A placid countryside with a picturesque landscape and untamed rivers. The perfectly textured, majestic, lush green mountains collated with the golden-blue hued horizon, enchanted with folk music of the native tribes and the melodious chirping of birds;
Certainly, a paradise on Earth- a notion you will rarely find anyone in disagreement with! But someone has rightly said, “A paradise lies under the shade of swords”. Such is the case with this beguiling land as well. Nagaland has been the blue-eyed boy for intruders since the early 80’s. The NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) has been spearheading this battle to liberate the North East and especially Nagaland from India. Here is a tale of “three” militants from the same guerrilla force which unfolded in the heart of the state during this long-drawn battle.
Kohima, April 2009;
A special evening it was for two militants from NSCN named “Isak Muivah” and “Khango Phizo” who dwelled in a small shanty, located on the outskirts of Kohima, the capital of Nagaland. Isak was a forty-two-year-old maverick in guerrilla warfare. On the other hand, Khango, who was just about to turn thirty-eight in a month’s time specialized in bomb making and was the apple of the NSCN chief’s eye.
That evening, Isak was busy brewing fresh zutho, a local malt while Khango was cleaning his Kalashnikov as they both were talking trivia. It was party time in their small abode as they were awaiting the arrival of a young recruit “Haipu Khaplang”.
Shortly, there was a knock on the door. A five-foot four-inch, wavy haired boy with a french beard, who appeared to be in his mid-twenties was waiting at the doorstep. Haipu, the new recruit had arrived with his weapon, the “AK-47” from the NSCN headquarters across the border in Myanmar. The two militants cordially welcomed the boy and offered him a glass of zutho which the nervous Haipu refused.
Of late, the young recruit started getting acclimatised to the vicious environment and learnt guerrilla tactics and the rogue force’s future plans with alacrity. Isak and Khango were astonished with the anguish Haipu had for the Indian establishment. The militants tried to ask him about his kin several times but he seldom spoke. All he repeated was, “I am a hardcore Naga and I want the freedom of this land at any cost”. The young recruit meant business. They had never seen an apprentice with such passion! However, his introvert behaviour
intimidated them a bit.
One fine night, after dinner Haipu raised a question to his superiors. He asked with great conviction, “I have a plan to ambush an Assam Rifles convoy on NH-2 near the Khuzama village on the Nagaland- Manipur border. We could eliminate about sixty odd soldiers and send a stern message to the government. I need your help for executing such a mammoth task. Would you help me?” Isak looked more or less satisfied but Khango was in ambiguity. After a healthy debate among the three, both the militants nodded. “But we might have to deal with a convolution first!”, Khango asserted in a low voice. “The plan needs a lot of IEDs (improvised explosive devices), rocket launchers and ammunition. We must arrange the material first. We need to assess the locus too”, he added. After which Isak quickly turned to Haipu and asserted in a commanding tone, “Khango and I would have to move to Imphal for a week to arrange for arms and hold a reconnaissance of the site of action as well. You keep strict vigil by staying here.” The young recruit firmly opposed their decision to leave him alone. “I want to travel with you. I have learnt a lot from you both and want to learn a lot more from your
experience”, he pleaded. The two fanatics looked at each other. But after much hesitation, they agreed to take him along.
The next afternoon, all three of them along with their Kalashnikovs sat in an old white Tata Sumo and started their arduous four-hour journey to Imphal. On the way, Isak’s phone rang. He spoke on the phone for five odd minutesin a soft tone after which he whispered something in Khango’s ear. Amidst all this Haipu bore a sceptical look. Instantly, both Isak and Khango took a decision to stay in the village overnight. Haipu asked them about the reason but both his seniors seemed to be apathetic to his query. As evening set in, the trio entered Khuzama village. They first found an old lonely cottage for them to stay for the night. Moreover, they decided to conduct a recce of ground zero, the next day. However, Haipu wasn’t comfortable with this night halt. Meanwhile, Isak took a cloth bag and went to the market to buy groceries for dinner. With each passing minute, Haipu was getting too anxious over their decision of extending the halt overnight. He kept screaming in a harsh voice, “Our cover would be blown. I don’t want to compromise this maiden operation of mine. Let’s get out of here fast!”. Khango tried to placate him but all his attempts went in vain. The young recruit, who was sipping a glass of zutho, suddenly put it down. He held Khango by his collar and argued
vehemently in a thick voice,” Why can’t we complete the reconnaissance now and move to Imphal straightaway?” “We are waiting for a senior leader from the NSCN headquarters. He would be there latest by tomorrow morning. Only if he validates your plan, we shall go ahead to Imphal for the logistics”, Khango furiously yelled while pushing Haipu up against the cottage wall. Hearing this, the vexed Haipu, took a deep breath, bent down, pulled out a 9 m.m. Glock 17 from his ankle holster and shot the former in his head. Upon his return, Isak, who was completely unaware about this scuffle was baffled to see Khango’s body soaked in blood all over. Instinctively, the cloth bag slipped from his hand and as he tried to revive his
colleague, Haipu shot him from point blank range exactly in the middle of his head. Both the chief recruiters of the NSCN in Nagaland had been eliminated and a deafening silence lurked over the scene.
Haipu changed his blood ridden clothes right away and waited cautiously in the cottage until dusk. With the first opportunity, he sat in the same sumo which they all had arrived in and left the town within a blink of an eye. He, then drove back to the place from where he had come, the “3 Corps headquarters” of the Indian Army at Dimapur. After all he was Capt. Keishing Nongrum, Sena Medal, 2nd in command (Charlie company) from the elite “21 Para Special Forces” of the Indian Army, the “waghnakhs”.
The title of this story is “The Chetwode Code”. What does it mean? The Chetwode code says:
“The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time.
The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next.
Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”
The motto of CIJW (Counter Insurgency Jungle Warfare) school at Vairengte, Mizoram, reads, “Fight a Guerrilla Like a Guerrilla”. To stand true to the same, the armed forces need to be cognizant of the rogue tactics. Capt. Keishing showed exemplary heroics and helped obtain vital information pertaining to guerrilla warfare and the intentions of the militia group and subsequently passed it on to the authorities of the CIJW.
It was this Chetwode code that was embedded in his blood by the army which in turn helped to pulverise and thwart the treacherous activities and thereby attenuate the Naga movement of the North East. It is only because of these unsung paragons like Capt. Keishing Nongrum, that the North East, Red Corridor of the Naxalites in Chhattisgarh and especially the Kashmir Valley are turning back to normalcy and are surging towards development. Lest we forget their valour, let us celebrate their martyrdom.
Inspired from a true incident of Major. Mohit Sharma, AC(P), 1 Para SF, described meticulously in the book, “India’s Most Fearless-2”.