Given Th Muivah&’s (left) “high priest” ways and an equally to blame Centre for playing dilettante politics, there is little wonder that the Action Committee Against Unabated Taxation&’s bandh on 18 June evoked widespread response. patricia mukhim
THE Naga people have reached a point of “compassion fatigue”. For decades they have supported the Naga national movement at great cost to their right to free speech and their social and economic mobility. They have been taxed dry by underground groups of different hues. Recently they decided to call a halt to this exploitation. The Action Committee Against Unabated Taxation, comprising citizens of Dimapur and various business, transport and medical associations of the commercial hub of Nagaland, called a bandh on 18 June to protest against this gross fleecing.
For years, the underground cadres have done no work except to keep a vigilant eye on who has bought a new vehicle, who is constructing a house, who is doing which business within their area of command. They would then send an extortion note to those individuals. Since August 1997 when the NSCN(IM) signed a truce with the Centre the cadres have been underworked. They roam around the area with guns, serve extortion notices and enjoy the comforts of life that Dimapur has to offer.
That schools, colleges, shops, the transport system, offices – both government and private — were closed on 18 June with the exception of the media, power and medical services, is a telling account of how public opinion is gradually veering around to the idea that the public will no longer tolerate rampant extortion from underground outfits.
The Acaut is demanding that there should be only one tax payable to any underground group and, I think, that&’s a fair deal. It is the groups that should decide among themselves who gets how much. For far too long Naga traders have been under tremendous strain from the multiple taxes on goods imposed by underground groups. These include trade license tax, ID tax, registration tax, calendar donations, Christmas and New Year donations, etc.
The parallel government in Nagaland has existed without much fuss from any quarters. The constitutionally-elected government has a tacit understanding with the underground outfits allowing them to collect whatever taxes they want so long as they allow the government to survive its term in office. The law in Nagaland is a zombie. It sleepwalks and is deaf and blind, so lawless groups have free rein. What has evoked this resistance movement is the absence of a level playing field in trade and commerce.
The underground groups have created a new system of “dealership” whereby a dealer is identified for a particular trade depending on the percentage the dealer pays them. The outfit then ensures that no one else is allowed to trade in the same item. This has created a monopolistic trade practice where the only victims would be the buyers. Without competition in the market, whoever has a monopoly in a particular trade will quote his own price and people just have to pay.
The Acaut pointed out there was only one poultry dealer/supplier in the whole of Dimapur district. No poultry could be sold in the open market without the consent of this dealer. This is defying the rules of the market and an attempt to extend the political and social diktat to economics as well. It was bound to reach tipping point. People can take dictatorship in economics only up to a point. Beyond that they will revolt and that they did so on 18 June.
The Naga people have been at the receiving end of militants’ diktat for decades. They’d learnt to adapt to a sort of totalitarian regime, where state protection from criminal elements and rogues was absent. But this attempt to reclaim their democratic spaces has come rather late in the day. For a long time the Nagas had suspended reason and paid heed to the elaborate deception spun around the creation of a Naga nation.
This notion was sold to at least two generations of Nagas aspiring for Utopia. The septuagenarian of today defended the indefensible in the 1960s through to the 1990s because they grew up and were conditioned by narratives of victimhood about what India had done to them. They never honestly introspected if the demand for freedom and liberty should go with the caveat that “all means (violent and criminal) are justified in order to attain the ends”.
And by means here I mean killing in cold blood, individuals or groups who are “suspected” to have betrayed the Naga cause; the fratricidal massacres and abominable levels of extortion. Those soul-searching exercises are seen as a weakening of the Naga resolve. And that was not allowed to happen. Hence, all wrongs were brushed under the carpet, all for the larger cause of Nagalim. As a result, Nagas have done tremendous damage to their psyche by their conspiratorial silence on issues that needed internal debate. Whenever itinerant militant leaders came to Nagaland they would summon tribal leaders and allow them to say their piece. At the end, Th Muivah, the chief priest, would give his wise benediction but not before sniping at India/ Delhi with his select, caustic vocabulary. That would bring the meeting to a close and people would return home more confused than they were when they first came. The credulous ones went back with the happy feeling that they and those leaders who represented them at the much-vaunted peace talks had achieved something.
Over time, the Naga people have learnt that demagoguery is better than honest engagement. Dissent comes at a price. People who spoke up were labelled traitors. The NSCN would decree that they should be killed and that was the final verdict. The next day the dissenter was dead. No questions were asked except for faint protests.
Kangaroo courts continue to be the way the militants do business in Nagaland. Silence then has been a way of escaping the dreaded bullets of the NSCN and the Centre is, of course, equally to be blamed for playing dilettante politics with the Naga issue for 16 years. These long years have castrated the idea of democracy in Nagaland. For nearly four decades, Nagaland has been an example of what Paul Krugman calls “the strange triumph of failed ideas”. It was a playground that demonstrated the continuous hold of a failed doctrine over realpolitik. Although many have given their lives for the cause and members of their tribes lament the lack of closure which they believe should come in the form of apologies for the killing of one of their tribesmen. The “sorry” never came and closure evades the tribes.
With such gaping wounds that are excoriated every now and again to remind tribe members that the hatchet is not yet buried, it is difficult to imagine that closure would come when the Centre and the NSCN(IM) and others arrive at some mutually agreed formula for peace.
The writer is editor, The Shillong Times, and can be reached at