KARBI ANGLONG: INSURGENCY, SHARPENED IDENTITY CONSCIOUSNESS AND THE POLITICS OF STATE FORMATION
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
Author: Divyanshu Saxena, V Year of B.A.,LL.B from NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.
The demand for autonomous state within the state of Assam has been popular within the political and judicial spaces of the Indian sub-continent since the era of early 1950s. It must be noted that Assam acts as a home for a range of ethnic and distinct tribal groups including the Nagas, the Mizos, the Khasis, the Jaintias, the Karbis etc. . These distinct sects of Assam population used to dwell on the hills that are situated above the Brahmaputra valley, and hence, maintained their own distinct and separate traditional and social systems from the plainsmen. Their political demands were treated with ignorance amidst the alienating forces of Congress political party and the Left forces that were attempting to have political and administrative gains out of the liberation movement of the Karbis and other hill tribes. The territory of Karbi Anglong is situated within the hills of the state of Assam, which was a part of the Dimasa Kingdom until the Britishers attained its control over the area during 1854 A.D.. In the section – 91 of the Government of India Act, 1935, the area including Mikir Hills, which was later renamed as Karbi Anglong District in 1976, was included in the category of ‘partially excluded areas”. During 1970, the bifurcation of the territory took place into two districts namely: Karbi Anglong District and North Cachar Hills District.
KEYWORDS - “Karbi-Anglong”, “Armed Rebellion”, “Counter-Insurgency”, “Partially Excluded Areas”, “Tribal Liberation Movement”
The Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) was constituted under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India in the year 1952, on the recommendation of the Bordoloi Committee that was set up by the Constituent Assembly for the analysis of the situation of the hill districts in Assam during the Independence of India. The Article-244A was added in the Constitution through the 22nd Amendment Act of 1969 under section-71, which provided for the creation of autonomous states regarding the tribal hill areas of Assam. The Article states that the Parliament by passing an appropriate law, may form separate legislative assemblies, councils of ministers, etc. which may be partly elected and partly nominated. The clause – (2) of the Article conveys the specification of the powers of these legislatures to make laws on the matters within the state list or concurrent list and also, at the same time determine the powers of the executive bodies by the Parliament. Any amendment that must follow in reference to the above-mentioned Article must be presented of the floor and must attain a 2/3rd majority in both the houses of the Parliament in order to become effective upon the constitution. The Article-368 must not be interpreted in order to protect the original constitutional text and values, while dealing with the matters pertaining to the Article-244.
Therefore, the provisions of Article-371B would then play a complimentary role in the determination of the powers of the Governor to pass orders which may make rules regarding the constitution and functions of the Committee. He may have the discretion to make modifications in the rules of procedure for the proper functioning of the Committee. He must control the powers of taxation and the distribution of District Funds within these Autonomous councils, working parallel to the state government in order to support the ad hoc constitutional measures which caused the birth of the concept of ‘autonomous states’ in the Indian Constitutional Jurisprudence.
SIXTH SCHEDULE AND OTHER CONSTITUTIONAL SAFEGUARDS’: LEGAL ANALYSIS
In order to understand the powers of the Governor under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, we must note that it was created in the spirit of providing time and necessary conditions for the eventual social and political assimilation of the tribal social groups with the mainstream cultural forces. It must also promote their distinct traditions, customs and civilization. In the case of Edwingson vs. State of Assam, the question of the extent and scope of the Governor’s reserve powers under the 6th schedule was raised. The facts of the case depict that the Governor of Assam appointed a commission under the provisions of para 14- (1) of the schedule on August 26, 1963, for the creation of a new autonomous district for the tribes of United Khasi-Jaintia and Jowai sub-division in the state of Assam. The commission submitted its report on January 20, 1964, which upon an implicit approval of the Governor was presented on the floor of the Assam legislative assembly, and when the majority conveyed its consent towards the passing of the governor’s motion, the ‘autonomous state’ was formed through the exercise of the powers of the governor under para 1 (3) of the Sixth Schedule to amend the list provided under the para- 20 (2) of the same schedule. The majority of the SC judges in the following case were in the favor of the Governor’s exceptional powers in this case, but, we must note that the Governor and the Parliament have concurrent powers. The provisions of para-21 of the Sixth Schedule curtails the Governor’s powers to amend under para 1(3), and demands the necessary fulfillment of the condition of the Governor calling upon his council of Ministers to advice him under the para 14(2) of the same schedule. The colonial jurisprudence has a deep impact on the Indian legal discourse, which can be explained with the example of section-92 of the Government of India Act,1935, which gave the governor to modify or amend any laws in relation to the autonomous states which was passed by the federal legislature and he may also make rules and regulations for the peace and good governance of these territories. The Federal Court in one of its decisions stated that the greater executive powers in these areas are given to protect the rights of the indigenous people. Justice Hidyatullah, in his dissenting opinion, stated that if the Governor arbitrarily exercises his powers through issuing a public notification to declare the formation of the autonomous state, then it may lead to the undermining of the para-20 provisions of the 6th schedule. He called it as an ‘arbitrary executive action’, which deviates itself from the original constitutional text and highlights the lack of fulfillment of the Governor’s duties under para 1 , para 18 and para 20 of the same schedule. The lack of proper investigation by the legislative assemblies was also made a prominent part of the dissenting opinion of the judgment , which marks the necessary upholding of the following conditions: it should be placed before the legislative assemblies, it should be recommended by the Governor and it should be accompanied with the explanatory memo provided by the council of ministers of the government.
