and Southeast Asia needs a separate deliberation. To summarise it for now, the tentacles of armed conflict has been spreading far and wide in these regions. In addition to their brokerage of power, the rebel groups are an antithesis to the state. The Westphalian model is now under scrutiny and these groups have forcibly snatched the monopoly of the state to use violence.

In international politics, the Cobweb Paradigm explains the rise of non-state actors. The Westphalian model is losing its power thanks to the growth of non-state actors, which has been gaining both prominence and power and it is going strong. This would lose all the meaning when it comes to Manipur where there is no clear line of distinction between the elected representatives, contractors and the rebels, so is the relation between the state and non-state actors in terms of unleashing terror.

“We don’t want to impose our solutions by force, we want to create a democratic space. We don’t see armed struggle in the classic sense of previous guerrilla wars, that is as the only way and the only all-powerful truth around which everything is organised. In a war, the decisive thing is not the military confrontation but the politics at stake in the confrontation. We didn’t go to war to kill or be killed. We went to war in order to be heard.”
A former spokesman of the Mexican rebel movement led by the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional or the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) 
Image: Villa Photography/Wikipedia Commons

Policemen per population of 100,000 in India 
All India 141
Manipur 1,020
(Figures from National Crime Records Bureau, 2013)

After decades of denial, now the Indian officials have started attributing the cause of insurgency to political coercion and misconceived military intervention during the Fifties and further by sheer apathy and ignorance/arrogance of the union. However, it is entirely a different story if we ask from that insight, whether the condition has changed. The term ‘insurgency’ is used here intentionally because in official language, it has no political denotation.

The legacy of its former colonial master in dealing with realpolitik has also been a force behind India’s purpose of incorporating the Northeast into the union just after its independence. However, it is not only the government of the day, but also many of the natives, who would parrot that it is a law and order problem created by unemployment and other such frivolous reasons.

We are going through a political conflict that only an informed, honest and resolute purpose will solve it. Military interference will keep the issues simmering but it seems the government is too occupied with geopolitics and so-called national interests to see beyond its nose or it is intentionally playing Suppandi. Good for India, but many a society is torn apart, sanity and logic have taken a back seat, countless people are killing each other and several others are either running for their lives or are under a chronic fear psychosis in this region, which is accentuated by its adversaries as well.  

If this is not enough, the colonial remnants in geography, politics and economics will surely shed some light. It is an open secret how the mid-19th-century’s McMahon Line, Radcliffe Line and the older Treaty of Yandaboo (1826) made the region landlocked; and India became the supreme saviour, after connecting the region through the queasy Chicken’s Neck.

This might somehow answer the pro-law-and-order party’s question out of their servile dependency syndrome that we cannot afford to live on our own. We cannot live on our own in this globalised world, true, but that’s not the issue. The issue is the servile mentality of some of our folks.

A few other people also perceive in contemporary politics that India is going all out on its expansionist aspirations, with contributions from its middle-class and political representatives. The seed of neo-colonialism was sown less than a decade after getting independence from the British. For instance, in 1956, Jawaharlal Nehru admitted bluntly that “small states can have no independent existence” and that such a state is doomed. Its former masters must be proud of him for carrying on the spirit of colonialism, which his successors including those in the military establishment have further been keeping it in one piece. In one line, nationalists are parasites.

On the other side, the militants are also looking east while fighting for a new West Southeast Asia. Most of these are known for their factions. The splinter groups were first seen in the Eighties and early Nineties. For instance, the ethnic rivalry between the Konyaks and Tangkhuls was one reason behind the formation of NSCN-IM and NSCN-K in 1988; the differences in approach and interest within the group provided KYKL a branch to split from UNLF in the early Nineties; and for similar reasons, KCP was formed as a splinter group of PREPAK way back in 1980.


Though their schism and fratricidal killing are well publicised, there have some attempts from their sides to come together as seen from the formation of IBRFs and UNLFWSAs. Observers note that this has been necessitated mostly by their expediency, as in acquiring weapons, finding safe havens and forming guerrilla strategies.

