Extortion by militant outfits in the northeast recorded a sharp drop during the coronavirus lockdown, according to the reports from security agencies. The unprecedented drop in ‘additional taxation’ and extortion cases in past three months is being attributed to a good number of cadres remaining home during the height of lockdown to curb the crisis of Covid-19.
Sources said many cadres of various factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) have returned to their villages, while many staying in the camps are preparing to leave as they are running out of ration and medical facilities.
“I do not agree that our cadres have returned home because of the lockdown problems. Everybody has suffered during the lockdown, not only our boys. When it comes to ration and other essentials, we are somehow managing. There has been a daily rise in coronavirus cases and many people will die or continue to suffer — not because of the disease, but if lockdown restrictions are reimposed,” a senior leader of NSCN-Neopao Konyak/Kitovi (NSCN/NK also known as GPRN/NSCN) told News 18 on the condition of anonymity.
In May and June, several cadres of various NSCN factions were apprehended in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam under charges of extortion and illegal recruitment activities. A defence analyst said that extortion figures now stand at about 20 per cent.
Earlier last month, local media in Nagaland reported of a ‘forced taxation demand’ served to the proprietor of Progressive Motors at Darogapathar village in Dimapur by one of the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG). The GPRN/NSCN, however, called it an ‘unfortunate development’ and constituted an inquiry committee to look into the matter. It was later resolved and declared ‘null and void’.
“When you are in lockdown, you are not in a position to earn. We need to understand the situation. The lockdown has affected people and livelihoods. Only half the shops are open, nothing is functioning regularly. Under such conditions, how can we send our men to seek donations or collect taxes?” said the senior NSCN/NK leader, adding that no cadre was sent home during the lockdown and that they are all keeping busy by engaging in farming activities in and around the camp.
“Farming is part of our everyday life, not just during the lockdown. We have many gardens and fields in and around the camps. Some of our cadres who do not have vehicles faced problem during the lockdown, but we got few car-passes from the office of the Chairman, Ceasefire Monitoring Group — we understand that everyone cannot get a pass,” he added.
The Ceasefire Monitoring Group (CFMG), set up in 2001 to find a lasting solution for peace with Naga insurgent factions has been helping cadres cope with financial challenges sped up by the pandemic.
“During the lockdown, I arranged emergent transit passes for the representatives of different groups to buy survival rations, and also requested the Nagaland government to assist in the supply of emergent rations, said Lieutenant General Shokin Chauhan, CFMG Chairman, Nagaland, further stating that he has been speaking with all the groups regularly to help them tide this crisis.
The GPRN/NSCN leader said that even as they want the central government to solve the Naga political issue at the earliest, the situation is not convenient to travel for talks as the pandemic has not ended.
“We want an early solution. But it will be a big problem if our top leaders travel to Delhi now for talks as they will have to be quarantined for 14 days on arrival and return. We have to fight the pandemic first. Everybody must understand this.”