Most lucrative businesses spawn fakes. Militancy in the Northeast is no different.
Ideology notwithstanding, insurrection is about making money at gunpoint. If the original rebels are remote-controlling the extortion business from safe havens, the fakes are cashing in on the fear factor on the ground.
Last weekend, the police in eastern Assam's Sivasagar district caught three armed men claiming to be United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militants. "We caught the three before they could kidnap a person for ransom," Sivasagar SP Shyamal P. Saikia told HT. "We found out they were hardened criminals using ULFA's name. And they had procured pistols, revolvers and hand grenades to resemble militants."
Saikia said the police had sometime ago killed one and caught two fake ULFA militants on an extortion drive. "These imitators are becoming quite a menace," he said.
The fake rebel has become a headache for the real McCoy too. ULFA top guns have often warned those "misusing" their outfit's name. This, insurgency watchers say, was inevitable with militant outfits having shown the way to making easy money.
Groups like ULFA have an annual "revolutionary budget" of Rs 200-250 crore extorted from traders, business houses, tea and oil industry through field operatives and agents. Lesser outfits like Dima Halam Daogah (Jewel) extract Rs 5 crore each from tribal councils, cement and power plants besides "taxing" the salaried and self-employed.
Other outfits across the Northeast are also perturbed by fakes. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was last year "compelled to arrest anti-social elements involved in tax collection or other illegal activities" in its name.
A dozen such fakes were released between January and December 23 last year.
Despite a 10-year ceasefire, the NSCN tax collection machinery reportedly fetches the outfit between Rs 200-400 crore every year. The money keeps the outfit "well-oiled".