The fragility of the Northeast’s integration

Source: The post is based on an article “The fragility of the Northeast’s integration” published in the “The Hindu” on 16th August 2022.

Syllabus: GS 1 Regionalism

Relevance: North-Eastern States

News: In recent years, the North-eastern states governments like Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh are ruled by the same political party which is ruling the Union government. So, there is a debate on mainstream versus sub-stream friction.

How the integration of Northeast India into mainstream Indian life has been on the national agenda from independence?

The Sixth Schedule was introduced in the Constitution of India, for undivided Assam’s tribal belt. It mandated the formation of Autonomous District Councils in which, among others, tribal customary laws were given legitimacy. In other words, the Northeast’s tribals were encouraged to live by their own geniuses and local customs.

State Reorganization: Nagaland became a state in 1963.  Tripura and Manipur, which were the Part-C States after the merger with India in 1949, were also upgraded to States in 1972. In 1972, Meghalaya became a State, while Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram were made UTs. The latter two were upgraded to States in 1987. These were done to meet the aspirations of the local people and tribals in the North-eastern region.

Inclusion by accommodation: Later, India gained confidence and shed insecurities about further balkanization of Northeast regions after its traumatic Partition experience. Thereafter, the focus shifted to accommodate people, rather than requiring the latter to leave their streams to join the mainstream. For example,

(1) The North Eastern Council (NEC) which was an advisory body composed of the State’s Governors as members, was amended. Later it became an infrastructure planning body, Sikkim was included and the composition expanded to include Chief Ministers.

(2) The Department of North-East Region (DoNER) was created by the Union Government in 2001, and in 2004 it was upgraded to a full-fledged Ministry.

(3) India’s Look East Policy was born with the stated objective of linking the Northeast with the vibrant economies of South East Asia.

(4) In 2010, a protected area regime that had restricted visits to Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram by foreigners was relaxed.

(5) A judicial commission was constituted in 2004 to recommend a way to repeal or else “humanise” AFSPA.

Why Northeast’s remained alien 75 years after Independence?

Historical reason: The British India Foreign Secretary Olaf Caroe coined the term “Mongolian Fringe” in relation to the North-east region and proposed to leave this region from a Crown Colony. The Governor of Assam, Robert Reid said “Northeast people had no affinity with the rest of India racially, historically, culturally, or linguistically”. Therefore, the British dropped the Crown Colony plan on grounds of administrative feasibility.

North-east people do not believe it to be part of Mainland India: The Naga Hills refused the Sixth Schedule. They wanted nothing less than sovereignty. This resulted in a powerful insurgency in the region.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958 Promulgation: The Draconian act was promulgated and enforced in wake of the Naga insurgency. This gave sweeping powers to the armed forces. Also, a separate Nagaland State was created in 1963.

The North-eastern people are fearful of the threat of cultural and population deluge from mainstream India.

National identity questions for the Northeast people remained incompletely resolved. Therefore, insurgencies have continued to prevail in States such as Assam and Manipur.

New challenges

New political dynamics in the north-eastern states do not reflect the grass-root sentiments. For example, Assam vehemently opposed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA),

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