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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS: The fragility of the Northeast’s integration

Source: The Hindu

  • Prelims: Current events of National importance importance, North-East region, mapping of NE region etc
  • Mains GS Paper II and III: India’s northeast region, importance of Northeast for India, security Issues etc

 

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS

  • The integration of Northeast India into mainstream Indian life has been on the national agenda from the very start of India’s journey as an independent nation.
  • The region has always been seen to be somewhat alien and needing assimilation, which found (and finds) reflection in administrative terms too.
  • Two such measures, on opposite ends of the spectrum, should characterize this predicament:
    • The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution introduced in 1949.
    • Draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), promulgated in 1958.

 

 

INSIGHTS ON THE ISSUE

Context

North East Region:

  • The NER is strategically located with access to the traditional domestic market of eastern India, along with proximity to the major states in the east and adjacent countries such as Bangladesh and Myanmar.

 

Excluded’ areas:

  • Mongolian Fringe: The British had considered leaving this “Mongolian Fringe” — a term British India Foreign Secretary Olaf Caroe coined in a paper in 1940 — as a Crown Colony.
    • This entity was to be a combination of hill regions of the Northeast and Upper Burma.
  • Racially, historically, culturally and linguistic differences: The Governor of Assam, Robert Reid, flagged this in a 22-page note in 1937 titled ‘A Note on the Future of the Present Excluded, Partially Excluded and Tribal Areas of Assam’, by saying people here, “neither racially, historically, culturally, nor linguistically”, had any affinity with the rest of India.
    • There were other similar thoughts too as David R. Syiemlieh documents in his On the Edge of Empire: Four British Plans for North East India 1941-1947.
  • Excluded” and “Partially Excluded” areas: These “Excluded” and “Partially Excluded” areas Reid mentions, were constituted largely of the unadministered hills of Assam separated from its revenue plains by an “Inner Line” created by the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation 1873, and this was a year before Assam was separated from Bengal and made a Chief Commissioner’s Province.
  • Treaty of Yandabo: Earlier, Assam was annexed into British Bengal after the First Anglo Burmese War 1824-26 and the signing of the Treaty of Yandabo.

 

Historical Background:

  • British Assam: It was virtually the entire Northeast of today, excluding two kingdoms, Tripura and Manipur.
    • In these kingdoms too, though no Inner Line was introduced, the British brought in similar administrative mechanisms separating “excluded” hills from the revenue plains.
  • In Tripura, the plains of Chakla Roshnabad were annexed to British Bengal and the Tripura kings were allowed to be landowners there but not claim sovereignty over them.
  • In Manipur, the hills and the central revenue plains of the Imphal valley came to be treated as separate administrative regions in 1907.
  • The Crown Colony plan was ultimately dropped on grounds of administrative feasibility.
  • Reid’s idea probably was also influenced by a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929 by a nascent Naga nationalist body, Naga Club, which argued that Nagas were not Indians.
  • Interestingly, the Crown Colony bears resemblance to the notion of “Zomia”, conceived by Willem van Schendel and popularized by James C. Scott in ‘The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia’. This complex mosaic of ethnicities was what India inherited.

 

Background of Sixth Schedule:

  • The Sixth Schedule was India’s first administrative instrument for undivided Assam’s tribal belt.
  • Formation of Autonomous District Councils: The Schedules mandated the formation of Autonomous District Councils in which, among others, tribal customary laws were given legitimacy.
  • Naga Hills refused the Sixth Schedule: The Naga Hills refused the Sixth Schedule and would have nothing less than sovereignty.
    • A powerful insurgency resulted, and in its wake, AFSPA, with sweeping powers given to the armed forces.
  • Merger of Naga Hills: As an overture of pacification, the Naga Hills district was merged with the adjacent Mon and Tuensang subdivision of the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), or today’s Arunachal Pradesh, to form a separate Nagaland State in 1963.
    • Naga insurgency, however, raged on in different avatars.
  • Bifurcation of autonomous regions: In 1972, most of these autonomous regions were bifurcated from Assam.
    • Meghalaya became a State, while Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram were made Union Territories.
    • The latter two were upgraded to States in 1987.
    • Tripura and Manipur, which were made Part-C States after merger with India in 1949, were also upgraded to States in 1972.
  • Mongolian Fringe: The hegemonic suspicion of the Indian state of the “Mongolian Fringe”, and reciprocal fear of the latter of being forced out of their traditional worlds to be overwhelmed by a cultural and population deluge from the mainstream, persisted.