TRIBAL MOVEMENTS IN ASSAM AND INSURGENCY’: SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS
The United People’s Democratic Society (UPDS) emerged as a leading party which stood for the rights of the Karbis during the reign of the political party AGP (Asom Gana Parishad) in the year 1999, which involved two groups within it namely, Karbi National Volunteer and Karbi People’s Front. It signed an agreement with the Union of India in the year 2002, to cease fire in return of the fulfillment of their demands of autonomy which led to a split in the party into two sects i.e. pro-talks and anti-talks. The anti-talks sect took the form of Karbi Anglong North Cachar Liberation Front (KLNLF) which acted as a resistance force during the instances of insurgency.
The UPDS political party has been regularly supported financially and ideologically by other hill parties like NSCN-IM, ULFA and NDFB. The success of the tribal agitation depended on the subsequent causes like the decline of Congress, weakening of Left Forces and the success of the youth leaders of the AGP. The Congress was not in the favor of the further reorganization of Assam and hence, it constituted the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), which is currently situated in Arunachal Pradesh, as the administrative centre which was ruled by the Central Government through the exercise of the Governor of Assam as its agent.
Historically, the hill tribes maintained trade relations with the people living in the Brahmaputra Valley. Their indigenous origins include primitive Mongolians, austro-asiatic races and Tibeto-Burman races. The Bodo-Kachari people belonged to be the original natives of the state of Assam. They maintained distinctive socio-political systems and could sustain due to geographical inaccessibility, differences and isolation.
A generation of Nagas, Mizos and Khasis emerged as an educated motivators of social and political change in Assam which led to the beginning of insurgency in the Naga Hills during 1961. It must be noted that 9 military personnel were killed in these events of insurgency. The formation of Nagaland developed the identity consciousness of the hill tribes in the political spaces and sharpened the primordial loyalties. However, the radical language policy of the Congress government in the year 1960 led to the trigger of tribal uprisings as it was discriminatory in nature because it made Assamese as the official language of the state and ignored the multi-lingual model and multi-ethnic character of the Assamese society.
CONSTITUTION AND THE POLITICS OF IDENTITY’: POLITICAL ANALYSIS
In 1967, the Congress government laid down a federal scheme to deal with the question of autonomy and reorganization of the Assamese State, which was opposed by the youth leaders of AASU. The Ashok Mehta Committee was formulated in an ad hoc manner in order to satisfy the agitating tribal but, the report was rejected by the All Party Hill Leadership Committee (APHLC) in the manner of a peaceful protest. However, these communities threatened the Central Government that upon the denial of their demands, they may fall back to violent methods of demonstration. For example, a group of Khasi Youth was willing to travel to East Pakistan, in order to get a proper training in the field of Guerilla Warfare.
Therefore, The Indira Gandhi government in the year 1969 reached to a suitable solution of this problem, by introducing the concept of ‘autonomous state within a state’ through the insertion of Article-244A dealing with the tribal areas of Assam. The example of Meghalaya reveals how a previously autonomous state may through the attribution of a new legislative council and council of ministers, can transform into a full-fledged state having concurrent powers with the state government of Assam. A separate committee was formed in order to supervise the functioning of the city of Shillong, which now became the capital of two states simultaneously. It must be noted that when the 1969 Amendment Act was passed, the districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills joined the state of Assam instead of demanding a status of separate state. Article-244A has been viewed as an ad-hoc constitutional measure which was aimed to overcome the temporary impasse caused due to the tribal movements and the violence in North-Eastern states.
