"Pay up or pay the price" was the standard threat from rebels in the northeast. But extortion notices are now coming with 'payment options', possibly due to the economic downturn. Last week, Assamese litterateur Rongbong Terang received a call from a Karbi People's Liberation Tigers (KPLT) asking him to cough up Rs. 300,000.
But the rebels gave him an option: Ferry a consignment of sophisticated weapons from Nagaland's Dimapur town, if he was not in a position pay.
The KPLT, seeking self-rule for the Karbi tribals of central Assam's Karbi Anglong district bordering Nagaland, had a reason. As former president of Assam Sahitya Sabha, Terang enjoys a considerable degree of immunity at checkpoints. "I refused to pay and informed the police," Terang said.
Other groups in the northeast, too, have changed their extortion style in keeping with the impact of price rise on people.
Some rebels, particularly those catering to the aspirations of the Kuki tribe, accept 'revolutionary taxes' in kind, such as farm produce and errands.
Back in 2007, it was the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa), which had pioneered the idea of 'easing the tax burden' on people by accepting monthly instalments.
Since its formation in 1979, the Ulfa has been relying on extortion from business groups - oil majors and tea firms. But with the big money drying up due to the global recession, it started collecting money in small doses to maintain an annual budget of Rs. 30-35crore. The Ulfa and other groups are believed to be collecting around Rs. 2.5crore from 'micro collections'.