 

Inclusion by accommodation:

  • National identity and nationalism: India gained confidence and shed its insecurities of further balkanisation after its traumatic Partition experience, the outlook towards national identity and nationalism underwent moderations, inclining towards a constitutional definition of these understandings rather than it being cultural.
  • National integration: It came to be more about the mainstream broadening to accommodate all other streams within the national territory, rather than requiring the latter to leave their streams to join the mainstream.
  • North Eastern Council (NEC): This institution was founded in 1971 as an advisory body.
    • Initially, its members were Governors of the Northeast States, thereby remaining as the ears and eyes of the Center.
    • Its original pledge too made security the primary concern.
    • In 2002, the act that brought NEC to life was amended.
    • From an advisory role, it became an infrastructure planning body for the region.
    • Sikkim was also brought into its fold.
    • Significantly, its executive structure expanded to include Chief Ministers of these States, linking it to the aspirations of local electorates.
  • Creation of DoNER: DoNER was created by the Union Government in 2001, and in 2004 it was upgraded to a full-fledged Ministry.
  • Look East Policy: The paranoid suspicion of a “foreign hand” too has all but disappeared, and, earlier, in 1991, India’s Look East Policy was born with the stated objective of linking the Northeast with the vibrant economies of SouthEast Asia.
  • Protected area regime relaxed: In 2010, a protected area regime that had restricted visits to Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram by foreigners was relaxed.
  • Repeal or humanize AFSPA: Although unsuccessful, there was even a judicial commission constituted in 2004 to recommend a way to repeal or else “humanize” AFSPA.

 

Importance of NorthEast Region:

 

 

Government Initiatives for NE Region:

 

 

Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958:

●    AFSPA gives sweeping powers to the armed forces.

●    For example, it allows them to open fire, even causing death, against any person in contravention to the law or carrying arms and ammunition.

●    Also, it gives them powers to arrest individuals without warrants, on the basis of “reasonable suspicion”, and search premises without warrants.

●    It can be imposed by the Center or the Governor of a state, on the state or parts of it, after these areas are declared “disturbed’’ under Section 3.

●    The Act was amended in 1972 and the powers to declare an area as “disturbed” were conferred concurrently upon the Central government along with the States.

●    Currently, the Union Home Ministry issues periodic “disturbed area” notification to extend AFSPA only for Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.

●    The notification for Manipur and Assam is issued by the State governments.

●    Tripura revoked the Act in 2015 and Meghalaya was under AFSPA for 27 years, until it was revoked by the MHA from 1st April 2018.

 

Sixth Schedule:

●    It protects tribal populations and provides autonomy to the communities through creation of autonomous development councils that can frame laws on land, public health, agriculture and others.

●    As of now, 10 autonomous councils exist in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.

●    This special provision is provided under Article 244(2) and Article 275(1) of the Constitution.

●    The governor is empowered to organize and reorganize the autonomous districts.

●    If there are different tribes in an autonomous district, the governor can divide the district into several autonomous regions.

 

Way Forward

  • Links with Southeast Asia: With Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) engagement becoming a central pillar of India’s foreign policy direction, North-East states play an important role as the physical bridge between India and Southeast Asia.
    • The India’s Act East Policy places the northeastern states on the territorial frontier of India’s eastward engagement.
  • Economic Significance: North-East has immense natural resources, accounting for around 34% of the country’s water resources and almost 40% of India’s hydropower potential.
    • Sikkim is India’s first organic state.
  • National and international borders: India’s North East is surrounded by national and international borders, so, national and international infrastructure development will be the best choice for inclusive development in India’s Northeast.
  • Thwarting secessionist movements: Investing in infrastructure would generate employment and would play a major role in thwarting secessionist movements in the North-East region.
  • Peace negotiation: A peace negotiation has been in progress for the last 25 years, and the hope is that this would culminate in a lasting settlement.

 

QUESTION FOR PRACTICE

  1. Cross-border movement of insurgents is only one of the several security challenges facing the policing of the border in North-East India. Examine the various challenges currently emanating across the India-Myanmar border. Also discuss the steps to counter the challenges.(UPSC 2019)

(200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)