GUWAHATI: The Centre’s abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A in Jammu and Kashmir has brightened “statehood” hopes in the Northeast where several communities and rebel groups, fighting for the creation of smaller states, renewed the demands.
At least three states of the Northeast, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, are protected under Article 371 of the Constitution and the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) of 1873, widely known as Inner Line Permit or ILP.
The customary law and procedure and land and its resources in Nagaland are protected by Article 371A. Similarly, the land and customary law and procedure in Mizoram are protected by Article 371G. In Arunachal, the land is protected by Article 371H.
The National Federation for New States (NFNS), which has several groups from the Northeast fighting for statehood, said that given the Kashmir developments, it was obvious that the creation of Union Territories of Ladakh without a Legislature and Jammu & Kashmir with a legislature was a decision of political convenience.
“It is also obvious that the BJP has sufficient majority in both Houses of Parliament to create new states and Union Territories. It is also in favour of creation of small states as per its Bhubaneswar Convention of 1996. It cannot have any excuse for not creating other states that are demanding separation from the existing ones,” the NFNS said in a statement.
The tribal Bodos in Assam, who demand the state to be divided 50:50, said the developments in Kashmir brightened their hopes.
“The Centre’s decision on Jammu and Kashmir has provoked us to continue our movement. We hope we will get the results someday,” president of All Bodo Students’ Union, Promod Bodo, who is also the joint secretary of NFNS, told this newspaper.
He said some events made them believe the Centre could create a state either out of political compulsions or for administrative conveniences. In 2000, the Centre created Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh out of political compulsions. For the same reason, Telangana was created in 2014, he said.
“One of the reasons to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir was to fight cross-border terrorism. This is for administrative convenience. We demand the creation of Bodoland state as there is no proper administration in our region… It is my humble submission to the Government of India to implement Article 14 of the Constitution. The government should constitute a high-powered committee to look into the implementation of Article 14 in the nook and corner of the country,” Bodo insisted.
The Bodos had embraced arms in early 1980s to secure a separate “Bodoland” state. In order to resolve the crisis, the Centre had in 2003 signed the Bodo Accord with erstwhile insurgent group Bodo Liberation Tigers. The accord had led to the creation of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) which administers four districts of western Assam. However, the issue persists as a section of the Bodos continued to wage an armed movement. Two of their rebel groups are lying low following the signing of ceasefire agreements with the Centre but another group has continued to wield the gun.
The Bodoland statehood movement has its genesis in the 1967 demand by the Bodos – the largest plains tribal group of the Northeast – for carving a Union Territory, named Udayachal, out of Assam. The demand was raised by the Plains Tribal Council of Assam following the realisation that tribal blocks and belts notified by the British were being acquired by rich immigrant landlords.
The tribal Karbis in Assam have also reiterated the demand for “autonomous state” by integrating Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao, the two hill districts of the state. They fall under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and they are separate autonomous councils. However, the Joint Action Committee for Autonomous State, fighting for an autonomous state, said the arrangement failed to solve the problems of the tribals.
“We should be given an autonomous state. We need it for peace and development. Karbi Anglong falls under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution but we want an autonomous state. The autonomous council that we have now hasn’t been able to solve our problems, particularly unemployment. We want Article 244A (formation of an autonomous state). The government can give it by bringing an ordinance and passing it,” said Stalyn Ingti, vice chairman of the Joint Action Committee for Autonomous State.
In Tripura, the tribal-majority Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT), which is spearheading a movement to achieve “Twipraland” state for the tribals, said it was optimistic about the fulfillment of the demand given what happened in Kashmir.
“We are confident the Centre will now start studying the demands for statehood across the country. Its action in Kashmir has brightened our hopes,” said IPFT youth wing general secretary, Shukla Charan Noatia.
On Twipraland Demand Day on August 23, the IPFT, which is a constituent of Tripura’s BJP-led ruling coalition, raises pro-statehood slogans. The demand for carving out a separate state for 19 indigenous communities has been intermittent since 1997.