The changing political dynamics in the region has also prompted the rebels to group themselves for their best interests. For instance, a gradual change in international standpoint is emerging in Burma, subsequent to the aberrant gaze of particularly India, the US and China into its resources under the veil of economic cooperation and development.

A few years ago in Burma, prior to the 15-group agreement, a collaboration of seven armed groups agreed to talk politics with the Burmese junta. The vice-president of the Kachin National Union, D Tharckabaw, told the press: “The Burmese Army could wage wars against the ethnic armed groups after the (general) election. Therefore, it is essential for the ethnic groups to co-operate and help each other.”

Footnote The Burmese general election was held in Nov 2010 in accordance with the then newly drafted constitution which was approved in a 2008 referendum. It formed the fifth stage of the seven-step Roadmap to Democracy that was proposed by the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). It was no surprise but the Union Solidarity and Development Association headed by Burmese President Thein Sein won the election in a landslide victory. The next general election is due on 8 Nov 2015.      

One of the first major collaborations in Manipur is the Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF) that includes UNLF, RPF and PREPAK. It was formed in March 1999. But PREPAK fell away due to the rebels’ typical factionalism in its own group.

Formation of factions and partisan groups are like a destiny for armed groups across the world. Then despite intimation, KYKL and a faction of KCP refused to join the coalition front for reasons best known to them. Almost a decade earlier, RPF along with PREPAK and KCP had formed the Revolutionary Joint Committee (RJC) in May 1991.

The latest to join the league is the Alliance for Socialist Unity, Kangleipak formed together by KYKL and KCP a few days ago (in mid-October 2015). According to their press statement, their main purpose is to initiate a united revolutionary movement of Western South East Asia, or WESEA.

An egalitarian society, unity, scientific socialism, ethnic democracy and one-nation-one-goal are some of their catchwords. They have also identified the primary problems of present-day liberation movement. These include: disunity, “revolutionary groups taking the form of officers’ club”, lack of idealism, oppressing the very people they claim to represent, inability “to interpret history in the contemporary context” and the likes.

Well, everything looks nice on the paper. But gone are the days of Soviet Union and Mao’s China. It is not that these principles are harmful but these are too idealistic. The ethos inherent in these schools of thoughts should be the foundation for plans and programs rather than as a politico-economical system. Just look at the situation in socialist Burma. And if we truly believe in ethnic democracy, there should be a room for discourse. Yet we know, in the existing condition, violence is both the means and the end in this part of the world.

Scientific socialism sounds fancy with an adjective but in such a system—which utilise no money, financial calculation and market pricing and which is further emaciated on its own, even to quantify capital goods and manage the production—the world is too flat that nothing moves.

Footnote: In Marxism, China and Development: Reflections on Theory and Reality, AJ Gregor wrote the Chinese theorist Luo Rongqu know that the early Marxists had by no means prepared any systematic theory on the development of the non-Western world, and that the Chinese Communist Party should establish its own framework to assess the prospects and challenges of development with a new vocabulary.   

Again, in 2011, the Coordination Committee, or CorCom, an alliance of Manipuri rebel groups was formed, consisting of KCP, KYKL, PREPAK (People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak), PREPAK (Pro), RPF (Revolutionary People’s Front) and UNLF.

In their admission, the main mission of the coalition is to drive away the Indian-occupied force, or IOF, build unity and continue the revolutionary movement with other groups active in West Southeast Asia.

In the 2012 General Election, they openly banned the Congress party, yes, just one party. In the 2017 election, it might be the BJP; nobody knows it. But it is blatant how a group fighting against the very union is poking its nose into the state of affairs and that too in the most absurd manner. In a bourgeois democracy, is election not an oppressors’ instrument of domination? Incidentally, electoral politics is the sole indicator of democracy in Manipur but it is unlikely the motive why the CorCom was enthusiastic about the election.

It is noteworthy that in 1995, the PLA—the armed wing of RPF—gunned down Nameraikpam Bisheshwar, its founder and former chief for contesting in the General Election. The reason was obvious.

