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MANIPUR MAYHEM

No border state should be cut to create a new one

We have mostly tinkered with the border states and thought that problems stand resolved. But is that the reality?

No border state should be cut to create a new one

DISCORD: The Manipur crisis is showing signs of a great divide between ethno-religious groups. ANI



Abhijit Bhattacharyya

Advocate, Supreme Court

ONE is distraught by the news reports published in two overseas newspapers — The Guardian (May 16) and The New York Times (June 9) — as the mainstream Indian media appears to be facing logistical hurdles. The former’s headline reads: “Separation is only answer: Manipur violence fuels calls for separate state in India”. The US daily’s language, too, is alarming: “A rising India’s also, in one remote pocket, a blood-soaked war zone”. How shockingly adverse an advertisement is that?

Understandably, to get the answer to the words “separation’s the only answer” for the Indian state, by the London daily, I turned to the Indian Constitution, delving deep to look for a possible solution. Indeed, the word “separation” at this point in time is too dangerous and absurd an idea because, as it is, over the past 50 years, the collective brigade of the Indian leadership has shown a conspicuous lack of sound judgment in uniting the people through Gandhi’s non-violence way.

Instead, myopic leadership has been responsible for irreversibly dividing state after state, despite the existence of one of the most beautifully crafted Constitutions a democracy can possibly think of possessing. Over the years, this small band of leaders has invariably failed the nation and sowed seeds of a sense of alienation and disunity which have affected vast swaths of India.

Contextually, the November 25, 1949, lofty words of the learned

BR Ambedkar come to mind. “However good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot.” Just check the reality. From 1950 to 2021-end (71 years), the Constitution has been amended 105 times. In contrast, from 1789 to 2023 (234 years), only 27 amendments have been ratified in the US Constitution.

The best and most admirable part is that the ‘American federation’ has been described by its Supreme Court as “an indestructible Union of indestructible States” (Texas vs White-1869- 7 Wall 700). It comprises two propositions: “(a) The Union cannot be destroyed by any State seceding from Union at its will”; and (b) “It’s not possible for Federal Government to redraw map of the US by forming new States or by altering boundaries of States as they existed at the time of compact without the consent of Legislatures of the States concerned.”

In India, however, things changed so fast that, at times, constitutionally conscious, conscientious and law-abiding citizens have been shocked by the way things happened and how some actors constantly played the volatile and emotional cards of ethnicity, language, tribal fraternity, caste, semi-caste and religion in the sensitive areas of the Indian state, especially in the border states.

Thus, the concept of ‘cut-and-creation’ of states gives little reason to feel confident for the future, too, because in the Indian federation, the states don’t constitute ‘indestructible’ units. The ease with which Indian Parliament has changed names and numbers of states in the past is bewildering.

The start, however, was impressive when the States Reorganisation Act, 1956, reduced the number of states from 27 to 14. Regrettably, thereafter, states, mostly border states, were cut to create more new border states. Thus, Punjab (facing Pakistan), Assam (China, Burma, Bhutan and Bangladesh), Bihar (Nepal), Uttar Pradesh (Nepal and Tibet) and Bombay state (Pakistan) were cut to create smaller, new border states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. The only two non-border states to be cut were Madhya Pradesh, which gave birth to the non-border, landlocked state Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh, from which originated the landlocked state of Telangana.

On careful scrutiny of Articles 1 to 4, it emerges that, unlike the US Constitution, the Indian Constitution gives no guarantee to states against affecting their territorial integrity without their consent. I think this could create grave complications in future owing to competitive polity turning confrontationist in a flash, especially in the border-states.

Just ponder. We have tinkered with the border states and thought that problems stand resolved. But is that the reality? We must take into account the broader picture and call for an all-party conference and domain experts on demography, geography, ethnicity, etc, to reach a consensus that henceforth no state, especially if it is facing China, Burma, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan, would be cut to create new, smaller states.

Contextually, no division of, and separation from, Manipur must be entertained at any cost. If such a demand is conceded, the floodgates will open as a number of regional and sub-regional satraps at India’s border are keenly watching and waiting to resort to, and whip up, their own volatile agendas; thereby, India faces the danger of falling into the trap of foes like China, arguably its permanent enemy.

Hence, regarding the Manipur crisis, which is showing signs of a great divide between ethno-religious groups, an urgent conciliatory process that sends a clear signal to the hostile Hans is needed — by resolving that “anything, but no division of the state” would be done.

Ironically, however, far from Manipur, another danger looms large — why are Ladakh leaders demanding statehood? It being accorded the special status is understandable, but the creation of another small hill state far from Delhi is a “no-no”.

Delhi must put its foot down and tell all those who nurture hopes of building their mini-empires that the bottom line prohibits the creation of a fresh state. Article 4 of the Constitution empowers Parliament with the following: “form new state”, “increase area of state”, “diminish area of state”, “alter boundaries” and “alter name of state”, but it’s time to unite and not divide any more. The enemy across the border is lurking. Take a cue from the US Constitution.


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