Scrapping of special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 has fuelled apprehension among many in the Northeast, where several states enjoy certain special privileges under various Sections of the Constitution.
Article 371(A), which lays out special provisions for Nagaland, states that no Act of Parliament — with respect to religious or social practices of the Nagas, their customary law and procedure, administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law, ownership and transfer of land and its resources — will apply to Nagaland unless the state Assembly, by a resolution, decides so.
Article 371G accords similar provisions for Mizoram. Article 371H lists two special provisions for Arunachal Pradesh, relating to the powers of the Governor and composition of the state Assembly.
Article 371B deals with special provision for Assam — it refers to the President’s powers regarding areas under Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution — while Article 371C lays out special provisions for Manipur.
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Soon after Home Minister Amit Shah brought J&K Reorganisation Bill in Rajya Sabha on Monday, former multiple-term Mizoram chief minister and senior Congress leader Lal Thanhawla pointed towards this supposed threat in a tweet: “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 If 35A and 370 are repealed, Article 371G, which safeguards the interests and existence of lesser tribals of Mizoram is under severe threat.”
Several political parties and civil society groups in Nagaland have aired similar apprehensions. Opposition Naga People’s Front’s spokesperson Achumbemo Kikon told The Indian Express: “The Government of India could have taken people of J&K into confidence. A more democratic process could have been followed. Such a step can further alienate Kashmiris. I hope the Centre will not attempt any such step in Nagaland — and if in case it does, it will not go down well.”
Even Nagaland’s ruling Nationalist Demo-cratic Progress Party, an NDA partner, voiced concerns. Party spokesperson Merentoshi Jamir told PTI, “We are apprehensive, but with the talks for settlement of the Naga political issue still on, we hope the Centre will not make any such move (to scrap Art 371A).”
Newly appointed Nagaland Governor R N Ravi, who is also the interlocutor of the Naga peace talks, however, “assured” people that there is no need to worry.
In a statement on Tuesday, Ravi said, “Some people have expressed apprehensions over the implications of development in Jammu & Kashmir on Nagaland. I would like to categorically assure you all that you do not have to worry at all. Article 371(A) is a solemn commitment to people of Nagaland. It is a sacred commitment…”
Welcoming the Governor’s statement, Nagaland CM Neiphiu Rio said in a statement: “The state government assures every citizen that it will stand up for the rights and protection of our people under all circumstances.”
Several Naga outfits, including NSCN (I-M), are in peace talks with the Centre at present. On being contacted, members of NSCN (I-M) said no statement has been issued yet.
Chuba Ozukum, president of Nagaland’s apex tribal body, Naga Hoho, said, “We are apprehensive of the Central government behaving with the same yardstick with Nagas as it did with J&K. They have no right to do such a thing with the Naga people. If they try any such thing (here), instead of settlement of the Naga issues things will get far more worse.”
Calling the decision to scrap special provisions for J&K a “unilateral approach” that is “very disturbing and we are worried”, Nagaland Tribal Council’s secretary Theja Therieh said, “When any agreement is reviewed, it should be bilateral. They (Central government) should have followed a democratic process and it should have been through the Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. We are hopeful that the Centre will not disrespect our trust. We are negotiating, and we hope they respect that.”
Besides sections of Article 371, the Sixth Schedule of Constitution lays out provisions and powers of autonomous districts and autonomous regions in Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
Assam-based activist Akhil Gogoi said people in the region “definitely” have apprehensions. “If they (the Centre) can scrap Article 370, then next they may target Article 371 A-G; Constitutional safeguards under Sixth Schedule might go away next,” he said. “They may even target reservations for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.”
Meghalaya-based civil society group Thma U Rangli-Juki (TUR) stated: “The Indian union came into being by various agreements with different communities through special provisions and arrangements, including the 5th and 6th schedules…. Abrogation of Article 370 points to the reality that a similar threat to the 5th and 6th schedule provisions exists.”
Other activists also point out that provisions of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act (BEFR), 1873, on which the system of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) is based could also be repealed next.
A feature unique to some states in the Northeast, ILP is a special permit required by “outsiders” from other regions of India to enter Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram.