[Editorial Analysis] In Manipur, a case for asymmetric federalism

Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: Asymmetric Federalism
Mains level: Federal Issues


• Asymmetric Federalism is a normative idea and an institutional arrangement which supports the recognition and provision of an expansive ‘self-rule’ for territorially concentrated minority groups.

Attempts to Bring Symmetry in Indian Federalism:

• Jammu and Kashmir: The dissolution of Article 370 in 2019 which gave Jammu and Kashmir a special constitutional status.
• North Eastern Region: Intermittent attempts to dilute and dissolve the omnibus Article 371 which, among others, gives expansive constitutional powers to Nagas over land and resources (Article 371A), and to Manipur’s Hill Areas Committee (Article 371C) over tribal identity, culture, development and local administration, are exemplars.

Main Idea against Asymmetric Federalism:

• Risk of Separatism: The flawed idea that giving distinctive constitutional status to territorially concentrated minorities fosters separatist tendencies which over time inhibit national/State integration, development, and peace.
• Majoritarianism: Antagonists of asymmetric federalism increasingly rallied around the majoritarian idea of a monolith, homogenous nation.

• Experience: Charles Tarlton, the American political scientist who developed the idea of asymmetric federalism in the mid-1960s, was mindful about its destabilising potential, if not properly harnessed. Ex: unsuccessful experience of east European communist states to ‘hold together’ in the 1990s spawned deep suspicion about asymmetric federalism.

Constituent assembly debates:

• The idea of ‘autonomous’ district councils was proposed by the Gopinath Bordoloi Committee, a sub-committee of the Constituent Assembly which sought to accommodate the distinctive identity, culture and way of life of tribal groups in the Northeast by envisioning ‘self-rule’.

• Distinctiveness Approach: Members like Jaipal Singh and B.R. Ambedkar recognised tribal distinctiveness and underscored the need for separate institutional accommodation.

• Integrationist approach: Kuladhar Chaliha, a prominent member from Assam, for example, broached an integrationist approach when he openly advocated assimilation of tribal groups.

• Doubts over self-rule: This approach is also informed by a deep suspicion over the ability of tribal groups to self-govern and institute a semblance of ‘law and order’ given — to wit Chaliha — their practice of “summary justice”.

• Integrity and Security of India: Chaliha reinforced his integrationist push by contending that tribal “self-rule” would leverage “tribalstan” or “communistan” and would be inimical to India’s territorial integrity and security.

Recent examples of Integrationist approaches:

• This approach has been conveniently invoked to delegitimise continuing demand for constitutional asymmetry in Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and in various other places in Northeast India.

• Manipur legislations: This integrationist approach resonates powerfully in two recent attempts by Manipur’s government to (i) stall the introduction and passage of the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Council (Amendment) Bill, 2021, and (ii) induct nine Assembly members from the valley areas into the Hill Areas Committee.

• This actively mobilised to ramp up majoritarian support for dissolution of long-standing constitutional asymmetry enjoyed by the hill people.

• It amounts to transgression of a domain exclusively reserved for the President of India under the Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972.

• This was withdrawn due to Stiff opposition faced by Chief Minister Biren Singh.

• The attempt to increase membership of the six district councils to 31 members each and secure more powers to the councils by giving more developmental mandate are welcome. Yet, the reservation of one-fourth of the seats to socio-economically backward communities may complicate delimitation of constituencies. Earmarking merely three nominated members for unrepresented tribes/women is also simply not enough.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the Electric Vehicles, consider the following statements:

1. The EVCS are being developed under Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid) and Electric Vehicles (FAME) India Scheme Phase-II.

2. Under this scheme, POWERGRID shall be developing 11 EVCS in Shillong city (5 Public EVCS and 6 at government establishments).

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C

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