A rebel needs a cause and budget

NSCN (I-M)'s administrative acumen is legendary, which other Naga factions and rebel groups in Northeast India strive to mirror

A rebel needs a cause—and a budget. I have some papers to prove it.

Let’s take the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN (I-M), currently engaged in peace talks with the government of India. It’s the largest Naga rebel group, and the largest rebel group in South Asia besides the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Information on Maoists varies widely, dependent as it is on the regionally disparate nature of the rebellion, as well as its book of organize-as-you-go. Revenue can range from a tiny bag of rice to taxing ore-carrying trucks.

NSCN (I-M) does things by the bookkeeper. Its administrative acumen is legendary, which other Naga factions and rebel groups in Northeast India strive to mirror. For the financial year ending March 2017, NSCN (I-M) presented a two-part budget to its “Collective leadership". The “Ministry of Chaplee Affairs", the finance arm of its Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland, or GPRN, presented a budget for Rs51.29 crore (precisely 51.2975310 crore), with income and expenditure balancing out at that figure. The Naga Army, its armed wing, presented a budget for a little over Rs117 crore. That’s a total of nearly Rs170 crore for a group in ceasefire.

NSCN (I-M)’s status permits it to maintain its own camps, recruit, train, arm, and, in areas where the ceasefire does not hold, conduct operations. Such operations are now typically against rivals groups in Nagaland—and in Naga homelands in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, technically outside the ambit of ceasefire. That isn’t where the bizarre ends. The governments of India and all four state governments in effect permit NSCN (I-M) and other groups to run parallel administrations, and raise taxes. In ceasefire, as in war.

GPRN expects to raise Rs12.5 crore from the salaries of Nagas, even in Nagaland, where citizens are exempt from paying income tax as a special government of India dispensation. “Commercial" and “Shop Tax" will fetch Rs17 crore. A tax on vehicles will bring Rs1.5 crore, “Excise duty" Rs2 crore. “Non-plan" income is pegged at Rs3.5 crore—freewheeling income. Smaller amounts will arrive from several heads like “Ration tax", “House Tax & live soul census" and “Court Fee/fines" from those hauled up for justice before NSCN (I-M).

Expenses are fuzzier. Nearly Rs20 crore is marked for the Naga Army though it has its own budget. “National project" and “National Contingency Fund" take up Rs10 crore each—evidently, stealthy expenses: don’t ask, don’t tell. Various ministries and departments get Rs8 crore, Rs1 crore is kept for expenses for “Collective Leaders" and a similar sum for “Ration".

The biggie is of course the armed wing. The four biggest heads are “Arms & Ammunition Procurement" at Rs15 crore, “Command, Operation, Tour & Duty" at Rs13.1 crore, Rs6 crore for “Military Operation", Rs5 crore for “Basic Military Training" and Rs3 crore for “Military Intelligence"—for information, I gather. “Research & Development" comes in at Rs6 crore, but for an outfit that buys arms and ammunition off South-East Asia’s open black market, this could be a slush fund within a slush fund. The “Signal & Communication Department" has Rs6 crore, as does “Procurement: Vehicle & Office Property."

Other big heads are “Stipend", understandable at over Rs15 crore for a cadre-strength of an estimated 5,000 and climbing; “Food Stuff" at nearly Rs13 crore; and over Rs2 crore for uniforms. It is also evidently a caring organization, setting aside sums for “Medicine & Medical Treatment," “Leave & Transfer & Domestic problems," “Maternity," “Marriage," and “Obituary & Casualty."

As with GPRN, the Naga Army has tax collectors. The Army’s collectors are usually those who hold the rank of captain, and collect what is simply called Army Tax. The azha, or orders, these collectors enforce is sinister pressure alike for citizens and a corporation prospecting for oil and natural gas.

Naturally, little of the process is public. NSCN (I-M) media handlers shared only how, for a March 2016 meeting at Camp Hebron near Nagaland’s commercial hub Dimapur, headquarters of both GPRN and Naga Army, Isak Chishi Swu offered guidance. The former chairman of NSCN (I-M), who passed on in June, urged “ethical revenue collection and judicious spending," reported Nagaland Post, all conducted with the “highest standards of ‘revolutionary patriotism, sincerity and transparency’" while executing this “financial matter."

Ah, well.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s books include Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India, Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations and the convergence of businesses and human rights in India and South Asia, will now run on Thursdays.

Respond to this column at rootcause@livemint.com.

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