A month ago, Manipur was under siege following the demand for a regulatory mechanism to tackle the crisis of demographic imbalance in the region inhabited by small ethnic groups. Hostilities between a couple of banned Meitei and Kuki rebels made the condition worse by their involvement, particularly in Moreh and Churachandpur. The fact is, it was a popular movement initiated by the civil society for and against the regulation; and it is for some sort of an agreement “under” the Constitution of India. The so-called rebels have a bastard kind of relationship with its master, or at least it shows that way. The less said the better.


“Until everything is back to normal”

Elsewhere in the world, the alliance of different rebel groups is a sort of political reality. We can see it from a few random examples of such groups and associations in other parts of the world.

In El Salvador, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (or Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, FMLN), which won the presidential election six years ago, was formed in October 1980 after an agreement between five rebel organisations. It was originally called the Unified Revolutionary Directorate with the motto of “one leadership, only one military plan and only one command, only one political line”.

FMLN consisted of the Fuerzas Populares de Liberación Farabundo Martí (Farabundo Marti Popular Liberation Forces), the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (People’s Revolutionary Army ), the Resistencia Nacional (Armed Forces of National Resistance), the Partido Comunista Salvadoreño ( Communist Party of El Salvador’s Armed Forces of Liberation) and the Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores Centroamericanos (Central American Workers’ Revolutionary Party).

Closer home in Burma, the Unity Committee for Karen Armed Groups was formed in 2013. It is an umbrella organisation of several groups including the Karen National Union, KNU/Karen National Liberation Army (PC), the Border Guard Force, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and the Karen Peace Force. Their consolidation arose from their objective to “unite in the moment of truth”.

The Karens, who dominate the south and southeastern Burma, has been involved in one of the world’s longest civil war that started in 1949. Is it a coincidence that their movement is so similar to those of Nagaland and Manipur in present-day India? The condition is equally wretched for the other three major groups like those of Shan, Kachin and Chin in this reclusive country.

In Eurasia, the United Armed Forces of Novorossiya, outlawed by the Ukrainian government, comprises the Donbass People’s Militia, the Luhansk People’s Militia and several armed groups that claim themselves to be autonomous. To opponents, Russia is sponsoring this consolidated front. As of June 2015, their estimated strength is nearly 40,000–45,000.

Similarly, as the Indian authority would blame the sponsors and patrons of violence in the subcontinent, read China, Pakistan and Burma, for sheltering and helping the rebels, the trend is noticeable in every part of the world grappling with the issues of armed conflict. This is evident from the case of the United Armed Forces of Novorossiya.


Everybody has an opinion on the purported framework agreement between the Government of India and the NSCN-IM. The general consensus is that the government is applying its Kautilyan statecraft of using reconciliation, monetary inducement, force and split to further its neo-colonial aspirations. If not, there is no purpose in signing an agreement with just one group that wholly represent the Naga communities in Manipur while a few in Nagaland where the stage of the drama is purportedly built.

It could be a political mileage for New Delhi but it is nightmarish to note that the government is always wishy-washy yet cunning when it comes to dealing with the Northeast. The history of armed conflict is as old as modern India. There are newer trends of forming alliances as evident from between the Western Southeast Asia groups and the Maoists of India’s Red Corridor and supposedly biggest threat to the its security, with some of these ‘Asian’ groups.

However, these farce and monkey business of insurgency and counter-insurgency cannot go on forever. For any man-made catastrophe, the government and the militant organisations should take full responsibility. Apparently, people can stand on their own feet. The only problem is that the interference, from gun-toting, war-mongering groups of the state and their enemies—only differentiated by their degrees of legitimacy—is spoiling all the chance to plan and grow.

“Monopolies, oligarchy, the striving for domination and not for freedom, the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by a handful of the richest or most powerful nations—all these have given birth to those distinctive characteristics of imperialism which compel us to define it as parasitic or decaying capitalism.”
—Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism



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