The bizarre case of rebel funding in Nagaland
On 25 March the National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested three senior government officials from Dimapur, Nagaland’s commercial hub, major gateway town, and home to several factions of Naga rebels.
They stand accused of diverting government funds to, among others, National Socialist Council of Nagaland’s Khaplang faction, or NSCN-K, the Reformation or R faction, and the Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN), the once grandiose but greatly diminished group that derives lineage from the father of the Naga rebel movement, Angami Zapu Phizo. But there is precious little about diverting funds, government and otherwise, from businesses and the public, applied to the biggest rebel group, NSCN’s Isak-Muivah, or I-M faction. Is it because they are in peace talks with the government of India? But so are NSCN-R and FGN.
So, what gives?
It’s a bizarre enough setting. Readers of this column are familiar with my hammering away at the arrangement in which the central and state governments permit the existence of a parallel administration in Nagaland, and the Naga-dominated areas in neighbouring Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. Rebel groups have for several decades imposed taxes and donations in the name of “national work”, interfered in politics and elections, and even family and farmland disputes. They still do, although public sentiment has steadily risen against rebels’ former glory parlayed to strong-arming their lives and livelihoods in petty ways, even as several rebel leaders and their families openly live lives of luxury in Nagaland, elsewhere in India, and South-East Asia.
Both NSCN (I-M) and K factions, the largest of the rebel groups, and bitter enemies, carried on this parallel administration even after they signed ceasefire agreements with the Indian government; I-M in 1997 and K in 2001. They carried on recruiting, training, arming, fighting each other and fighting anybody else—even Indian security forces in skirmishes outside the area of ceasefire that was limited for political reasons to the territory of the state of Nagaland.
The Khaplang faction spectacularly disengaged from the ceasefire in early 2015, and has since remained a thorn in the side of India, with regular operations against paramilitaries and the army, even as Indian forces clamp down on their operations, logistics, financial and otherwise, in India; and attempt to do so with K’s bases in Myanmar, where it is headquartered. I-M signed a so-called Framework Agreement for Peace with the government, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi presiding, in August 2015. And it is as if, with that ceremony, the distinction for government appeared to become: K were the bad guys, and I-M the good bad-guys, as it were. What the Khaplang faction and others new to the talks table are penalized for, I-M practices unabated.
Part of the game is to squeeze K, bring it to the ambit of peace talks (frankly, there cannot be lasting peace in the Naga regions without K being on board). NIA filed a chargesheet in August 2016 against a few K functionaries, including Isak Sumi, whom it describes as the “self-styled finance administrator of NSCN (K)”. Assam Rifles personnel “apprehended” Isak in Dimapur that July, accusing him of “extortion of money from the civil population in Kohima and Dimapur”.
Besides incriminating documents, he was also accused of possessing ammunition and drugs.
Pressure was upped after the death of S.S. Khaplang in June 2017, who was succeeded by Khango Konyak, who followed the supremo’s policies. Besides combat operations, including a September 2017 hit by the army on some NSCN-K strongholds across the border in Myanmar, in October 2017 a team from NIA seized nearly Rs28 lakh in Dimapur from Shelly, wife of a key K general, the flamboyant Nikki Sumi, the mastermind of several attacks against Indian troops.
NIA then announced it had proof of four Nagaland government officials passing Rs20-25 crore of extorted funds to NSCN-K from 2012-16.
The case has gone live. And Nagaland’s extortion-weary, corruption-numbed citizens would perhaps celebrate along with security mandarins. But what of other cases and instances, involving other factions, which continue to have the run of revenue from similar sources?
Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun and Highway 39. This column focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights, and runs on Thursdays