The Isak-Muivah faction of the extremist National Socialist Council of Nagaland, or NSCN (IM), has said that the “legitimate taxes” it levies cannot be equated with extortion.
The group, which calls itself the National Socialist Council of Nagalim, has been on ceasefire mode since July 1997.
In a statement issued on June 27, the NSCN (IM) made it clear that it had the “inherent right of any sovereign people and nation” to collect taxes from the people and commercial establishments.
The statement was in reaction to Nagaland Governor R.N. Ravi’s June 16 letter to Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio , reported first by The Hindu , pulling up the State government for the collapse of law and order situation.
The Governor said that armed gangs were running Nagaland, questioning the sovereignty and integrity of the nation and challenging the constitutionally-established State government.
Mr. Ravi is also Centre’s interlocutor for the peace process with the NSCN (IM) and other extremist groups active in Nagaland and adjoining States in the northeast as well as Myanmar.
“This (levying taxes) is the universal practice as seen all over the world. Taxes have been the sources of sustenance 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,” the NSCN (IM) said.
“What has complicated the situation as seen today is the madness of ‘extortion’ 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,” it added.
The NSCN (IM) maintained that any Indian Interlocutor representing New Delhi needed to prove his commitment to solving the “Indo-Naga” political issue.
“But if he finds pleasure to handle the Naga issue as a ‘law and order’ problem he is not the right person to solve the long standing Indo-Naga problem. Such an Indian interlocutor will rather complicate and prolong the process which is not the desire of both the Indians and the Nagas,” the NSCN (IM) said.
The outfit said the 23 years since the ceasefire had been the most peaceful period in the history of the Naga political movement spanning more than 70 years. It admitted that some offshoots of “pseudo-nationalists” had taken advantage of the peaceful environment.
“But in the long run they proved themselves nothing less than commercialised organisations least connected with Naga political issue. Nobody cried foul against such mushrooming of mercenary groups which is the root cause of the problem today that smears the ongoing Indo-Naga political process,” the NSCN (IM) said, adding it was the recognised and legitimate national organisation of the Naga people and not a gang.
Solution delay blamed
Mr. Rio and his Cabinet Ministers met the Governor three days after the latter had shot off the letter. The Governor was told that violation of any ceasefire agreements by the extremist groups was under the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The State government also let Mr. Ravi know that a permanent solution to the Naga political problem would take care of the law and order issues he had raised.
“This is really unlike a person who is trying to bring a final solution and peace to the vexed Naga political problem. It appears the Governor is interested in imposing President’s Rule and turning Nagaland into a Kashmir-like situation,” said former Minister Vatsu Meru.
He added that a stray incident or two could not be termed as government failure. “Compared to the 1980s and 1990s, there is no law and order problem now,” he said.
Extremists groups are known to run parallel governments in Nagaland and collect an array of taxes to run such governments. The groups also prepare budgets in March and fix tax rates.
In 2017, post-demonetisation, the NSCN (IM) had halved the annual ‘income tax’ levied on State government employees from 24% to 12% in view of demonetisation-induced complications. While house tax is fixed, levies on shops and commercial establishments vary from a minimum of 5%.