Article 370: Apprehensions That NE Will be Next
Image Courtesy: The Geopolitics
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been able to fulfill one of its longstanding promises of repealing Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Article 370 was contained under ‘Temporary, Transitional and Special Provisions’ in Part XXI of the Constitution. It pertains to Jammu and Kashmir and is based on the agreements between the then king of the region and the Union of India. Article 35A was added into the Constitution of India by means of a Presidential Order. Hence, on August 5 through a Presidential Order, Article 35A was scrapped. Though there may be some who are salivating over prospects of real estate investments, the move has not gone down well in the Northeast.
As per a report by the Press Trust of India (PTI), people of Arunachal Pradesh celebrated the decision. The respondents viewed the development as a move to curb ‘cross border terrorism’. Arunachal Pradesh, too, has Article 371H, a ‘special provision’ which, however, empowers the Governor further than the Indian Constitution ordinarily allows. In 2014, former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki unsuccessfully attempted to have Article 371H amended along the lines of Articles 371A (Nagaland) and 371G (Mizoram).
The Presidential Order repealing article 35A has enabled the Union Government to determine who is eligible to be counted as a ‘permanent resident’, and in accordance to issue a Permanent Resident Certificate (PRC). The PRC issue in Arunachal Pradesh is a touchy topic. In February this year, Itanagar and the surrounding areas witnessed large scale rioting and vandalism on this issue. Hence, the PTI report may not have quite captured the mood in the state.
The Telegraph has reported that social activist Akhil Gogoi has viewed the developments to be an indication that the Northeast is next. Whereas today’s issue of the Assam Tribune contained an editorial that did not quite comment on the implications of the Union Government’s move vis-à-vis Assam. However, Assam is covered under Article 371B which only makes provisions for tribal people to represent tribal areas in the Legislative Assembly. In Assam’s context, repealing this provision would not impact the state in a major way as other provisions of the Constitution will continue to exist in order to ensure adequate tribal representation.
Like Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur’s accession to the Indian Union was clouded by a conflict, except that in Manipur’s context, the conflict was with India, to which the kingdom acceded. The Imphal Free Press has carried an editorial on the Union Government’s moves in Jammu and Kashmir which has diplomatically lambasted the move. The editorial highlighted that several politicians in Jammu and Kashmir opined that by repealing Article 370, the accession of Jammu and Kashmir was undone. This position is similar to that of Sikkim regarding Article 371F.
Also read: Explained: Article 370 and Article 35A
In the context of Manipur, the governing special provision is Article 371C. However, in this special provision, the Governor is given de facto charge of the hill areas, i.e. the tribal areas. The editorial, however, also mentioned the demands from the Naga nationalists regarding a separate flag, Constitution and passport as seeming like “a castle in the air”, in the context of the Union Government’s move.
There are no special provisions for Meghalaya. The state was carved out of Assam. However, there have been on and off demands for implementing the Inner Line Permit System (ILPS) in the state. On April 25, The Hindu carried an article by Rahul Karmakar who highlighted the wish of the Khasi Syiems (Kings/Chiefs) to revisit their accession agreements with the Union of India. In short, it would appear that there is a sense that special provisions are required in Meghalaya. The primary concern of course is over land ownership.
Former Chief Minister of Mizoram, Lal Thanhawla, has made his position on the developments in Jammu and Kashmir clear through a tweet on August 5. In his words, “RED ALERT to the people of NE. It has become a threat to states like Mizoram, Nagaland & Arunachal which are protected by the Consitution. If 35A and 370 are repealed, Article 371G, which safeguards the interests and existence of lesser tribals of Mizoram is under severe threat.” According to News18, other political parties in Mizoram have also condemned the move.
People’s Representation for Identity and Status of Mizoram (PRISM) has sounded the alarm and urged the ‘indigenous people’ of the Northeast to be prepared. The Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) was reported to have highlighted the differences between Jammu and Kashmir and Mizoram as 371G was inserted after a Peace Agreement was signed.
Perhaps the most volatile state regarding the Union Government’s moves in Jammu and Kashmir is Nagaland. Though Nagaland has special provisions under Article 371A which was inserted following the creation of the state of Nagaland, the very creation of the state became the motive for a fresh insurgency under the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). In 2015, the BJP government signed what it termed as a ‘historic’ framework agreement with the Isak-Muivah faction of the NSCN. Since then, many cards have been displayed on and left the table, including territorial integration of Naga inhabited areas, sovereignty, a separate flag and Constitution.
The Morung Express, a leading English daily from Nagaland has carried an editorial questioning whether Nagaland’s representatives in Parliament dissented or not regarding Jammu and Kashmir. It concluded with a line from Rabindranath Tagore; “When this idea of the Nation tries to pass off the cult of collective selfishness as a moral duty, it not only commits depredation, but attacks the very vitals of humanity.”
Like Manipur, Sikkim’s accession to the Indian Union was perceived by many as coercive. Through a questionable referendum, the state has retained its old laws minus the monarchy and flag through Article 371F. There are many in Sikkim who lament the dilution of the old laws and ascribe the current demographic transformation of the urban areas to it. However, the biggest concern post election now appears to be the issue of merging Darjeeling with Sikkim. Among those who possess the Sikkim Subject Certificates (SSC) issued by the Chogyal, there are no takers for the merger. Further, the staunchest opposition to the idea of merging Sikkim with Darjeeling appears to come from the Nepali speaking communities.
Following the Union Government’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir, it appears that people are apprehensive that another bomb will be dropped, but this time in Sikkim. However, it will be trickier for the Union Government to repeal Article 371F since clause (m) bars all courts from having any jurisdiction over matters arising out of treaties between the Union of India and the Government of Sikkim. Since in international law, only sovereign states are capable of entering into treaties, repealing article 371F would legally return Sikkim to its sovereign status.
Reactions from Tripura have highlighted the marriage of convenience between Hindu nationalism and ethno-nationalism. The BJP Chief Minister Biplab Dev lauded the Union Government, whereas the alliance partner, Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) opposed the decision. The older party, the Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT) too slammed the move. Like Meghalaya, Tripura, too, does not have any special provisions. However, like Meghalaya, the general constitutional provisions regarding tribal areas apply to Tripura’s hills.
Looking at the reactions from the Northeast as a whole, it would appear that the nationalist forces are wary of the Union Government’s plans and motives following Jammu and Kashmir’s total integration.
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