The Nagas were the first in the Northeast to wage an insurgency movement launched in early 1950s. Even as some rebel groups are fighting to this day to secure sovereignty, an influential organisation, called Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO), raised a demand some ten years ago for the creation of “Frontier State” by slicing off four “backward districts” of eastern Nagaland. Three of these four districts – Kiphire, Mon, Tuensang and Longleng – share a border with Myanmar and hence, are strategic for India.
The demand is viewed contrary to “Greater Nagalim”, a contentious demand of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) or NSCN-IM. The rebel group envisages the creation of Greater Nagalim by carving out the Naga-inhabited areas of neighbouring Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
“We believe the creation of Frontier Nagaland will bail us out of 56 years of under-development and neglect since the time Nagaland was created as a state,” a leader of ENPO said.
He alleged that the four districts had been denied their share of development funds despite having almost half the area and population of Nagaland. The employment ratio of the people of these districts is a little over 7 per cent, he said.
Bernard Rimpu Marak, whose A’chik National Volunteer Council-B (ANVC-B) had spearheaded an armed movement to secure “Garoland” state in Meghalaya, said the Centre’s abrogating Article 370 in Kashmir had opened up a new perspective to reach out to people at the grassroots level. Previously, their issues were overlapped by other issues. The Centre will now have direct access to the people there, he said.
The ANVC-B was disbanded a few years ago following an agreement with the government. Marak said he was hopeful the Government of India would now look into demands of statehood across Northeast. Garo Hills is one of Meghalaya’s three regions with the two others being Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills.
“We need Garoland state for a change that is progressive. We are rich in natural resources but they are tapped by outside agencies. We are in total isolation. Geographically, we are closer to Assam and Guwahati than Meghalaya capital Shillong. We have a serious problem of the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants but we can do nothing. So, we hope if we can achieve Garoland state, we can solve these problems,” Marak said.
Members of the ANVC-B have formed an organisation, called A’chik Matgrik Kotok, which is fighting for the creation of Garoland state. The demand was first raised in 1992 by an insurgent group called A'chik Matgrik Liberation Army.
Emboldened to see the developments in Kashmir, the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangha (BGB) in West Bengal renewed the “Gorkhaland” demand. The BGB said it was committed to the creation of Gorkhaland and other states and autonomous states as per the constitutional and democratic rights of the people.
“The BJP must fulfill its promise, made in its election manifesto, of finding a permanent political solution for the Gorkhas in India. The party must demonstrate the same political will and assert its majority in the Parliament to create the state of Gorkhaland as per the long-standing and democratic wish of the people of the region,” the BGB said in a statement.
The Koch-Rajbongshi community of Assam and West Bengal has been fighting for decades for the creation of Kamtapur state by carving out six districts of West Bengal and four contiguous districts of Assam. The movement is being spearheaded by rebel group Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) and All Koch-Rajbongshi Students Union (AKRSU).
The KLO was formed to address problems of the Koch Rajbongshi community such as unemployment, land alienation, perceived neglect of Kamtapuri language, identity, and grievances of economic deprivation. The outfit says the proposed Kamtapur state is the homeland of Koch-Rajbongshi people.
In Manipur, the Kukis had taken up the gun in 1990s to secure an “Autonomous Kukiland Territorial Council” within the state. The Kukis claim they have existed as a separate nation since “time immemorial” and fought against intruders to defend their ancestral land and territories.
Nagaland - Article 371A - Rest of Indians can't buy property or settle down in Nagaland. Even to enter this state, rest of Indians need an inner line of permit or ILP.
Assam - Article 371B - In certain districts of Assam like Karbi Anglong, rest of Indians can't buy land.
Manipur - Article 371C - Rest of Indians cannot buy property or settle in Manipur.
Sikkim - Article 371F - Rest of Indians cannot buy property or settle in Sikkim.
Mizoram - Article 371G - Rest of Indians cannot buy property or settle in Mizoram. Even to enter this state rest of Indians need an ILP.
Arunachal Pradesh - Article 371H - Rest of Indians cannot buy property or settle down in Arunachal Pradesh. Even to enter this state rest of Indians need an ILP.
90% of the Central government assistance given to states of Northeast is treated as grant and remaining 10% is considered as loan.
For rest of Indian states including Kashmir, it is 30% grant and 70% loan.