Becoming a State in India
Manipur’s is a good experience to have while restoring statehood to Jammu and Kashmir
With the imminent reinstatement of statehood for Jammu & Kashmir on or before 30 September 2024, it’s worth revisiting other states that have ‘evolved’ from centrally administered territories.
The revival of statehood for Jammu & Kashmir from its current status as a Union territory is not without precedent. The remaking of India’s internal boundaries, in fact, serve as a testament to the acceptance of statehood as a legitimate political aspiration of the diverse linguistic and ethnic groups that constitute the country.
The first example is that of Nagaland, which received statehood in 1963. Although the Naga districts which became a state were never formally a Union territory under Articles 239 or 240 of the Constitution, they were administered by the Governor of Assam as an agent of the Centre. This was based on the Nine Point Agreement, two months before Independence, between Sir Syed Hydari, the then Governor, and the Naga National Council.
When the issue of statehood for Nagaland, Manipur, and Tripura came up before the States Reorganisation Committee (SRC)— comprising Justice Fazal Ali, KM Panikkar, and HN Kunzru—the idea was rejected. In its 1955 report, the Commission noted that it would be “safer to have on our borders relatively larger and resourceful states rather than small and less resilient units”.
However, after the India -China war in 1962, there was a shift toward according priority to political aspirations for statehood. Thus, the SRC recommendations were tweaked in 1963, leading to the creation of the state of Nagaland. This set the precedent for other centrally administered territories to seek statehood.
Three tracks to ‘evolution’ as states
In 1956, five territories were designated as UTs — Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Manipur, and Delhi. Of these, Himachal Pradesh was the first to receive statehood in 1971, which it had been expecting after the reorganisation of Punjab and the establishment of Haryana as a separate state in 1966.
Three years after Punjab’s formation, another interesting development unfolded. The Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act of 1969 was enacted for the formation of an autonomous sub -state, comprising the Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills, and Garo Hills districts, from the state of Assam. This sub-state functioned under a 37-member legislature within the sixth schedule of the Constitution.
Its name, Meghalaya, derived from the Sanskrit words megha and ā-laya, which mean “cloud” and “abode” respectively, was coined by geographer SP Chatterjee as early as 1934. As in the case of the Naga Hill districts from 1947-63, this was an attempt to give the maximum possible autonomy within the framework of a state government.
However, this also marked the failure of the experiment of autonomy within the contours of the sixth schedule. Meghalaya was also granted statehood in 1972, although it continues to maintain a joint cadre with the parent state of Assam.
Also noteworthy is Sikkim’s integration with India. Initially, it became an ‘associate state’ of the Union of India under Article 2A of the 35th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1974. But in 1975, it was designated as a full-fledged state with the adoption of the 36th amendment to the Constitution. With just over 6 lakh people, per the 2011 Census, Sikkim is India’s smallest state in terms of population (Goa holds the title for smallest area, with just about 3,700 square kilometres).
Therefore, since 1956, states have evolved from Union territories (for example, Manipur), sub-states (Meghalaya), and associate states (Sikkim).
Cadre management challenges
Tripura and Manipur attained statehood in 1972, but with a perplexing administrative peculiarity. From 1972 to 2015, these two non-contiguous states, separated by an aerial distance of 248 km, technically shared a joint cadre for the three All-India services: the IAS, the IPS, and the Forest Service.
In fact, even when Tripura and Manipur were princely states—with the former enjoying a gun salute of 13 and the latter of 11— they were under the superintendence of Bengal and Assam respectively. Even in hindsight, it’s difficult to understand the rationale behind the home ministry’s clubbing of the two states’ administration. Finally, the central government created two separate cadres for Tripura and Manipur eight years ago.
Another interesting development in 1972 was the carving out of two additional Union territories from Assam: Mizoram and Arunachal. Both remained UTs until 1987, when, during the premiership of Rajiv Gandhi, they, along with Goa, received their statehood.
Today, these three states come under the diverse AGMUT cadre (Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram, and Union Territories). As the name suggests, this cadre encompasses the UTs of Delhi, Chandigarh, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Puducherry, Daman & Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Ladakh, and currently, Jammu & Kashmir.
Officers allotted to the AGMUT cadre face major challenges in their personal and professional growth because of the multiplicity of controlling authorises and uncertainties surrounding their next posting.
The silver lining is that officers receive their promotions and functional responsibility much faster in this cadre. Nevertheless, this administrative arrangement is quite unsatisfactory on the whole. It is high time that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) examined other possibilities – such as sharing officers from states that have a similar linguistic profile, for example Gujarat for DNH &DD and Tamil Nadu for Puducherry.
The Manipur conundrum
While ethnic and linguistic issues have largely been resolved in other Union territories that gained statehood, Manipur continues to pose a major problem.
This is because of the internecine conflict among the three major communities—the Meiteis, who control the Imphal Valley (Imphal West, East, Thoubal, and Bishnupur); the Kukis or Zo, who dominate in Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, Chandel, Tengnoupal, and Pherzawl; and the Nagas, who hold sway in Tamenglong, Chandel, Ukhrul, and Senapati.
Given the abject failure of the state government on all fronts—from law and order to development—there is a strong case for the administration of Manipur to be taken over by NITI for purposes of development and the MHA for the maintenance of law and order for an initial period of ten years. After this duration, a renewed effort may be made to find a politically acceptable solution for the three groups. We have tried many administrative constructs to resolve longstanding issues. A sincere attempt to address this one would be a mighty challenge, but not an impossibility.
(Sanjeev Chopra is a former IAS officer and Festival Director of Valley of Words. Until recently, he was Director, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration)