Updated: March 31, 2021 10:13:04 am
In a video message on Tuesday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi promised to implement Article 244 (A) of the Constitution to safeguard the interests of the people in Assam’s tribal-majority districts. “The BJP is attacking the culture and traditions of hill tribes by withdrawing Article 244(A). The upcoming Congress government will ensure that Article 244(A) is not diluted and all its clauses are implemented to protect the interests of indigenous people,” said Rahul.
The hill districts of Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong and West Karbi Anglong go to polls on April 1.
What is Article 244(A) of the Constitution?
Article 244(A) allows for creation of an ‘autonomous state’ within Assam in certain tribal areas. Inserted into the Constitution in 1969 by the then Congress government, it also has a provision for a Legislature and a Council of Ministers.
How is it different from the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution?
The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution — Articles 244(2) and 275(1) — is a special provision that allows for greater political autonomy and decentralised governance in certain tribal areas of the Northeast through autonomous councils that are administered by elected representatives. In Assam, the hill districts of Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong and West Karbi and the Bodo Territorial Region are under this provision.
Article 244(A) accounts for more autonomous powers to tribal areas. According to Uttam Bathari, who teaches history at Gauhati University, among these the most important power is the control over law and order. “In Autonomous Councils under the Sixth Schedule, they do not have jurisdiction of law and order,” he said.
How did the demand arise?
In the 1950s, a demand for a separate hill state arose around certain sections of the tribal population of undivided Assam. In 1960, various political parties of the hill areas merged to form the All Party Hill Leaders Conference, demanding a separate state. After prolonged agitations, Meghalaya gained statehood in 1972.
“The leaders of the Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills were also part of this movement,” said Bathari. “They were given the option to stay in Assam or join Meghalaya.” They stayed back as the then Congress government promised more powers, including Article 244 (A).
Since then, there has been a demand for its implementation.
In the 1980s, this demand took the form of a movement with a number of Karbi groups resorting to violence. It soon became an armed separatist insurgency demanding full statehood.
While in February 2021, 1,040 militants of five militant groups of Karbi Anglong district ceremonially laid down arms at an event in Guwahati in the presence of Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, the entire political discourse here still revolves around the demand for grant of ‘autonomous state’ status to the region.
What is the BJP saying?
In January, a group of BJP legislators from Assam, plus BJP MP Horen Sing Bey who represents the Autonomous Hills district constituency, submitted a memorandum to the Centre seeking the implementation of Article 244 (A).
Later in February, two days after the surrender, Karbi groups approached Home Minister Amit Shah reiterating the demand.
However, Shah, till now, has only promised a special developmental package for the areas.
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