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Nagaland: Political and Economic Assessment

Gautam Sen is a retired IDAS officer who has served in senior positions at the Centre and in a north-east State Government.
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  • June 10, 2013

    A ceasefire is holding with the underground outfits in Nagaland, starting with the initial agreement with the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland Issac-Muivah (NSCN-IM) in September 1997 and later enlarged to include the Khaplang Group (NSCN-K) and the Khole-Kitovi faction (a breakaway faction from the Khaplang Group). A Ceasefire Monitoring Group (CFMG) – which oversees the ceasefire between the government forces and the NSCN (IM) – and a Ceasefire Supervisory Board (CFSB) concerned with ceasefire monitoring between the government forces and those of the Khaplang Group, have been put in place within the ambit of agreements between the government on the one hand and the insurgent groups on the other. By convention, a senior army officer normally a retired Lt. Gen heads the CFMG as well as the CFSB. However, since the end of March 2013, when Maj. Gen G. George relinquished charge of the posts of Chairman of the above-referred Boards reportedly on personal grounds, the government has yet to appoint his successor. There was an impression among some quarters that , felt that the Chairman was frustrated at being unable to convince the authorities in New Delhi that the ceasefire cannot be an end in itself and decisive movement towards proselytising the present peace towards reviving an all-encompassing political process was necessary for economic turnaround of the State.

    In the absence of a Chairman, the Inspector General of Assam Rifles (North), positioned at Kohima, officiates as the In-Charge of these posts. This arrangement, to say the least, is not healthy and involves a conflict of interests because a large contingent of the government forces deployed to counter and justapose with the Naga underground elements, are under his direct operational command. The officer may not be viewed as impartial by many of the underground factions and groups. In fact, recently, an instance of so-called high-handed police action by contingents of Assam Rifles in Kiphire in eastern Nagaland was alleged by the local civil population and activists of the Eastern Nagaland People`s Orghanisation (ENPO). Protest and violence followed against the state government for their reported failure to limit Assam Rifles’ activities. Though this case does not fall within the ambit of the CFMG and CFSB, the IGAR (N) may not be considered as the proper functionary to head these boards, even in the interim. The consequences of keeping the ceasefire institutions without a formal and effective head may therefore have its own ramifications , and may be viewed by many in the political and underground realm , of adhocism and a low priority of the part of New Delhi towards resolving the Naga issue in a manner which ensures the Naga people`s identity and enhanced economic development within the framework of the Indian Constitution.

    No political or underground outfit today realistically thinks in terms of independence for the Naga people though some of them for tactical reasons are not formally renouncing such a demand. Delay in striking a deal between the government and the major underground outfits is only creating frustration among a large section of the Naga society as well as internecine dissentions among the various factions trying to outbid each other. The situation, with a vacuum in the ceasefire institutions, is leading to conflicts at local levels but on a restricted scale. Without a broad-based political rapprochement, which perforce has to be initially confined to the present territorial jurisdiction of Nagaland, the security situation may not remain conducive.

    The prevailing situation has de facto enabled a high-level of extortion by the underground groups as part of their strategy to generate money and target new areas, population clusters and institutions. The extortion, euphemistically termed as tax collection for discharging their so-called administrative and welfare responsibilities, will weaken the legitimacy of the elected government of Nagaland by constricting its revenue collection and tax inflows. The net result is a financially stressed State government, unable to raise finances (beyond an average of Rs 535 crore/annum) and perennially dependent on the Centre for grants to fund more than 90% of its annual expenditure. This is consequently hampering the growth of viable economic units outside the government sector.

    Nagaland is significantly in a different position today as compared to the time when the Mizo National Front was the sole representative of the Mizo underground in dialogue with GOI before the Mizo Accord was arrived at. Today, at least three predominant Naga groups/factions are in the fray – NSCN(IM), NSCN(K) and the Kholi-Kithovi combine – all jostling for political space and territorial domination.

    There is also the issue of targeted development of the relatively more backward zone of eastern Nagaland – popularly known as the area of Tuensang, Mon, Longleng and Kiphire districts. These districts are periodically experiencing protests and demonstrations led by the ENPO which has ramifications for the political cohesiveness of the Nagaland State. The NSCN (IM) views the campaign of the ENPO with suspicion and considers the movement as a ploy to undermine their influence in the State. The ENPO will be another player which the GOI, the Naga groups and other factions, will have to factor in before arriving at an overall political settlement.

    In the light of the unfolding events, it may be both unrealistic and futile for the GoI, the Finance Ministry, Planning Commission and the Central Finance Commissions to harp on reduction of fiscal deficit in the State budgets and for the Nagaland Government to adhere to a normative level of establishment expenditure, i.e., ensuring a 35% ceiling on salary expenditure vis-à-vis total state government expenditure. Nagaland’s difficult economic situation is being adversely affected by the prevailing political drift with little traction towards autonomy and administrative reforms. In the existing political and economic conditions, the government and its agencies in Nagaland are having to absorb nearly 5% (more than one lakh) of the state`s total population in its establishments thus draining its resources for developmental expenditure and leaving very little scope for private or non-governmental investment.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.