N-E states have cause for concern

The government’s decision to revoke the special status of Jammu & Kashmir and bifurcate the state into two union territories has been welcomed in many parts of the country but has created apprehensions and suspicions in some other areas. Such concern is high among the governments, parties and people of states which enjoy the same or similar types of constitutional protections. If Kashmir’s special status was derived from Article 370, states in the North-East enjoy such guarantees flowing from other Articles. The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution provides safeguards for tribal land, tribal laws and customs and the basis for measures like the Inner Line permit. Article 371A states that no act of parliament shall apply to religious or social practices, customary laws and land ownership in Nagaland. Similarly, Article 371G gives such autonomy to Mizoram, Article 371F to Sikkim and Article 371H to Arunachal Pradesh. 

Political parties, leaders, social organisations and individuals in these states fear that their safeguards may also be done away with in future the way Kashmir was deprived of its special status. These fears acquire particular relevance because communities which are minorities at the national level have a strong presence in these states or even dominate there, as in Kashmir. This is also juxtaposed with the perception that the BJP is a votary of uniformity rather than diversity and favours a unitary State. The ease with which Kashmir’s special status and structure were dismantled has aggravated the fears. There is a feeling even among bigger states that their statehood may become vulnerable. Home Minister Amit Shah has allayed all fears in these respects, but they persist. The present government or future dispensations may consider the parliamentary ‘coup’ on Kashmir as a precedent that can be followed. 

Another repercussion of the bifurcation of Kashmir is the demand for more states or union territories. The Bodoland People’s Front has already demanded the creation of a separate Bodo state out of Assam. There are demands for Kukiland and Garoland. The National Federation for New States, a platform of eight separate state movements in the country, will certainly become more active. Another concern arising from the Kashmir decisions relates to their impact on the agreements the government enters into with political parties, groups or others. After prolonged talks, an agreement with Naga groups which provides safeguards to the Nagas over and above what is given by Article 371A, may be on the anvil, agreed upon by the same Modi government. But there are fears now about the sanctity or permanence of such agreements with this government, when even constitutional guarantees can be revoked. That might cast a shadow over all sovereign agreements entered into by the government. 

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