Millennium Post

State of Nagaland and the Constitution

State of Nagaland and the Constitution
Mainstream India, has typically been those parts of the Union where the Indian Army is not actively deployed at present. Naturally, the contour of this ‘mainstream’ has been changing. Places where the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is in action, there are sweeping powers that the Armed Forces have over the life and liberty of people. The AFSPA has been applied at different times to most of what constitutes the Union of India’s northeast. The non-homogeneity of the law typically remains buried from the mainstream (for definition of mainstream, see above) because most people from the mainstream simply do not have much reason to venture ‘out there’. The converse is not true. In an over-centralised system, largesse in the form of opportunities, public facilities, institutions, universities, infrastructure, etc are inordinately showered around a zone around New Delhi called the National Capital Region (NCR). Hence, those from ‘out there’ have to trudge to the centre of the ‘mainstream’, whether they like it or not.

Auspicious days have a special value in our lives. So much so that the ‘bad guys’ especially choose such occasions to mar the jubilation. They must be having a particularly twisted mind. 1 December 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the Indian Union declaring the state (in the constituent province sense) of Nagaland. As late as 1936, the British authorities were not entirely sure where to put most of the ‘northeast’ – in the Empire of India or in the soon-to-be-created crown colony of Burma. Indeed, after 1937, some Naga areas ‘fell’ in Burma. Funny, isn’t it, that the land, that inalienable heirloom of ancestors on which a people live and their identity thrives are not the most important truths – but lines drawn without consent and ‘falling’ on people are. Nagas have witnessed the longest struggle (someone’s terrorism, someone’s insurgency, someone’s freedom struggle – we all know the routine disclaimer) against both the post-British Burmese and Indian states. Whether they are post-colonial states (and this doubtful list includes Pakistan too) depends on whom you ask.

More than 50 years ago, the then prime minister of the Union of India, Jawaharlal Nehru said in the Lok Sabha – ‘We have had for many years Nagas in the Indian Army and they have proved to be excellent soldiers. Our policy has always been to give the fullest autonomy and opportunity to self-development to the Naga people, without interfering in any way in their internal affairs or way of life.’

The last sentence is critical, as it goes against the usual thrust of policies from New Delhi – typically aimed at creating a homogenised, Hindustan (Hindi-heartland) centric identity. The Union of India negotiated the subsequent statehood status for Nagaland. Given the prevailing conditions, special provisions for the State of Nagaland were incorporated as Article 371A of the constitution of the Union of India. Now on the eve of the 50 glorious years of Nagaland’s life as a state of the Union of India, the ruling party of Nagaland called the Naga People’s Front has decided to take Article 371A of the constitution and certain pronouncements by the Petroleum Ministry in the Parliament of the Indian Union at face value. The Nagaland state government wants to use all its natural resources on its own and has cited the constitution to say it is constitutional.

This is the kind of problem you get into when you have non-pliant provincial governments. New Delhi is not amused at the constitution being thrown at them. This is a crisis, not so much of law breaking, but of law following.

IPA
Garga Chatterjee

Garga Chatterjee

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