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Constitution versus Tradition

 

The clamour of the conglomerate of Rangbah Shnong for a chief minister who is sympathetic to the cause of the “Indigenous Peoples” sounds like we are back to the days when the United Khasi, Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills were districts under the State of Assam. Merely because there is an attempt by the Government to bring about a modern, progressive and inclusive Grassroots Administration Bill that looks at governance as a core issue and does not weave it in the web of tradition that is exclusivist in nature, does not mean that the Government is anti-tribal. Large parts of Meghalaya are no longer homogenous spaces exclusively inhabited by tribals and therefore any law or act that is implemented has to take cognizance of this present reality.

In recent months there has been a tug of war between the Autonomous District Councils and the State Government on the issue of passing the Village Administration Bill, 2015. The Bill is lying with the Governor who is taking time to seek legal and constitutional counsel on whether it is wise to endorse a Bill that is inherently ethno-centric and exclusive in a state that has a substantial chunk of non-tribal population. If such a Bill is passed, is it not likely to land the Governor in a legal tangle? Tradition which is a compendium of customary practices has its place in the private domain but if it is stretched to a point where governance is sought to be bound by its archaic diktats then it is bound to clash with the Constitution which has been debated at length before it was unanimously adopted. The Sixth Schedule which is a part of the Constitutional lays out some guidelines about how tribal areas lying within states that are ruled by a dominant non-tribal majority are to be given special concessions and some form of autonomy so that they can conserve and pursue their customary laws and practices. Before 1972, Meghalaya was part of Assam and hence needed that special protection. The quest for a separate state was essentially to enjoy complete autonomy to pursue a form of governance that kept the tribal interest at heart. Hence after 1972, the district councils had become redundant and ought to have been revoked. But political short-sightedness at the time has created a Frankenstein that is today fragmenting the polity and is threatening to create a political opinion that the State Government is the enemy of the people. This attempt to mislead the polity is dangerous and needs to be unmasked, the sooner the better.

 

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