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OPINION

Where the similarities end: Article 371(A)

With the scrapping of Article 370 which gave special status to Jammu & Kashmir, speculations are rife about the fate of Article 371(A)

Mmhonlümo Kikon

“Bomdila, a small town in NEFA, has also fallen…I want to make clear to all of you, and especially our countrymen in Assam, to whom our heart goes out at this moment,” said Jawaharlal Nehru in his address to the nation through AIR on November 20, 1962.

The above statement is the most helpless expression remembered by every citizen of Northeast India on the 1962 war.

This came when the Chinese PLA was about to overrun Assam. While the military preparedness is another debate, the blatant disregard for the people by the then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, the man on watch, disappointed the entire Northeast. The Indian Army has grown from a wealth of bravery to a formidable force ever since and the confidence today under the PM Narendra Modi is high. The heart-wrenching failure of the Nehru government to protect the territory and the citizens of the country from outside aggression is forever etched in our memories. The tactical military loss has become part of modern Indian history and it still reverberates loudly in the region every time China denies visa to applicants from Arunachal Pradesh.

In August 1962, a Bill was moved in Parliament for creation of the state of Nagaland.

After the historic abrogation of Article 370, attention has been focused mostly on the similarities or dissimilarities with article 371 (A) in particular. In anticipation of a similar fate, the comparative apprehensions reduced the entire history of Article 371 (A) to background music. The vast spectrum of India’s federalism was dissected for detailed analysis from every corner of the world -- every piece of argument citing Art 371 (A) as the other notable asymmetry of the constitution of India. This does injustice to the state of Nagaland, the Nagas and its history. A little bit of context will situate the difference between the far reaching provisions and the complex web of negotiations which separates the two Articles.

Article 371(A) is a solemn commitment to the People of Nagaland

RN Ravi, Nagaland governor

The paradigms of politics has definitely shifted in the Northeast since Independence. Following the 16 point agreement with the Naga Peoples Convention in 1960 and the Mizo Accord and the creation of new states in the Northeast starting from Nagaland to Mizoram, the Reorganisation of states in the Northeast saw the insertion of various letters after Article 371, as a special provision for the new states. In terms of its historical precedent and the political processes Article 370 was, however, mired in impermanence.

After Union home minister, Amit Shah, stated on August 6, in the Lok Sabha that the Modi government has no intention to remove Article 371, the governor of Nagaland, RN Ravi, issued a statement stating that "Article 371 (A) is a solemn commitment to the People of Nagaland". The governor further clarified that the implications of the development in Jammu & Kashmir will in no way change the "sacred commitment". This was followed by another important declaration, "We are earnestly working to happily conclude the ongoing political process which is at a very advanced stage.” This effectively puts to rest the manufacture of false apprehension in the Northeast and across India on the status of Article 371 (A).

Among the many noises in the Northeast after the abrogation of Article 370, two totally different reactions merit attention. For the first, it will suffice to highlight the issue as a measure of comparison to the second. The Bhaichung Bhutia-led Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP) expressed concern that they have been “disturbed by the talks regarding the merger of Sikkim with Darjeeling”.

The timing is not unusual for the newly formed political party from Sikkim. The important contribution to the ongoing discourse was the explanation by HSP that the “proposed merger” will actually be an annexation. This is a reversal of a cursory historical reading of Sikkim- since it is a fact that till 1700s, the whole of Darjeeling was part of the erstwhile Kingdom of Sikkim. ‘Annexation’ connotes, in this case, a critical acceptance of the negotiated constitutional provisions post-independence as opposed to the colonial history. The Accession of Sikkim with India from protectorate status was way after the accession of Kashmir with India. Compare this to the time and emergence of Nagaland state and the subsequent insertion of Article 371(A) as a special provision in the Constitution of India through an amendment.

The statement by RN Ravi, the governor of Nagaland and also the interlocutor of the Peace talks between the NSCN and the government of India, is the other noteworthy response. Given the unique historical reasons why the state of Nagaland was carved out of Assam and the fact that the Naga peace talks are still continuing after almost 21 years, the statement by Ravi explains the nature of the outcome in a hitherto unknown light. Or it was never specified so succinctly before that article 371 A is sacrosanct and will stay.

Therefore, as an outcome of a prolonged negotiation, it already envisages the fact that the solution may go beyond Article 371(A), notwithstanding the sanctity of it. Article 371(A) vis-à-vis a negotiated settlement is therefore not contingent to its autonomy nor transitional in aspect. Removal or abrogation being out of question, the issue of eroding or sidestepping Article 371 (A) in the entire scheme of things remains a mere speculation. Keen observers of the application of Article 371 (A) will attest that the debates arising out of policies attributed to the contours of the same are sometimes expedient and is therefore lost in the many interpretations. As a special provision, therefore, the

historicity of Article 371 (A) makes it so much different from Article 370. The only similarity is that it is both a federal provision and there it ends. By the time Article 371 (A) was inserted the Indian Constitution had already been finalised. In the din that followed the abrogation of Article 370 at least one positive path of the way forward after the signing of the historic ‘Framework Agreement’ on 3rd August 2015 has been thrown open for the Nagas.

(The writer is a second-time BJP MLA from Nagaland and advisor to the government of Nagaland on information technology, science & technology, and new & renewable energy. He is also an ASPEN Fellow. Views expressed are his own)