Asymmetric federalism and the role of the Governor of Nagaland: NPMHR

UT News Service | August 7: The 16th Morung Dialogue by Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), Delhi through a webinar themed, “Asymmetric federalism and the role of the Governor of Nagaland” was held on 5th August 2020 as a follow-up of the earlier dialogue on ‘Naga Peoples’ Aspiration and Law and Order’ in light of the Governor’s letter to the Chief Minister of Nagaland.

The panel included Tapan Bose, Human Rights defender, screen-writer and documentary Filmmaker; Chanmayo J. Aier, Administrator, Charis High Academy, Chumukedima; and Anuradha Bhasin, Kashmir Times.

Mr. Bose set the ground for the discussion by revisiting the Governor’s letter. He said ‘the governor has painted the Naga issue as a law and order problem and used words and phrases like armed gangs, criminals freely roaming around doing all kinds of illegal activities.’ The Governor even went on to warn the state that he would control allocation of development funds, writing assessment reports etc. thereby taking control of governance. This, according to Bose, is reducing Democracy to Governor’s rule.

Bose said that ‘asymmetric federalism’ is enjoyed by about 11 states in India. Like 371A is for Nagaland, other states enjoy certain special rights under different articles of the constitution. Some of the rights under 371 A includes Nagaland’s right to decide what kind of central law extends to the state, complete control over customary laws, culture, language etc.
A criminal can also be tried according to the customary law of the land. The same constitution under Article 371 A (1) (b) also provides special responsibility to the Governor that undermines the elected representatives. This according to Bose is a complicated situation. He went on to state that under the current dispensation, there is no regard for the constitution. Even an article signed between two sovereign entities like that of 370 can be abrogated easily. There is no guarantee that Article 371A will be kept intact.  According to Bose, the Governor’s intention to take over day to day function of the state shows the inability of the Indian government to proceed with the peace process.

Chanmayo J. Aier echoed the sentiments of the Naga people. She expressed inability to comprehend how the interlocutor can also be the Governor. The double-role of Ravi has compounded problems instead of solving the issue and posed how the governor will ever parley with Naga political groups again whom he has painted as ‘armed gangs.’ She said, “the vital bridge has been broken and therefore the Nagas are worried.”  The ultimatum to sign the agreement in 3 months’ time in 2019 was painful and does not inspire confidence, and the Kashmir issue has created even more doubts, she said. The notion that the fate of 370 will not happen to 371A despite many assurances, is hard to trust.

Despite all the problems and issues faced by the Nagas today, Aier is still positive that the Naga people will rise to the occasion. This, she said, is exemplified in how people and the villages are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Government struggled to contain COVID, the Naga public joined hands together and has been very resilient, she shared.

According to her, the people still trust the leadership even after so many rounds of talk and the general public not knowing what exactly is being negotiated. She hopes that the COVID-19 pandemic is taken as an opportunity to bring about unity between all the Naga political groups.
Anuradha Bhasin related the Kashmir experience to the situation prevailing in the Northeast in general and Nagas in particular. According to her, what happened in Kashmir in the last year may have a bearing on the rest of India particularly North East. This is because of the similar history of armed conflict and aspiration of the people to protect the local identities and resources.
In the lead up to the abrogation of Article 370, Bhasin said, “the Government tried to disempower the people politically, socially and economically” and shared how there was a sudden pause to talks, the Governor’s power was increased and the centre encroached in local politics. The local governments too were dissolved less than a year prior to the abrogation and subsequently the Legislature was dissolved giving all power to the Governor and all democratic spaces were closed down. These were followed by locking up the entire mainstream leadership and crushing and trampling civil liberties and in one year since the abrogation, many laws were amended. One such change is the recent domicile law that allows outsiders to buy property and settle down, enter state services and institutions and vote in assembly elections.

According to her, people who celebrated the creation of the Union territory of Leh and Ladakh are today becoming more anxious, wondering whether their tribal rights and land will be protected. She called for solidarity between peoples. The J&K experience according to her should be a lesson especially for the people of North-East. The diversity in Northeast is used by the centre to divide the people more.

After the initial remarks from the three panelists, an interactive session followed. On the question of drawing the Kashmir experience to discuss the undercurrents of the Naga issue, Bose, taking cue from Bhasin’s remark, pointed out that New Delhi right from the beginning used different communities in J&K to politically exploit the people. The same has happened
in Nagaland where the differences between tribes and the different political groups is being promoted. He continued, “After the Abrogation of 370, they removed the provision that protected the people of Kashmir.” Today anyone can settle in Kashmir with land entitlement. The big corporates are brought in by the government in the name of development and the locals cannot compete with the big corporates. Today, Nagaland enjoys similar provision
under 371 A. Patkai hills are known to be extremely mineral rich and the rain forests are commercially very attractive. Collapsing of the peace process can bring about removal of 371 A.
Mr Bose is concerned that the same can be done in Nagaland. According to him, the Government is virtually bankrupt with corruption. The only thing the government can provide to their masters i.e. industrialists and corporates, are resources and virgin forests. Therefore, the political groups, the civil society and the people should strongly organize itself to make sure that the Government. does not repeat a Kashmir in Nagaland.

Mrs. Aier supplemented and said that attempts have already been made to give away the land, resources and forest to the big corporates. Therefore, it is very important that the Naga people keep a vigil by carrying out our due diligence.

Chuba Ozukum, the former president of the Naga Hoho, also expressed the anguish of the public that have heightened in the midst of the COVID pandemic due to several recent incidents such as the intrusion of the state into the private affairs of the Naga kitchen and dictating what can be consumed there, and the profiling of state government employees being conducted.

A question was put forth by a participant on whether a president’s rule is mandated due to systemic failure of all sorts in Nagaland, where the elected representatives do not have any control, the prevalence of rampant mismanagement of public funds, back door appointments, illegal collection of taxes etc.

Bose responded with a Bengali proverb which says, “Build a canal, bring in the crocodile and then you cry.” NSCN has levied taxes since more than 40 years ago and this was justified by the general public by its support for the movement of the Naga struggle against forced integration with India. He cited the example of the boy killed in Kohima apparently for extortion.

According to Bose, he should have been arrested and not gunned down. By doing that, the Governor has subverted the peace process and created a Frankenstein’s monster. The massive extortion and taxation happening in the Naga society today is created by the Indian government by empowering various political groups. The question should be, why is the extortion happening today and not 10 years ago? Bose categorically said that, President’s rule will not solve the issue but make the issue worse. Bose was also concerned about people in society who compromise for the love of power beyond their due. Society at large should be cautious about such individuals.

Any kind of constitutional guarantee is not a permanent guarantee under the current dispensation according to Bose. The peace process is still in a good lane and should be supported by civil societies in unequivocal terms. The constitution and the flag are more than cultural symbols and represent the struggles of the Nagas. The agreement should form the constitution of Nagaland. This can form the architecture of a more democratic governance

NPMHR is a non-funded and non-profit organisation which relies on contributions from well-wishers; the Center is funded through contributions from individuals and organisations.

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