You are here

Need for Inclusive Governance Structures in the North-East

Gautam Sen is a retired IDAS officer who has served in senior positions at the Centre and in a north-east State Government.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • December 17, 2014

    In his keynote speech at the annual conference of police chiefs and heads of central security agencies held in Guwahati on 29-30 November 2014, Director Intelligence Bureau (DIB) Syed Asif Ibrahim stated that while the security situation is under control in other parts of the country the situation in the North-East remains fragile, with some militant outfits still outside the ambit of the peace process. Ibrahim went on to state that the safe sanctuary enjoyed by militants in neighbouring countries, and particularly in Myanmar, is compounding the situation. He highlighted the activities of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (Songbijit faction) in Assam, the Garo National Liberation Front operating in tandem with the United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent) in Meghalaya, the Meitei underground outfits in Manipur and internecine conflict among Naga militant groups. While the DIB’s overview indicated the central government’s awareness about the realities of the existing internal security scenario in the North-East, there was however no indication that it is taking into account the ethnic, social, political and economic dimensions that actually precipitate the adverse security situation in the region.

    In this context, it is pertinent to note that no separatist group seriously considers formal independence as an option. India’s constitutional framework can be realistically deemed as workable having stood the test of time, and will remain so for the future. The enabling features of the Constitution allowing for the protection of specific identities and local resources (for example those enshrined in Article 371) however need to be implemented in their letter and spirit for satisfying local, particularly tribal, aspirations. This will alleviate their perceived sense of alienation and fear of loss of cultural and social identities.

    Such fear psychosis and other apprehensions have, to a great extent, led to the birth of militant outfits. A vicious cycle has been created wherein so-called threats to identity and perceived step-motherly treatment by the mainland and central government have led to the growth of fissiparous elements. This has in turn constricted the opening up of the North-East, particularly the tribal areas of the region, resulting in the deteriorating security milieu and economic backwardness.

    As against this negative scenario, there is a shining example of modus vivendi between the tribals and the state government in Tripura. Once the tribals of Tripura were given political and socio-economic space through the medium of the Tripura Tribal Autonomous District Council, the militant activities of the National Liberation Front of Tripura and the All Tripura Tiger Force became controlled.

    The Union Government should therefore  reiterate its commitment to uphold the Constitutional provisions enshrined in Article 371 (Special Provisions with respect to certain states including the North-East States),  expand the scope of the Sixth Schedule (concerning the tribal areas of the region), and empower the autonomous council institutions. This will put at rest fears among the locals and indigenous people on their resources being taken out of the region without providing any concomitant benefit for their own economic development. Conflicts like that between the Centre and Nagaland over the extraction of petroleum, which saw Nagaland claiming that its rights under Article 371 are being violated and the Centre invoking the Minerals and Mines Development Act (enacted under powers vested in the Union Government as per the Union List Serial 53 of the Constitution) would then not arise. Moreover, enhanced administrative and financial empowerment of these councils is likely to lead to a deeper sense of involvement of the people of these units, with their own socio-economic progress and programmes at the national level and improved overall developmental outcomes.

    The division or splitting up of the present North-East states to satisfy local ethnic groups at the sub-state level is no solution. Emotive consequences are likely if such divisions are attempted of states like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur to satisfy some ethnic aspirations. Instead, the Centre’s endeavour should be towards highlighting the Constitutional protective measures and devolution-cum-empowerment at sub-state tier to significantly impact the lives of the people. A solution which satisfies some ethnic groups but leads to anxiety and apprehension among others who might be in harmony with the existing state structure has to be avoided.

    History testifies to the fact that the sudden creation of a full-fledged, economically unviable, state like Nagaland in 1963, when Manipur with an earlier functioning princely state system was not simultaneously accorded full statehood, is perhaps the prime cause for Meitei groups in Manipur to turn towards insurgency. Another issue concerns the finding of a via media to transfer central funds directly to the empowered autonomous councils with accountability and audit oversight. The council authorities expected to implement programmes of development and welfare should have the requisite resources, authority and accountability. The role of the Governor in such a system vis-à-vis the duly elected autonomous councils will have to be strengthened for democratic governance with suitable Constitutional checks and balances exercised by the former as a representative of the Union Government.

    The North-East has to be treated differentially considering its historical backdrop and geopolitical realities. Some Central institution is required to be put in place that provides for appropriate interventions in the realm of infrastructure development with funding support under the aegis and oversight of the Union Government, while basic service delivery systems remain with the autonomous councils where they are established and with the State Governments in the areas where the councils do not operate. A revamped North Eastern Council, an institution created under an Act of Parliament in 1972, could be one such instrument for this purpose.

    The present set of autonomous councils in Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur are neither adequately empowered nor have they been allowed to work effectively by the state governments concerned. All the hostile groups (except the Naga outfits) referred to by the DIB in his November 2014 speech, are active in areas where there is a strong case for effective autonomous councils. Unless there is a systemic overhaul of these institutions and more rigorous oversight by the Union Government, the security situation in the North-East cannot be expected to radically improve. While the fundamentals and basic ethos of the Constitution have to be maintained, some tweaking of its provisions with a view to the greater empowerment of ethnic communities seems unavoidable.  An improved security situation may be the outcome of such an endeavour.

    Gautam Sen is Adviser to a former Chief Minister of Nagaland & present Member of Parliament. The views expressed are the author`s own.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India