The Programme



1. Background of the proposal

1.1 The context of democracy and citizenship: In recent years the theory of democracy has come for close inspection from two angles: the way people are governed (ways of governing, ensuring justice, etc.), and the substance of citizenship. These two points can be re-stated as: (a) Democracy, particularly post-colonial democracy, is judged in terms of distribution of power, the gendered structure of this distribution, both horizontal and vertical reach of power, ways of negotiation between rulers and the ruled, and the way in which law, legality, constitutionalism and politics interact; (b) Democracy as a theory of empowering its constituencies, that is citizens, is interrogated on the test of how much its policies and practices have been plural, variegated, accommodative, capable of facilitating the process of sharing of sovereignty, and seen in this light how substantive has been its policy of conferring citizenship. An examination of the framework of autonomy thus implies examining the landscape of citizenship - its hierarchical or egalitarian universe.


1.2 The issue of autonomy in this context: The issue of autonomy has become relevant in the context of the above two questions, particularly posed in Indian context. After India’s fifty-five years’ history of law-making, series of legislation marked by demands for human rights, justice, and for egalitarian sharing of resources, affirmative actions or positive discrimination, successive elections, protection of minorities and the indigenous communities, the existence of large number of migrants in a territorially demarcated community now looked as “threats” to the existence of such community, special provisions relating to self-rule that include provisions of autonomy under fifth and sixth schedules, and other provisions in the Constitution, and accentuation of the process of decentralisation through the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the Indian Constitution - the issue of the relation between democracy, autonomy, and citizenship assumes significance in the Indian context, where theoretically at least the two principles of democracy and decentralisation are seen as linked, and therefore raises the question of autonomy as the guiding principle of organising our political life. The same context also leads one further to inquire – does decentralisation and autonomy present two approaches in reorganising our democratic political structure? 


1.3 The context of citizenship: The establishment of autonomous and local self-governing institutions, with their roots in colonial governance, is intended, at least theoretically, to provide space for the common people, who it is expected will be able now to express their opinion on local issues. Similarly, the reservation of 33% seats for women (who constitute about 50% of the total population of the country) in the panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) is considered another significant step forward to ensure the participation of population in local governance. The women, who were erstwhile almost entirely excluded from the public space in a patriarchal society, are now considered to have a scope to come out of the private domain and express their opinion with regard to the governance of the society. This also marginally provides an opportunity for women to reorient the existing political and social set-up in their favour. In this regard, it is important to note that these measures of decentralising governance were not taken by the Indian State in a vacuum. They were adopted in view of social, economic, political and cultural mobilisations and changes in different parts of the country. The social movements as well as the political agitations in the country have created a political backdrop for “new institutionalisation” of decentralized governance. The system of decentralized governance and graded autonomy has been considered as a response to these demands and movements. This is more apparent in what is considered as Indian democracy’s margins – territorial margins, margins of the nation, margins of patriarchal power, and margins of a capital-centric and majority-centric polity. Yet even though it is apparent in the margins (such as the northeast and the east), and even though the link between autonomy, decentralisation, and federalisation of the polity has been studied only in such marginal context, the impact of this linkage on citizenship has remained inadequately investigated. But clearly, the experience of last decade of the last century shows the significance of the link between pattern of distribution of power and the landscape of citizenship.


1.4 The phenomenon of the demand for homeland: One of the critical aspects of this situation is that citizenship and the special provisions of autonomy are now mixed up with politics of homeland – an indication of how ethnicity, nationalism, patriarchy, and majoritarianism mark the political world of citizenship. Continued discrimination, lack of development, sustained poverty, politics of identity, majoritarian politics, and above all a nationalising state that builds its core around fictive ethnicity and extreme centralisation of power – all have combined to make the presence of migrants (internal and external - from outside the country, state, district, clan, tribe, etc.) an issue around which the demand for homeland is being made and populist demands are being framed for all types of exclusion. The scenario extends from the western coast of Maharashtra to the North Eastern hills. This situation shows how the politics of autonomy is perched on the twin planks of geopolitics (territorial politics) and ethno-politics, that make autonomy at once a contradictory phenomenon – an indication of a surge of democratic aspirations, at the same time of limiting (or denying) democracy territorially and spiritually by creating a fictive collective that marks itself apart from “migrants” and all outsiders. How to innovate ways out of what has been called the “democratic deficit” is one of the challenges in the research on autonomy.


1.5 The requirement of a dialogic polity: A study of autonomy in the above-mentioned context of democracy and citizenship will have reflections on the idea of how to build a dialogic polity that has the capacity to produce new ways of negotiating the problem of difference. One of the fundamental tests of South Asia’s democracy, as many other post-colonial democracies, relates to its capacity to promote tolerance, ways and forms of accommodation, and prevent the state from becoming runaway with a majority-centric structure and orientation. The issue is: Can the constitutional order become more than mark of sovereignty, and become the mark of a dialogic order, where in the current geo-political and ethno-political realities, the constitutional polity can encourage newer spatial and spiritual forms or dimensions of a dialogic polity? An inquiry in such context will also bring out the ground reality of the way in which women have become citizens even while remaining subject to the patriarchal political order, and what the political demand for autonomy has signified to them. A gender-structured approach to the issue will be instructive because it will bring out the trends affecting the fortunes of India’s democracy – trends that remain obscure from much of the formal and legal analysis of citizenship.


2. Significance of the issue of autonomy

2.1 Test of justice: Such new spatial-spiritual form of a dialogic polity hinges on the great question of the extent to which the constitutional order can inhere autonomous forms of political existence within it, can allow sovereignty to be shared by units, and can address the demands for self-rule that incessantly arise from within the citizenry who are living in different political, social, and economic times within the polity and at the same time. Forms of autonomy thus reflect on notion and practices of citizenship also, which go beyond the simple act of exercising franchise and certain fundamental rights. These demands for autonomous existence and self-rule arising from various segments of people are at each concrete historical moment perched on the requirements of minimal justice. Indeed, the success or otherwise of these arrangements of autonomy depends on how much they address the requirements of minimal justice.


