The word "Naga" denotes a conglomeration of hill tribes rather than a single entity. This fact hence contests the real motives of Naga insurgent groups. Some of the major or mattering Naga tribes are the Ao, Sümi, Angami, Konyak, Lotha etc. Among these the dominance of three tribes viz the Ao, Sümi and the Angami is undeniable.
The origins of Naga separatism can be traced back to the founding of the Naga Club, in Kohima in 1918 by a group of western educated Nagas. They even submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission asking the British Government to exclude the Nagas from any constitutional framework that they may be planning for India. However the protests made by the Naga Club were too mellowed and too far in between. The tone of protests began to change rapidly with the coming of Angami Zapu Phizo, popularly known as Phizo. He was one of the most dynamic leaders the Naga separatist movement had ever seen.
The Naga separatists got to know about modern warfare in the early-mid 1940's when India's northeast was the scene of an intense conflict between the Allied forces and the Japanese army. Phizo along with some other prominent leaders fought on the side of the Indian National Army (of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose) for Japan against the Allies. The war showed the Nagas that weapons could achieve what negotiations could not. The Naga insurgents would later use the arms dumped in the North-East after the WWII to fight the Indian security forces. In 1946 the Naga Club transformed into the Nagaland National Council (NNC), the precursor of the NSCN.
The NNC under Phizo's instigation declared Nagaland's independence from India on the 14th of August 1947. The Indian government was quick to suppress the revolt. Phizo was arrested in 1948 on the charges of instigating a rebellion. On his release, Phizo was made the president of the NNC in 1950. He used his new found status and clout among the hill tribes to gather their support to realize his dream of a sovereign Nagaland. It is widely believed that he even organized an unofficial referendum to substantiate his claims that the Nagas favored independence from India. His meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru in 1952 turned out to be fruitless as India showed no heart to address the question of Nagaland's independence. It was at this point that Phizo turned to armed rebellion to coerce the Indian government.
The Indian army marched to quell the rebellion, but Phizo escaped to East Pakistan and from there to London, where he remained till his death in 1990. But the armed rebellion was pursued by a section of the NNC. An agreement was reached by the Indian Government and the NNC in the year 1975. This came to be known as the Shillong Accord. However a section of hardcore militants in the NNC were disappointed with the NNC top brass signing the pact and they decided to go underground to start a more radical separatist movement. This led to the formation of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland or the NSCN in the late 1970s. The nucleus of the group which founded the NSCN included Isaac Chishi Swu, T Muivah and Khaplang. The NSCN started an underground Naga Federal government. It had a council of ministers led by a prime minister. The title given to the Prime Minister was "ato kilonser" and the ministers were given the title of "kilonser". The NSCN also got plenty of support in arms, ammunition, cash and other resources from the People's Republic of China, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The porous borders, especially the one with Myanmar, meant that they could easily escape to foreign territory.
However the NSCN suffered from a split in the late 1980s and broke into two factions, the NSCN(IM) and the NSCN (Khaplang). The former is led by Isaac Chishi Swu and T Muivah, who are in support on Greater Nagaland by committing themselves as a Kacha Naga (duplicate Naga) mainly Nagas from Manipur while the latter is led by Khaplang who is against on that.