By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
According to a July 10, 2020, report, the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) has accused present Interlocutor for Naga talks and Governor of Nagaland R. N. Ravi of “mishandling of Naga political issue”.
It described Ravi as the “wrong person” to lead the Naga peace process and stated,
For all-purpose, Ravi [Governor R.N Ravi] is undoing his credibility as Interlocutor to Indo-Naga political talks. There is a trust deficit on his role as interlocutor as he is desperately on the roll to undermine the Naga issue.
Earlier, in a statement released on June 28, 2020, the NSCN-IM said that Ravi’s attempt to equate ‘Naga issue’ as a ‘law and order’ problem had become untenable and added,
Any Indian Interlocutor who represents the Government of India needs to prove himself as a man who stands committed to solve the longest political conflict in Southeast Asia. But if he finds pleasure to handle the Naga issue as a ‘law and order’ problem he is not the right person to solve the long-standing Indo-Naga problem. Such an Indian Interlocutor will rather complicate and prolong the process which is not the desire of both the Indians and the Nagas.
Significantly, on June 16, 2020, Ravi wrote a letter to Nagaland Chief Minister (CM) Neiphiu Rio about the incidents of extortion in the State, asserting, “the law and order in the state has collapsed”:
Law abiding citizens – be they daily wage earners, petty vendors, businessmen, shop-keepers, owners of restaurants or government servants are made miserable by rampant extortions and violence by the armed gangs.
Though Ravi did not name NSCN-IM, the group itself had justified extortion as ‘taxes’ in its June 28, 2020, statement, arguing,
Taxes have been the source of sustenance that has brought the Naga political movement this far… legitimately acknowledged by earlier Interlocutors and Indian authorities…
Meanwhile, Nagaland Police on June 26, 2020, released extortion-related arrest data in the State (since 2016). At least 1,238 militants were arrested (by State Police, Assam Rifles, Central Armed Police Forces) till June 2020 in 863 registered cases. These included: 361 NSCN-IM militants arrested in 247 cases; 267 Unification faction of NSCN (NSCN-U) militants arrested in 197 cases; 263 NSCN Yung Aung faction (NSCN-YA) militants arrested in 198 cases; 187 Naga National Council/Federal Government of Nagaland (NNC/FGN) militants arrested in 148 case; 91 NSCN Reformation faction (NSCN-R) militants arrested in 63 cases. 59 militants from groups based in other States were also arrested in Nagaland in 30 cases of extortion.
Some of the recent cases involving NSCN-IM included:
July 4, 2020: Nagaland Police arrested five NSCN-IM militants – ‘captain’ Tenyenseng Seb (51), ‘second lieutenant’ Somingam Shang (32), ‘private’ Somirin Tangkhul (21), ‘captain’ Bopai Konyak (34), and ‘sergeant major’ Nagawangbou Wijunamai (29) – from Tseminyu subdivision in Kohima District on charges of extortion.
July 4, 2020: Assam Rifles and Nagaland Police arrested six persons from Green Park in Dimapur District in connection with an extortion racket. Those arrested include NSCN-IM militants – ‘treasurer’ in the ‘prime minister’s office’ of NSCN-IM ‘colonel’ Rayilung Nsarngbe and ‘private’ Lamci Iralu – and another four accomplices: Zingring Mung, Zingshonggam Muinao, Rabi Pame and Vimal Kumar Jain.
June 20, 2020: One NSCN-IM militant was arrested along with recoveries (extortion money) from Model village of Dimapur town in Dimapur District.
On June 11, 2020, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed a charge sheet against NSCN-IM kilonser (minister) Alemla Jamir aka Mary Shimrang aka Atula Tonger and Masasasong Ao in a terror funding case. Jamir is the wife of former ‘Naga Army chief’, Phungting Shimrang, who is learnt to have crossed over to China in November 2019 along with two other associates. The case relates to the December 23, 2019, recovery of INR 7.2 million by the Delhi Police’s Special Cell from the possession of Alemla Jamir. The December 23, 2019, NIA press release disclosing Jamir’s arrest had revealed that the funds were being taken by her as a cash courier from Delhi to Nagaland on the instructions of Icrak Muivah, wife of Thuingaleng Muivah, ‘general secretary’ of NSCN-IM.
Despite being in talks with the Government of India (GoI) since the signing of the ceasefire agreement on July 25, 1997 (which came into effect on August 1, 1997), and the signing of the 2015 Naga Framework Agreement, NSCN-IM has evidently remained deeply engaged in extortion and disruptive activities.
With little improvement in the ground situation and the talks between GoI and NSCN-IM hitting a roadblock, the Governor now appears to be seeking to reassert the state’s power. The talks have reached a deadlock on the issues of a separate flag and constitution.
The Governor’s letter appears to have galvanised the State Government into action. On July 7, 2020, the State Home Department directed all administrative heads and heads of departments through an Office Memorandum to obtain information from all employees in a ‘self-declaration’ form, whether any of the employees have their family members and relatives in any of the underground organizations. The Office Memorandum further asked the heads of departments to submit the forms latest by August 7, 2020.
Meanwhile, expecting hard action from the Government, NSCN-IM’s ‘deputy army chief’, ‘major general’ A. Raman, warned of severe consequences,
I along with Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Phungting Shimrang, ‘major general’ Hangshi will retaliate and retaliate like never before. I therefore warn Indian Government and their agencies to stop harassing people of my land if they don’t want to put life of their own solider in danger. I also pray to my seniors in Hebron to take a serious note of my words and not be pet dogs of Indians.
Reports indicate that ‘major general’ Hangshi and some 100 other cadres have crossed over to China along with NSCN-IM’s former ‘army chief’, Phungting Shimrang.
It is likely that the present crackdown on rampant extortion by the militant groups will continue, in order to reassert State eroded by the operation of a ‘parallel government’. It is uncertain, however, whether these anti-extortion efforts will be sustained in order to achieve a larger objective of freeing the state of continuing criminal activities by the rebels, or will be held out as a mere pressure tactic to force the conclusion of talks with the NSCN-IM. In either event, the Government would also need to prepare for unintended contingencies such as a split within NSCN-IM due to talks collapsing, and a resultant rise violence.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management