The Governor of Nagaland R.N. Ravi has written a scathing letter to Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio alleging complete collapse of law and order and the unwillingness of the elected government to resist several armed groups indulging in extortion and violence. Ravi has revealed that some of these groups are running their ‘governments,’ illegally levying taxes on items from salt to construction materials. He has also conceded that government accommodation in forest areas have been taken over by some such groups which are involved in illegal felling of trees and encroachment of forest areas in contravention of a Supreme Court order of 2001.
He goes on to say that offenders apprehended under Indian Arms Act, Explosive Substance Act and Nagaland Security Regulations which carry punishment for five years get away easily because of collusion of Public Prosecutors with the accused making a mockery of law and order.
He has just made public what is well known about Northeast that variety of groups extort money from government employees too.
R.N. Ravi became Governor of Nagaland after he signed as the Interlocutor on behalf of Government of India, in the presence of Prime Minister, on 3 August 2015 a framework agreement with leaders of National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), the most prominent insurgent group in Nagaland, the leader of which Thuingaleng Muivah is described as ‘Ato Kilonser’ (translated as Prime Minister). The agreement itself has phrases like ‘shared sovereignty,’ ‘peaceful co-existence,’ and ‘inclusive relationship,’ implying some scope for autonomy was visualised for the Naga people. R.N. Ravi retired from Intelligence Bureau and served as Deputy National Security Advisor.
So, Ravi could not have been unaware of the situation in Nagaland before he took over as Governor. When the talks with NSCN (IM) got stuck over the demand of a separate Constitution and Flag for Nagaland, Ravi engaged other groups in Nagaland, possibly including some of those who he describes as ‘gangs,’ to try to find a way forward to clinch the peace accord.
Ravi became Nagaland Governor on 1 August, 2019, with a mandate to conclude the agreement within three months but there has been no word from him or the Government of India after the deadline passed. The peace process going on for 23 years after the 1997 ceasefire appears to have once again entered a limbo.
The purpose of writing such a sensitive letter to CM, which managed to make it to the public domain, now is unclear. It is either an expression of frustration with the local multiple forces, including the elected government, realising that the situation is beyond redemption. Else, it could also be a pre-emptive attempt to abdicate responsibility, especially if some untoward incident happens. As a third possibility, he is creating ground for consolidating his power vis-a-vis the elected government and wants to directly influence the proceedings in the state as he indicates towards the end of the letter.
It is instructive to note that leader of a small political party from mainland India, Voters International Party, with a small presence in Assam, Bharat Gandhi is currently in jail in Nagaland. He was arrested from a cadre meeting of his party in Dimapur on 13 March this year. Even though he got bail on 11 May, before he could be released two of his colleagues were kidnapped by an armed group and a ransom of Rs 1 crore was demanded. Now Bharat Gandhi is lodged in Mon District jail because of another First Information Report and awaits grant of bail. Indian civil society has demanded his safe exit from Nagaland under the security of some central security forces.
One cannot help but draw parallels with the disappearance of social activist Sanjay Ghosh forever in 1997 from Majuli island in Brahmaputra. Sanjay is believed to have been killed by United Liberation Front of Assam, a prominent insurgent group there.
When Irom Sharmila went on fast for repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act for 16 years people in mainland India and rest of the world became aware of the situation of human rights violations in Manipur in particular and Northeast in general. Similarly, Bharat Gandhi’s incarceration is making the Indian citizens aware about the ground situation in Nagaland.
Governor’s letter is just an admission of this reality. In a way, it is surprising that he has admitted the failure of the government, something which is anathema to the current ruling dispensation in New Delhi. Could it also be preparing a ground for some new initiative?
If Governor Ravi’s honest admission of the reality can set in motion a process of introspection by the Government and reining of rampant extortion and violence so that some order is brought in the state it would serve a purpose. That the ceasefire has been extended so long is a reflection of the will of people that they want peace. Most Nagas have given up the hope of complete autonomy in lieu of ‘shared sovereignty’ and ‘peaceful co-existence’ with the Indian set up. It is the failure of successive Indian governments to bring normalcy to the area. But a disciplinarian approach of R.N. Ravi may not work because Nagas don’t consider themselves to have subordinated to the India state in history. They never signed any instrument of accession with India and claim to have a unique history.
Hence, any peace solution, if it has to last, has to be arrived at with the consensus of all or most of the Naga groups including the most powerful, NSCN (IM).
Nagas want to have a unique system of governance, competencies of which have been worked out in great detail by NSCN (IM) and the Government of India through the office of R.N. Ravi would do well to start building a consensus around that instead of trying to exploit the differences among the various insurgent groups.
By Sandeep Pandey
Note: Writer is Vice President of Socialist Party (India).