Article 371(A) too has ownership
[dropcap]C[/dropcap]an you imagine a correlation between consultation and confusion, especially when more consultation creates more confusion, not vice versa? There is. Former Assembly Speaker Z. Lohe rightly remarked that only (and sadly) in the 50th year of statehood Nagas of Nagaland gave birth to (belated) NTC. In reverse order around this time of years DAN Govt and allied non-governmental bodies are hectically consulting time and again on something which otherwise has always been there undisputed/unconfused for the past 50 years or so of statehood. I said allied because the (say)non-allied but actual stakeholder- the (state-centred or intra state) NTC is not even invited to the state level consultative meeting on Art. 371(A) on 6th Nov. Is it necessary to remind the State Home Ministry that Art 371(A) is basically, a subject matter of competent authority and concerned community but certainly not a thing to be bartered in a common place nor is it everyone’s cup of tea? It may sound comical but it will be a futile exercise to keep the involved (NTC) out and involved unrelated group to talk on unrelated issue or involved some related group to discuss a related issue with unrelated group. But by doing so more confusion is being generated from more consultation and around the 50th year of the State’s existence we seem to be pondering whether we are rightly or wrongly asserting Article 371(A) as a matter of guaranteed right.Assertion of Art 371(A), whether in part or in entirety, whether by individual or by organized group as a matter of guaranteed right is a simultaneous affirmation of the legality of the statehood of Nagaland as a constituent unit of the Indian Union. Notwithstanding the peculiarity of past politics or uncertainty of present politics, statehood possibly could not have been created outside a constitutional provision nor could the special provision in the constitution be granted for a stateless people or a state rejected. By saying this I mean to pin point the fact that the one who challenge the legality of a long existed statehood do not have the legitimacy to claim the given constitutional provision as a matter of inviolable right, so is vice versa. For those (now much fewer) who still treat statehood as a sell-out or imposed arrangement, Art 371(A) whichever way it is interpreted might not be a thing of botheration because their politics go beyond statehood and constitutional provision of the present type. But for the much larger number of people, especially the social and political activists in the State, the Article appears to have become contentious not necessarily because the GOI has disputed the pre-eminence of Art 371(A), for that matter ownership of land and resources but apparently because DAN Govt has misconstrued that the Article gives an unrestrained right (on P&NG) to act unilaterally in total disregard of the very existence of a central government in the country.
For the sake of clarity let me put it this way. If I strike gold in my private land and on the basis of Art 371(A) on land and ownership I floated tender and allotted the work to reputed firm/agency on my own, will the State Govt allow it? Will the State Govt likewise allow the actual landowners to drill oil by inviting firm/agency of their choice? No one will dispute my ownership yet there is an established system of working where I need prior permission/licence and fulfilment of terms and conditions with the State Govt. The Govt cannot extract any gold from my private land without my approval and yet I cannot use it in my own way in disregard of a government above me.
What makes Art. 371(A) more attention-grabbing lately is that the erstwhile regionalists, rather the sceptics of 16 Point Agreement and statehood have surprisingly emerged as the arbiter and guru of the Article. That certain vital but excluded points of the 16 Point Agreement be embodied in the Article and guaranteed as well could have been well appreciated, in fact more realistic from day one had DAN government instead not wasted ten past precious years farcically facilitating an unknown demand and an uncertain future. Like a habitual apologist DAN has been repeatedly saying that it is only a facilitator, not a party to the negotiation thereby expressing its helplessness in many warranted situations; otherwise also it is well known even to the commoners that without such self-acclaimed facilitation the negotiation as it is, will continue until some logical conclusion is arrived at. This reminds us of the cheer girls who are not players, whose role do not determine the game, only keep the spectators in high spirit and the game lively. The big difference in the present political game is that neither the cheer team nor the spectators know what exact game is being played in the field. The point of contention here is that towards the setting of the sun DAN government has pitifully realised the real beauty and value of the constitutional status which it had mercilessly trampled upon all day long.
Art. 371(A) is not only exceptional but it is also exclusive for specific reason that the provision is both legally and technically restricted to a defined group of tribes (aborigines as T. Solo aptly used) in the State; therefore, the assertion of the special provision inevitably become the prerogative of the actually benefited or affected. Art 371(A) is unquestionably not meant for all the Nagas to claim or dispute or politicize. Indeed 16 Point Agreement requires political interpretation because it is an agreement between two entities but Art 371(A) is a constitutional provision to be interpreted, if needed only in the context of Nagaland. At most it may require legal interpretation, which several legal luminaries have done so in our favour, else we can approach a competent court in case of dispute but it does not merit a non-legal or political interpretation in the manner the State Govt is repeatedly stirring the allied non-governmental bodies to build up sort of pressure. It appears DAN Govt has lost confidence on the ability of its own and supporting MLAs who actually represent 52 of the 60 assembly constituencies in the State. If this is not so why the vital issue is not thoroughly deliberated in the Assembly which is actually the highest decision making body in our democratic set up? And now consultation with the NGOs on Rule of Executive Business? What can be sillier than this? Are we questioning or lamenting the integrity and capability of the Assembly, elected members, bureaucrats- generalists & specialists, intelligentsia etc in the art of governance? Where is the government taking the government to?
Viewed from the other angle, if and actually every apex and other non-governmental groups have been asserting Art 371(A) as a matter of guaranteed/inviolable right of the State in every consultative meeting; therefore, their assertion simultaneously give legitimacy to the status quo- statehood of Nagaland. Indeed without the State of Nagaland and without a defined group of tribes there cannot be the special provision of Art 371(A). If and actually Art 371(A) is taken as a right, statehood cannot be questioned or challenged. Nagaland is a reality. In which case where is the legal basis or political justification for the asserting groups to demand, as a matter of their right, certain status above statehood or alternative arrangement outside the state or even separate statehood apart from the existing state of Nagaland? The other way round, the moment those groups demand or insist for something beyond or outside the existing statehood they automatically disown (and should) every bit of right on Art 371(A).
The logic is simple, gracefully accept the reality of status quo or silently give liberty to the actual stakeholders to assert their exclusive and guaranteed right. Else one cannot assert Art 371(A) as a right only to break it. Yet to take things in the right direction the right man, not the wrong man is required. It is also to be considered seriously whether central government will eventually listen to the voice of the actual stakeholders or the shareholders.
Mind you, Art 371(A) too has ownership.