Responding to Nagaland governor and Naga Accord interlocutor RN Ravi's scathing letter slamming the state machinery for "failing to address growing concerns" about law and order, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) said it did not extort the public but levied "legitimate taxes on them."
The NSCN-IM issued this statement after Ravi, in a 16 June letter to Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, claimed that the "constitutionally-established state government is being challenged on day-to-day basis by armed gangs that question the sovereignty and integrity of the nation."
The NSCN-IM, in its press statement, said it is "the inherent right of any sovereign people and nation to collect taxes from the people and commercial establishments. This is the universal practice as seen all over the world. Taxes have been the sources of sus tenance that has brought the Naga political movement this far. This was legitimately acknowledged by the earlier Interlocutors and Indian authorities and it was never an issue."
"What has complicated the situation as seen today is the madness of 'extortions' that are being carried out by some groups in the guise of freedom fighters. NSCN did not and does not commit extortion at any point of time but levies legitimate taxes from the people," the NSCN-IM said.
The NSCN-IM said it is seemingly convinced that Ravi is "not the right person to solve the long-standing Indo-Naga problem" "if he finds pleasure in handling the Naga issue as a 'law and order' problem."
Taking a dig at other groups associated with Naga political issue, statement further read: "NSCN is the recognised and legitimate national organisation of the Naga people and not a gang." The governor's letter, however, made no mention of any group though it pointed out to instances of "gun point extortions by armed miscreants."
Stating that the governor is "simply trying to wake up the state government," retired IAS Officer and president of the Senior Citizens Association of Nagaland (SCAN), Khekiye K Sema said, "The governor is within his constitutional rights to remind the government of the law and order breakdown."
"The common man is having a very difficult time due to the coronavirus lockdown. Even under these trying conditions, our so-called national workers are extorting mercilessly as usual, and the government is but a bystander. The Government of India is drawing a distinctive line between the ongoing political talks and illegal extortion," said Sema.
Senior NSCN-IM leader Kehoi said, "When all the Naga people are waiting for a positive solution, the governor should not have said such things. We do not understand what is in his mind. Before lockdown, he invited us for talks, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 situation. It seemed everything was positive from our end, but his recent statement has left us wondering. Why were we invited at the top level " by the prime minister " to have a ceasefire?"
Highlighting how political talks have passed into the hands of six Prime Ministers of India, the group stated that the historic Framework Agreement signed on 3 August, 2015, under the 'supervision and guidance' of Prime Minister Narendra Modi "recognised the sovereign right of the Naga people on the basis of the unique history of the Nagas and stressed on the peaceful co-existence of the two entities sharing sovereign power."
On the other hand, expressing confidence in talks with Ravi, senior NSCN-Unification (NSCN-U) leader C Singson said, "I think the interlocutor is fully prepared to conclude the peace talks but facing difficulties. Because of the pandemic, everything has become complicated."
It has been 22 years since talks between NSCN-IM and the government officially began in 1997. In August 2015, the Union government signed a framework agreement to seek a final solution with the insurgent group. The six Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) joined the talks later by signing a 'Deed of Commitment' with the government in 2017.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Working Committee of the NNPGs (WC NNPGs) on Sunday said it "will continue to seek contributions from Naga well-wishers and non-Naga business establishments in Naga land" and "it must continue through mutual respect."
The WC NNPGs further lashed out at state police for killing a 'discharged' security personnel in Kohima on 23 June who was found extorting money from shopkeepers in the name of NSCN-K (Khango).
"Irrespective of whether the deceased belonged to any Naga political group, gunning down an unarmed man is cowardice¦ This heinous crime is a blot on the police department, which is not acceptable at all," the statement read.
Alleging that 'uniformed' police personnel in Nagaland have been found involved in extortion activities, the working committee of the groups warned "it will not remain mute spectator in future."
"The police force is reminded that the Naga national workers inherited a political legacy and responsibility that precedes Indian Independence. From the inception of our struggle, nominal contribution to the cause has been mandatory. The question of extortion, therefore, does not arise. All non-local traders are aware of the Naga history, struggles, and that the sustenance of Naga movement is important and cannot be stopped with or without Anti-Extortion Squad till the political conflict is resolved," the WC NNPGs statement read.