GUWAHATI: The savage killing of a non Naga youth in Dimapur on March 5 last has left me in a state of shock from which I am still finding it hard to come out. The beautiful picture of Nagaland that I nurtured in my heart over the years has cracked and I don’t know when it will get restored back to shape, if that happens at all.

As an undergraduate student of St Anthony’s College Shillong in the late 60s, most of my intimate class friends were from Nagaland. One of them, L Nyimpomo Ngullie, who later became the General Manager of Nagaland State Cooperative Bank, was my bosom friend. My first long outing during a college vacation was with him when he asked me to accompany him to his house in Wokha town of Nagaland sometime in 1968. I spent two weeks in his house eating and outing with the family, moving into the interior villages and attending weddings and church events and all through I never felt being an outsider.

In 1972, I joined the State Bank of India as a Probationary Officer and in 1976 I was deputed to Kiphire to take temporary charge of the SBI branch there. It took three days of arduous journey to reach the small town situated on the frontiers with Myanmar. That trip too was pleasant and memorable in many ways.

Soon after my marriage in 1979, I was sent to Nagaland again. This time as the Lead Bank Officer with a sprawling jurisdiction of Mon, Mokokchung, Tuensang, and Zunheboto Districts over which I had to travel frequently overseeing Bank’s loan operations and expansion of branch network. In 1982, I was made the Branch Manager of SBI Mokokchung Branch and simultaneously I was also elected the President of the Rotary Club of Mokokchung. Even though majority of the members of the Club were Nagas they were magnanimous to offer me the post of the President even though I was not a Naga.

I remember my good friends M Bendangnukshi Longkumer and Apong Pongener with whom we worked together to bring Mother Teresa to visit Mokokchung in 1984 to set up the first centre of Missionaries of Charities there. All these are golden memories inscribed forever deep inside my heart.

Over the years Nagaland had transformed. In 1993, SBI decided to send me to Nagaland once again and I had to report to the Regional Office in Dimapur for my new assignment. I have shared with the readers in my last despatch how SBI got an extortion threat from the underground outfits and all bank branches had to be shut for over a month’s period. My own experience was quite unsavoury. Gun wielding youth visited our house one night and wanted to take away my son for a ransom to be demanded thereafter. My wife parted with all her gold ornaments and the situation was saved for that moment. Overnight, we had to shift our residence to a more secure area and did not dare to visit the old house for a second time again. And yet, when we left Nagaland on transfer to Guwahati, I had no malice in my heart because I knew most Nagas were a friendly and helpful lot and if there were other elements they were just aberrations.

But the jailbreak, forcible pick up of an under trial prisoner and subjecting him to brutal torture leading him to a painful death, videos of which are still doing their rounds on the social media, has taxed all endurance levels and I can only pray for sanity to return to the land known for its bravery and hospitality all this long.

There are several factors at play to destabilise life in Nagaland today. While posted in Mokokchung, I had to travel frequently to a village named Changki, about 40 km away. The women in Changki are known for their beauty, elegance, and poise. Even in those years, I was told that about 40 Indian Army officers from mainland India had married Ao women from Changki and all of them were living happily thereafter. But the message today is different. The youth of Nagaland feel ‘they are our women and thou shalt not touch them.’ One of the factors leading to the Dimapur incident was undoubtedly this.

Some allege that some high profile underground elements were lodged at the Dimapur Central Jail and the rebel outfits wanted their release at any cost. So this plot involving Sarif Khan was worked out and in the process of the jail break, these elements also had a free run from the jail. This part of the suspicion is still veiled in a mist of doubt but a high level impartial inquiry would surely reveal if this allegation is correct or not.

I have often harped on the point that Dimapur is not the face of Nagaland and I repeat that once again. If Nagaland stands for valour and hospitality, Dimapur stands out stark naked for its greed and moral degradation. Over the years, it has emerged as a hub of inter-state criminals, arms dealers, drug peddlers, extortionists, kidnappers, fraudsters, prostitutes, and contract killers. These elements don’t care two hoots for the administration, if there is any. Even the arms and ammunition used for rhino poaching in the not so far away Kaziranga Wild Life Sanctuary are allegedly supplied from Dimapur. More often than not the trains that pass through Dimapur are caught by the security forces with passengers carrying drugs, charas, cannabis, and opium. People who are involved in all the aforementioned activities are ruthless and can kill at the drop of the hat. It is high time for the Government of Nagaland to take the matter seriously and brush up the administrative machinery in this commercial capital of the State.

Some other knowledgeable circles assign another motive in the Dimapur incident of last week. Currently there is a rift in the State Government and dissidents have been working hard to destabilise the ministry led by the present chief minister TR Zeliang. In a similar situation in the State way back in 1980, dissidents had stage managed a student agitation against the then chief minister SC Jamir. Two students were killed in police firing and SC Jamir had to resign. This time around, school and college students were in the forefront of the mob that snatched Sarif from the Dimapur Central Jail. Fortunately the Police had not opened fire on them. If one student were killed, it would have been time for Zeliang to see the exit door.

Interestingly, Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) is the only political party of the North East which is a coalition partner of Narendra Modi’s NDA government. It is obvious that the coalition has a vision for making an inroad for entry into North East in a big way through Nagaland. The present Governor of the State is a committed Sangh Parivar worker and he would undoubtedly put his mite to ensure this happens soon. Therefore, it would not be any surprise if Mr Amit Shah is seen arriving in Kohima one day too soon, and camp there like he did in Uttar Pradesh just ahead of the last Lok Sabha elections, and the results will be there for all the fathom and see.

Collection of illegal tax by National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) factions, Naga National Council (NNC) outfits, and many other splinter extortionist groups that have mushroomed in Dimapur is another factor that has devastated normal life in Dimapur. It is a well known fact that many non Nagas are also utilised by these outfits as agents to collect the extortion amounts. Often they get caught in cross fires and die.

The tax racket is so well entrenched in the fabric of the State today that even PSUs get printed and signed extortion notes from these outfits and pay quietly to buy peace and do business in the State. Many people believe that even State Ministers get a share from these illegal collections and thus turn a blind eye to the illegal activity, let alone taking action against the perpetrators. Now there is news that the present CM is suspected to have bought condominiums abroad at astronomical price and even kept huge sums in foreign banks. Could a substantial part of this money be his share of the extortion collections? Time will speak.

All said and done, the fire that has been lit in Dimapur this time will simmer in Nagaland for quite some time to come. The image of the State that has got tarnished will also take a long time to heal.

[The author is the Executive Editor of the English daily ‘Eastern Chronicle’ published from Guwahati.]