Inside rebel republic
The book is a physical and spiritual journey inside Myanmar’s jungles from where the rebels of northeast operate, says <g data-gr-id="43">Brajmohan</g> Singh
The Chinese link with militancy in the northeast could be much deeper than what has been imagined and documented so far. In a startling revelation, a new book has said that China had advised Naga rebels to establish bases in Myanmar way back in the <g data-gr-id="58">mid 1970s</g>. The incident happened a week after the Shillong Accord was inked between a faction of the warring Naga National Council (NNC) and the Indian government. A group of Naga rebels was in Yunnan undergoing training when they were summoned by Chinese officials and advised to carry on the campaign for the independence of Nagaland.
“The officials advised them to set up base areas in eastern Nagaland on the same lines as the communists had done in China before capturing power in 1949. They cautioned that there would be joint operations by India and Myanmar to eliminate the bases but such incidents would only contribute towards strengthening the movement. The Naga were assured of assistance and support and were further told to focus on cultivation,” says the book Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey To Meet India’s Most Wanted Men by Guwahati based journalist Rajeev Bhattacharyya.
It is a travelogue that narrates his covert sojourn at a rebel base in Myanmar, which lasted for nearly four months. He mentions that what he saw and observed were astonishing and contrasting to the media reports.
The book begins from the preparation for the journey in mid 2011 and how the elusive Paresh Baruah, chief of staff of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (Assam) and one of the most wanted men in India, was convinced to give an appointment to the journalists. As planned, the author and his friend Pradip Gogoi were received by ULFA cadres at a spot near the Indo-Myanmar border and escorted to the camp, which they reached after <g data-gr-id="72">forty three</g> days amid tremendous physical hardship and danger. Bhattacharyya had a narrow escape once when he fell from a cliff about the height of a double-storied building.
The author writes that the areas he passed through in Myanmar’s northern Sagaing Division is “No Man’s Land” since no government had ever been able to establish authority. Although this region officially belongs to Myanmar, he failed to notice any government presence or symbol in the villages he stayed. The villages were “little republics”, <g data-gr-id="66">a world</g> unto themselves and at constant war with neighbours. It was not until the early 1980s that an aggressive campaign for unity among the diverse Naga tribes was unleashed by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. Until then, the practice of headhunting was rampant, which was the custom of bringing decapitated heads from neighbouring villages.
Certain aspects about the socio-economic conditions of the inhabitants discussed in the book are not only revealing but surprising as well. At a time when the world is surging ahead with globalisation, money as a mode of exchange is a new concept among the Nagas since there was no need to purchase any item. Like most tribal villages in the region, they too were self-sufficient as they grew and hunted their own food. The importance of money grew after rebel cadres began frequenting these areas. They had to procure rice and other essential items, which could be taken only by paying an amount. Therefore, nowadays, the incentive to grow more and earn money is catching up with the Nagas. Equally interesting is the fact that clothes became easily available only about three decades ago.
Topless women described in some earlier accounts were nowhere to be seen, although a few Naga elders still wore only a patch of cloth wrapped around their waists and covering the private parts. It was a common sight to see groups of Nagas wondering in the jungle with spears, machetes and the country made <g data-gr-id="68">gun</g>.
When the duo finally reached the ULFA camp in <g data-gr-id="51">Hukwang</g> Valley far beyond the hills, the chief of staff was nowhere to be seen. There were doubts if he would arrive at all since news about the journalists’ presence in Myanmar had been leaked to the media. It was even reported that Bhattacharyya had been apprehended along with a senior ULFA functionary somewhere along the Sino-Myanmar frontier. Baruah had repeatedly asked the author to maintain secrecy for successful completion of the assignment. The chief did arrive but many days later and finally gave the interviews. Even as the interaction was on, a consignment of assault rifles and pistols arrived at the camp one night and the journalists were allowed to take photographs on the next morning. The delivery consisted of <g data-gr-id="62">second hand</g> rifles manufactured by the <g data-gr-id="55">Germany based</g> Heckler & Koch and 9 MM pistols from other European countries. The source of the weapons was not revealed by Baruah and the author surmised that they were definitely not from China but from some other destination.