Fear for special rights in some Indian states

The unprecedented federal fiat to strip away Jammu and Kashmir's special status has sent a worrying signal to a clutch of eastern Indian states which enjoy similar rights.

Having witnessed the decades-old Article 370 of the Indian Constitution being repudiated overnight in Parliament through a presidential order, these states now fear their special rights could also be snatched away.

There are 11 other states, including many from the far eastern flank of the country such as Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim, that enjoy special provisions to protect their indigenous identity under various sections of Article 371. They are allowed to formulate and practise their own laws governing issues such as religious or social practices, administration of civil and criminal justice, and even ownership and transfer of land.

In Mizoram, such a guarantee forms the cornerstone of the Mizo Accord that the Indian government signed with the Mizo National Front (MNF) in June 1986. It specifies that no act of Parliament pertaining to the domains listed above will apply to Mizoram, unless its legislative assembly decides to adopt it. Because of this agreement, the MNF ceased its long campaign of violence to establish an independent homeland.

On Aug 5, Mizoram's former Congress chief minister Lal Thanhawla took to Twitter to issue a "red alert", saying the government's move on Article 370 posed a threat to the eastern states. They enjoy protection similar to those in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), that will now be bifurcated into two union territories.

"If Article 370 can be taken away from J&K, so can Article 371G from Mizoram," said Mr Lallianchhunga , an assistant professor of political science at Mizoram University.

"The BJP has an idea of one India that is governed by one rule. In order to realise this dream, they want to make the central government a very strong unitary one and undo the spirit of cooperative federalism," said Mr Lallianchhunga, also a spokesman for the Mizoram Congress.

There is similar widespread concern in Sikkim and Nagaland. The latter's governor R.N. Ravi has already reassured locals that Article 371A, which applies to their state, is a "sacred commitment". Naga nationalist groups are in talks with the federal government for autonomy greater than what is offered under Article 371A.

Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah has dismissed opposition concerns that any potential dilution or scrapping of Article 371 is an attempt to "mislead" people. "Why will we remove it? It doesn't come in the way of the country's unity and integrity... I reassure all states of the north-east that the Narendra Modi government has no intention to scrap 371," he told the Parliament.

 

But this has failed to dispel concerns from Monday's unilateral and almost clandestine move to undo Article 370.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2019, with the headline 'Fear for special rights in some states'. Print Edition | Subscribe