The movement of the people of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar hills received no media coverage and hence, eventually due to the repression and dominance of the state, it attained a Tribal mass-character with deep-rooted causes. Due to the discriminatory ideology of the Assamese bourgeois media, the caste-dominated Nativist ideology dominated the political discourse of Assam. Where their movement weakened due to being economically backward, the media portrayed the events as the liberation of Assamese identity in front of the whole nation. The two reasons why the Hindu non-caste tribal groups of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills couldn’t raise a full-fledged movement to keep their demand of attaining the status of a separate autonomous state are : The Congress dominance was not in the favour of the reorganization of the state of Assam and the inherent fear of exploitation within the tribal against the ‘Christian Tribal’. The narrow political ideology of AGP could not accommodate the distinct counter-narratives of the various Assamese Hill tribes, which led to the instances of discrimination against them and eviction of thousands of tribal without any alternative arrangement.
On 24th January, 2020, 664 militants surrendered their arms in Assam and in the year 2012, around 1800 rebels surrendered in front of the Assamese state government. It must be noted that six rounds of peace negotiations were held between the State of Assam and Union Government with the UPDS to reach a peaceful solution regarding their demands. On November 25, 2011, a tripartite peace accord was signed with the UPDS which reorganized the district into 4 administrative sub-districts to ease the functioning of the territory. The KAAC has been renamed as ‘Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council’ which comprises of 50 members and the elections to the legislature are due since 2016-17. As of 14th December, 2014, UPDS has been disbanded and is no longer functioning as a political party in the state of Assam. Around 44,000 people belonging to the tribes of ‘Karbis’ and ‘Dimasas’ have been evicted and displaced till October, 2005. The ULFA bombed Assam in 2019 which led to violent repercussions and loss of life and property. The political party Mizo National Front captured Aizwal on March 15,1966 in order to perpetrate their demands of a separate state which led to the formation of Mizoram as a separate state through the 1972 reorganization of the North-Eastern states Act, whereas the peaceful demands of the tribes of united Garo, Khasis and Jaintias were ignored by the Central government. The Union Parliament may use the provisions of para 21 of the Sixth Schedule to amend the list under the 6th schedule. The UPDS accord formed a committee in the state of Assam under the constitutional provisions of the Article-371B. Also, it led to the setting-up of village councils in the hill districts in order to deepen the democratic process at the grass root level and the transfer of additional subjects to the autonomous councils and along with legislative and executive powers. The development of cultural , socio-economic and educational institutions would lead to the higher financial independence of these states and would determine higher fund allocation to these autonomous states. Also, a grant of Rs.350 crore i.e Rs.70 crore/ annum was given to the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District council to maintain the further development of identified projects. The auxiliary condition of the UPDS was to rehabilitate its cadres that have been guilty of heinous crimes through a policy of intervention upon their peaceful surrender of arms to the State government. It also demanded psychological counseling, vocational training and career development activities to support the rehabilitation processes of these insurgent tribal groups. Therefore, it must be concluded by recognizing the futility of the arguments that demand further disintegration of Assam as it would only lead to the increase of the control of Central Government on these autonomous states, while they must exercise concurrent powers upon the state list subjects. Hence, we must avoid the territorial reduction of Assam over the subsequent years, but, at the same time we must identify the urgency of the insurgent forces that function in the state of Assam and must uphold the demands of autonomy raised by the hill tribes before, their agitation turns into an anti-national threat to the peace and security of our nation.
Tribal Movement for Autonomous State in Assam – Monirul Hussain ( Vol.22 (Aug 8,1987) pp.1329-32)
Powers of the Governor Under The 6th Schedule of the Indian Constitution- Rajendra Nayak (Vol.9 no.2 (Apr-Jun) 1967 pp.237 -245)
Conflicting Nations in North Eastern Insurgency – Sanjay K. Roy (Vol.40 No.21 (May 21-27,2005) pp 2176-2182)
Impact of Colonial Anthropology on Identity Politics and Conflicts in Assam – Manas Jyoti Bordoloi ( Vol.49 No.20 (may 17,2014) pp 47-54
An Alternative Formulation for Autonomous Councils in Assam – Jayanti Krishna Sarmah ( Vol. 49 No.33 (August -27/ September 2) 2011 pp. 23-25
Sri Chandra Mohan Singh vs. UOI ( AIR 1953 Gau 193)