Naga entrepreneurs harried for Look East policy
DIMAPUR, MAY 11
LAWLESSNESS, influx of illegal immigrants, lack of infrastructure and development, weak political administration, and the absence of economic policy reforms in Nagaland are gradually erasing the aspirations of first-generation entrepreneurs of the Naga community.
The socio-political variables are so intricate that the ambitious Look East Policy, which the government of Nagaland had touted, appears headed for oblivion – Naga businesses are too busy struggling with extortion, competition from illegal immigrants, lack of administrative and security support from the state administration, and a sense of alienation from local policy makers. As a part of series chronicling the myriad challenges that lay in the path of businesses and local commercial membership, Eastern Mirror will be highlighting a number of Naga businessmen in Nagaland, their perspectives, and their goals within the ambit of visionary economic plans such as the Look East policy.
The Look East policy of India represents the central government’s effort to create an extensive economic and strategic relation with Southeast Asian nations. The ambition is to bolster the country’s standing as a regional power and a counterweight to the strategic influence of the China. In the case of strategic peripheral administrations such those of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland, the government hopes to harness border economic assets to open ‘portals’ that would connect local economies to the larger regional markets of Asia such as Myanmar.
‘We have no time to think about Look East Policy,’ admitted Akum Jamir, proprietor of Crescendo, one of the most prominent and oldest entertainment merchandise depots in Nagaland. “With this condition, how do you expect us to grow and expand?”
The businessman, also a leader of the Business Association of Nagaland (BAN), was referring to the relentless “taxes” from the myriad armed Naga underground groups, as well as the ‘challenges’ offered by non-local business syndicates, lack of infrastructure and communication networks, and ‘denial of business opportunities and infrastructure to Naga entrepreneurs.’
Before Crescendo became a leader in local business, Jamir was a well-known bass guitarist in the local rock music circuit during the ‘80s and the late ‘90s. The long-haired 40 years old started his merchandise depot during 2002, in a tiny shop located at the Nuton Basti Junction in Dimapur. The tiny, dusty, and creaky hellhole of a music shop sold nothing more than a few old rock cassettes, cheap Indian guitar strings, and hand crafted audio equipments such as speakers that barely sold. About 12 years later, Crescendo is now housed in two prime layouts – one housing a separate audio system business.
Unconfirmed reports say that almost 40 % of musical instruments in Nagaland are supplied by Crescendo. Interestingly, some of the hurdles he struggled with during the initial launch of Crescendo, are still around – extortion.
“Look East Policy? Young Nagas come saying, ‘We want to open a business but what is the use? Even if we open, the next day the underground taxes will come, so what is the use?’” said Jamir, conversing with this Reporter in his office at the main Crescendo showroom. He narrated how many young Nagas were closing shops soon after launching business – thanks to the fantastically-high and abundantly myriad forms of “taxes” levied by the armed groups.
The rampant extortion was one of the chief reasons the BAN was started, about two years ago. Jamir is a member of its executive council. BAN represents Naga entrepreneurs and envisages ensuring equal economic opportunities for local businessmen and their protection from nefarious elements, and unjust market competitions from outsiders.
“We saw that only the ACAUT was taking the pressure. (Action Against Unabated Taxation, a mass organization spearheading a fight against extortion and corruption in the state). It was not right so we joined the fight. Naga businessmen cannot do business because of the underground tax,” Jamir, from Unger village in Mokokchung district, said.
Likewise, he revealed that there were many non-locals running businesses in the name of Nagas or their assets and monetary transactions were being undertaken under that guise. In reality, it was actually the Marwari or illegal Bangladeshi immigrants or other non-locals who were receiving the actual money transacted under Naga names.
“Instead of paying 20-30 lakhs to the state government as income tax, they pay Nagas a few thousand rupees to use their names and (launder money). That way, the non-locals are not giving income tax, by using Naga names,” Jamir said. Under the government of India, Naga citizens are exempt from public taxes.
Another reason why Naga entrepreneurs are facing problems in setting up business is the “denial of good places” to Naga local entrepreneurs. Jamir said non-locals have monopolized all the prime business locations in the state. The Marwari, and the Bangladeshi, for example, pay ’10-20 lakhs’ in advance to book buildings while Nagas barely have 2-3 lakhs as capital to start business.
“How can we compete when not given a chance? We are not saying throw out the non-locals; we just want at least the new buildings that come up, and should be reserved for Naga entrepreneurs. If we are given a chance, we can do even better,” Jamir, who is already planning expansion of his business to other districts, said.
Another detrimental reason hindering the growth of Naga entrepreneurs are the lack of infrastructure, and communication networks. Contrary to the tall claims of the government and political parties in power, the hilly state’s infrastructural assets have been seeing a gradual disintegration.
Jamir was sarcastic that Nagaland talks of Look East policies when the roads that connect main important commercial centers were not even usable. He cited the instance of the so-called international trading center in Mon district, bordering Myanmar. The “international trading center” is nothing more than a group of shed in an isolated fringe of the border. He said to have been interacting with his business friends to travel to Mon and undertake a survey of the “international trading center” to offer a “reality ground report.” Without infrastructure, roads and good connectivity,” there is no question of trade and commerce functioning in the first place, he reminded.
“There is one industrial zone, in Doyapur which is hardly 30 kilometers. In other places, it would take maybe half an hour to reach it but the road here is so bad it takes about two hours. We are not ready for the Look East policy. Even if we start a business there, where is the electricity to start production?” he queried.
The factors of lack, dilapidation, uncontrolled crime and poor infrastructure and nonexistent facilities are stopping Naga economy from developing and growing, leave alone think of Look East policy, he explained. “In this condition, how do you expect us to grow?”