After much pussyfooting, hemming, and hawing, the Government of India has finally decided to act tough with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim – Isak-Muivah faction.
On 20 December, the Enforcement Directorate filed a Prosecution Complaints against self-styled colonel of the NSCN(IM) Rayilung Nsarangbe, his wife Ruth Chawang, and other accomplices in an alleged money laundering case.
Apparently, a well-oiled machine runs the money laundering racket and has been doing this for the longest time. This action comes after an FIR was filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), Guwahati, on 9 July 2020.
A chargesheet dated 29 December 2020 followed thereafter, under various sections, including Scheduled Offences 120-B, 384, 420&471 of the IPC, 1860; Sections 25(IA), (IB) (a) of Arms Act; Section 5(b) of Explosive Substances Act; Sections 13,17,18 and 21 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, and Section 12(1) (b) of the Indian Passports Act.
Obstacles in the Peace Process
In retrospect the much-hyped Framework Agreement signed between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim of the Isak-Muivah faction and the Government of India in August 2015 is a dud.
Beyond dropping the claim for sovereignty, not an inch has moved in the talks which first began in 1997. The Government of India under Prime Minister Modi gave the NSCN (IM) a long rope.
RN Ravi, presently the governor of Tamil Nadu, who was appointed interlocuter in 2014 shortly after the Modi government assumed power, tried all tactics possible to get the NSCN(IM) to agree to:
Bring all stakeholders including the Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) and other groups that are keen to ensure an end to the stalemate on board
Broaden the talks and include the larger development agenda
Agree to a different settlement for the Nagas of Manipur since a united Nagalim was out of the question.
But even the tenacious yet tolerant Ravi, who initially indulged the elderly TH Muivah out of respect for his age, finally realised that he just could not move forward in the peace process since the NSCN (IM) did not really want a settlement.
The settlement would bring an end to their free-for-all extortion spree across Nagaland and Manipur.
In Nagaland, the NSCN(IM) was and still is patronised by the Neiphiu Rio government. In Manipur, the BJP government is clear about one thing – it was not going to allow the NSCN(IM) to have a free run and obstruct the completion of infrastructural projects due to heavy extortion from the group which sent most contractors packing.
A Well-Organised Extortion Racket
In August 2021, the ED said that it had attached assets worth Rs 6.88 crore belonging to a top aide of TH Muivah in a money laundering case. The ED had issued a provisional order under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) for attaching the bank balances, mutual funds, insurances, etc.
These assets, it is learnt, are held in the name of Rayilung Nsarangbe – a self-styled colonel and treasurer of the NSCN(IM) and his wife Ruth Chawang as well as in the name of Apam Muivah, the secretary to Muivah who is the prime minister (ato kilonser) of the outfit.
The NIA has made allegations that were known for the past 30 years or more which is that the NSCN(IM) is carrying out a well-organised extortion racket in the states of Manipur and Nagaland and terrorising the road and other infrastructure construction companies to pay sums that made the project non-viable for them.
So, they packed up and left one after another. For the longest time all government officials had to compulsorily pay a percentage of their salaries set by the outfit every month.
A key person was appointed to carry out this task and the NSCN(IM) would get the money collected religiously. All shops and business establishments, no matter their size, had to pay taxes.
One of the reasons why most development projects in Nagaland are hanging fire, including the jinxed Dimapur-Kohima highway, is the extortion racket which becomes a burden on construction firms undertaking any project in Nagaland or Manipur for that matter.
Of course, Manipur has several other outfits operating there, so the total share of the NSCN(IM) from that state would be small compared to Nagaland.
The ED did not need to dig too deep to find out the truth.
They found out that the district-in-charge of the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur, namely Tamenglong, Senapati, Ukhrul, and Chandel, were reporting directly to Rayilung Nsarangbe the treasurer of the collective leadership. The collection is not random.
It is systematic with books of accounts being maintained by the district heads of the NSCN(IM) even while Rayilung dealt with the bigger clients himself. While a major part of the collection was used to maintain the lifestyle of the outfit and also for buying arms, a good percentage was also deposited in banks in the names of Rayilung and his wife Ruth.
The NIA claimed that the extortion money was invested in mutual funds and insurance products to make it appear that the money obtained was legal tax collection from the people of Nagaland and the Nagas of Manipur who have been paying the tax to their so-called "national workers."
The mutual funds and insurance products were all in the name of Ruth Chawang alias Ruth Zeliang, from the cash deposited in the accounts. A substantial sum was also transferred to Apam Muivah from the accounts of Ruth Chawang.
An official of the Government of India who did not want to divulge his name said of the recent ED raids that it was normal as the NIA has been pursuing the money laundering case of the NSCN(IM) assiduously.
He said that government officials were collaborators in this whole process of tax collection, (read extortion) until they were told in no uncertain terms that they had to register all cases of extortion.
When asked if it was not unusual that the Government of India is using the ED against the NSCN(IM) when the talks are still on, the official said:
"What talks? The talks ended on October 31, 2019. Today there is no officially appointed interlocuter, only an emissary of the Union Home Ministry who is carrying on the charade."
Others who are privy to the talks say that the NSCN(IM) will get nothing, no separate flag or Constitution. What the Government is doing today is to steer the NSCN(IM) away from the crimes it committed which were taken as par for the course in the past. Now they no longer have a free run.
Nagaland's Reaction to ED Raids
The responses from Nagaland on this issue of ED raids elicits very staid responses.
"We are tired of the extortion racket by the NSCN(IM) and the never-ending peace talks. Governance is poor and rural Nagaland is in bad shape. Only Dimapur and Kohima have mansions where the gates themselves are worth a bomb. Development funds are all going into the private coffers of a few politicians and government officials."
But amidst the encircling gloom, there are some who still have not turned cynical and are working towards a clean election in 2023 and are campaigning vigorously for that.
So what is the fate of the Indo-Naga peace talks then? Like Bob Dylan says, "The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind."
(The writer is the Editor of The Shillong Times and former member of NSAB. She can be reached @meipat. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)