RN Ravi’s Exit: Nagaland Governor Refused to Toe NSCN’s Line
Ravi, who had his ears to the ground, perhaps rubbed the Rio government and the NSCN(IM) the wrong way.
The recent transfer of Nagaland Governor RN Ravi, who is also the Centre’s interlocutor to the Naga peace talks, to Tamil Nādu, was perhaps because the Nagaland government, known to be close to the NSCN(IM), was forced to toe the line of the outfit.
It is no cakewalk to deal with an outfit like the NSCN-IM led by a veteran — Th Muivah — who is adept at playing mind games. There was a time when Muivah believed he could get RN Ravi, the shrewd but non-conformist and straight-talking former Special Director of the Intelligence Bureau, who was later appointed as Chairman, Joint Intelligence Committee post his retirement and later as the interlocutor for the Naga peace talks, to dance to his tunes by virtue of his semantics and highbrow ideas about the “unique” history of the Nagas.
After the framework agreement between the Narendra Modi-led Central Government and the NSCN (IM) was signed in August 2015, RN Ravi has been digging in his heels to get to a point of mutual agreement. But that was not to be.
Ravi Noticed the Gaps in Governance
The reasons for the NSCN(IM)’s intransigence are manifold. RN Ravi was not swayed by sentiments that the NSCN(IM) is the front runner among ‘Naga National Workers’, as the underground outfit is called, and that peace negotiations should be with this single outfit. The ground realities in Nagaland are such that there are contending claimants to that position of privilege.
The word 'Naga National Political Groups' (NNPGs) was coined to include other underground outfits that were either breakaway groups from the NSCN(IM) or had formed their own networks because they were not exactly overawed in being led by a Tangkhul Naga from Manipur.
These internal dynamics are often missed by those observing the scene from the outside. The turf war between the NSCN(IM) and other underground outfits has been palpable because each group indulges in extortion in the name of ‘taxation’. The Naga people, in general, and the business community and young entrepreneurs, in particular, have rued the double and triple taxation by different groups and have often made it known that the underground outfits, whose raison d’etre is to get the Government of India to sign a peace deal on their terms, should unite into a single entity so that people only have to pay taxes to a single group.
But that is easier said than done. On 20 July, 2019, RN Ravi was appointed the Governor of Nagaland and also continued with his post as the interlocutor in the Naga peace talks. Upon assuming office as Governor, Ravi was quick to notice the gaping lacunae in governance. The highway connecting Dimapur, Nagaland’s financial capital, to Kohima, the state capital, is an example of a project that was destined to remain unfinished. As Governor, Ravi made special efforts to take up the matter with the Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, and to iron out the problems that stood in the way of the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) in completing the project.
Ravi Noticed What Was Wrong
Ravi’s one concern was the large-scale corruption in the system and how it was serving a clique located in the state capital of Kohima and in Dimapur, where all the wealth was concentrated, while Nagas living in distant districts such as Phek, Mon and Kiphire, remained beyond the shadow of governance. The roads leading to these districts have been in the same dilapidated condition for decades. It takes nearly a day to traverse 254 kilometres from Kohima to Kiphere, and if the passenger is an ailing person, then chances of them making it to a health facility in Kohima or in other states for specialised treatment are remote. It is such disparities between people in the state capital and the distant villages of Nagaland that troubled Ravi. He travelled to these remote districts to check out the health facilities and other critical needs of the villagers.
For this, Ravi was accused by the National Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of meddling with matters of day-to-day governance. Having observed things from close quarters after he became a resident of the Kohima Raj Bhavan, Ravi was appalled by the open support of government employees to the underground outfits. Some even made their support public through social media posts. This was par for the course under earlier Governors, who made it a point not to notice what was an open revolt against the Constitution of India, which every government employee is expected to remain loyal to. But in Nagaland that is expecting too much.
People have been led to believe that the Nagas would one day have a separate Constitution, apart from their own flag. It is the separate Constitution bit that has been the sticking point in the Naga peace talks. But that point is belaboured by the NSCN(IM), knowing fully well that India as a sovereign country can only have one Constitution for the nation, of which Nagaland is an integral part.
But the recalcitrant Muivah is one who believes that if he advertises his fancies widely enough, he will always find someone to populate them.
Indeed, there are quite a few groups that have invested in Muivah’s fancies and they include the Naga Mothers’ Association and the Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights, amongst others.
There Has Been no Progress in Peace Talks
For those who have observed the Naga insurgency since the first peace accord was signed in 1997 after the Naga Mothers’ Association came up with the slogan “Shed No More Blood”, things have not progressed in the direction that both contending parties desire. That could also be because there is no common meeting ground between the parties involved. Nagaland is a state within the Indian Union but the Naga people continue to believe they have been colonised by India. This perception continues despite the fact that elections to the Nagaland state assembly have been held regularly since 1963.
The new generation of Naga youth, however, have a different worldview and have moved out of their state to take residence elsewhere in the country in pursuit of livelihoods since job opportunities in Nagaland are almost non-existent. The Central government, on the other hand, is clear in its stand that any settlement with the NSCN (IM) and other outfits must necessarily be within the ambit of the Indian Constitution.
Two Different Viewpoints
In Nagaland, at present, there are two different viewpoints on RN Ravi’s replacement. The few that have risen above partisan politics and the cronyism have spoken out publicly and said that Ravi’s departure will be a loss since he has left behind a tenure in which many delayed and forgotten projects were brought on track, such as the Dimapur-Kohima four-lane highway. In addition to that, his sprucing up of the moribund health system in various districts of the state and his attention to civil society groups followed by action on their just demands have perhaps rubbed the Neiphiu Rio government and the NSCN(IM) the wrong way. The second view is that held by recalcitrant rebel groups who are in a dilemma about how to disband their parallel governments, disarm their militia, and end the gun culture that they created and nurtured should peace actually be brokered between the Government of India and the people of Nagaland (read the NSCN and other NNPGs).
Perhaps a full tenure would have ensured that people would themselves have demanded peace at all costs instead of relying on gun-toting, extortion-dependent underground outfits, who don’t seem to have a stake in a peaceful and orderly life but are comfortable with a status quo, where they can pull the strings any which way they like. It remains to be seen if Nagaland is destined for peace and good governance.
(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 the same)
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