Wielding guns is only one way of terrorizing people. There are other ways such as threats and extortion of money. Naga rebels have long imposed “taxes” on the people to run their underground governments. Refusing to pay these taxes often meant facing the oulaws’ kangaroo justice. The faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim led by Mr Isak Swu and Mr Thuingaleng Muivah has now taken its extortionist rule a step further by issuing “work permits” to “outsiders” in Nagaland and Naga-inhabited areas. The outfit has made it mandatory for labourers from outside the state to acquire the permits for a fee or face “deportation” and other punishments. This is a gross violation of the group’s ceasefire agreement with the Indian army, which is not merely about putting the guns away. It also lays down certain ground-rules for the truce. One such rule forbids extortions or other terror tactics by the NSCN(I-M) cadre. Such violations give credence to the army’s suspicions that the outfit is exploiting the truce to raise money, re-arm itself and intensify other clandestine activities.
Yet, such violations of the truce are entirely unnecessary. If “outsiders” pose any threat to the state’s demography, it is the responsibility of the state government to take care of it. The NSCN(I-M) has no business to issue the work permits and raise money from them. Such unnecessary irritants can vitiate the peace-talks between the group and the Centre. Mr Swu and Mr Muivah seem to be concerned with larger issues such as “sovereignty of the Naga nation” and “territorial integrity” of all Naga-majority areas. They have to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process by honouring the rules of the ceasefire. Despite differences, the peace moves have bound both sides to some mutually agreed codes of conduct. It would be unfortunate if the big initiative is spoilt by small aberrations on the part of the rebels. Before the issue of work permits causes more bitterness and misunderstanding, it should be taken up by the ceasefire monitoring committee. The government should not submit to any blackmail and unambiguously warn the NSCN(I-M) against such activities. Unless the government acts firm, the other NSCN faction, led by Mr S.S. Khaplang, could take a leaf out of its rival’s book and do worse.