2.2 Relevance of international law: Increasingly international law is also recognising the significance of autonomy as a means to assure vulnerable groups of people including minorities and indigenous communities their special rights, self-rule, and defence mechanisms against majoritarian polities. The recommendations of OSCE, the Basle Convention, the recommendations and decisions of the Minorities Sub-committee of the UN Committee on Human Rights, and the major non-discrimination resolutions such as the 1992 Declaration are only few examples of the new understanding, namely, that autonomy is not just a measure of some special provisions for vulnerable groups in some selected places, but that it has to become one of the principal features of the entire range of political-legal arrangements in face of the existing fundamental asymmetries in power which often mark the constitut6ions or limit their goals and function.


2.3 Global lessons of autonomous arrangements: The global lessons on arrangements of autonomy are also relevant – the success and the failure stories of these arrangements. The experiences of autonomy in places such as Andorra in the eastern Pyrennes in Southwestern Europe, South Tyrol, Hong Kong, Tibet, the lands inhabited by the Innuits and Nunavits (Canada and the Baltic countries), Greenland, Catalonia, Scotland, Quebec, Northern Ireland, Basque, Palestine, and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. We can mention three broad lessons: (a) Where constitutional process and legal realism have depended on political accommodation, arrangement of autonomy has been durable; (b) The conditions of globalisation and politics of resources make the political-ethical task of realising successful form of autonomy more urgent than ever; (c) By relegating the task of addressing the requirements of minimal justice, and putting the issue of autonomy in a framework of "protection of ethnic minorities", the principle of autonomy cannot become effective. Even constitutional guarantees fail in such condition. The federalization and con-federalization of politics becomes an ever-receding task in face of violence that the above-mentioned failure induces. Basque, Kashmir, Eastern Sri Lanka, Balochistan – are instances of that. These experiences suggest that we have to make serious efforts towards understanding autonomy as part of the imperatives towards shared sovereignty, federalising politics, new constitutionalism, and a dialogic order. Some attempts have been made towards analysing the global experiences on arrangements for autonomy, for example the huge report of the International Committee of the Jurists on several models of autonomy. But more research remains to be done in this respect for the purpose of understanding the significance and the limits of the Indian and South Asian experience, and the need to broaden and deepen the framework of autonomy here. Indeed, global lessons assume increasing significance in the context of globalisation, which creates new areas of underdevelopment, disparities, conflicts, and brings forth a global managerial strategy to contain conflicts through managerial frameworks of autonomy. 


2.4 Juridical-political forms of autonomy in countries of South Asia: The juridical-political forms of autonomy in countries of South Asia are worth investigating in the above context. Bangladesh has now an autonomous administrative-legal unit in the Chittagong Hill tract, following the Agreement in 1997, and the Implementation Acts in 1998. But the enactments do not have constitutional guarantee; they have deviated from the agreement; regional council does not enjoy legislative power, except on traditional "tribal" laws; and the stipulated land commission to undo the wrongs of the past regarding the ownership of land and hills by those who had illegally settled and occupied has not yet started functioning. In Nepal, about 20 per cent of the population belongs to hill groups such as Magar, Tamang, Rai, Gurung, Limbu, Sherpa, Lepcha, Chepang; there are the indigenous people of the Terai, the janajatis of the foothills, such as Tharu, Dhimal, who may constitute another 10 per cent of Nepal's 18 million population. But there is no autonomy of the indigenous population whether regionally or laterally. The administrative arrangements for the improvement of the janajati communities are welfare measures. In Pakistan, aspirations and demands for democracy, such as the demands for autonomy in Balochistan or NWFP,  have been viewed as "ethnic" demands; and Pakistan still carries the legacy set in 1955 when various provinces of West Pakistan were integrated in one single unit to counter the Bengalis who constituted 55 per cent of the Pakistan's population, and the legacy of suppressing any demand for autonomy – earlier in its eastern part, now in Balochistan. In Sri Lanka, constitutional denial of autonomy and political, cultural and physical repression on the non-ruling nationalities, particularly the Tamils went together and made the situation intolerable for the latter with the consequence that we all know. The new republican constitution not only declared the Sinhalese language as the only official language, it granted special status to Buddhism. And, even the very limited devolution under the thirteenth amendment was whittled down in conditions of extreme executive centralization in Colombo, the political manipulation of various Tamil groups by the government in the name of running the councils, the revocation of the sixth amendment of the constitution, and then the dissolution of the council in the north-east.


2.5 Indian experience: Indian political and constitutional system has gone farthest in instituting autonomous arrangements. India offers in this region the widest variety of constitutional forms of autonomy. The constitution provides for special status for certain states such as Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland, Sikkim, Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh in Articles 370 to 371H. The constitution also embodies the principle of non-discrimination in Articles 14, 15, 16, 19 and 29. It assures freedom of conscience in Article 25 and freedom to manage religious affairs in Article 26. Article 30 ensures right of minorities to establish and administer their own educational institutions. Under the special protection clause in Article 371, tribal customary laws, procedures, and land rights are protected. Part XVI ensures special provisions for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes. There are arrangements for zonal councils also. The States Reorganization Commission ensured statehood for major linguistic groups. There is provision for autonomous district councils in scheduled tribe dominated districts. The 73rd and 74th amendments to the constitution ensured devolution of powers at village and town level. Similarly the constitution arranged for financial autonomy of the states through constitutionally prescribed division of resources and the National Finance Commission. Apart from creating new states (some very recently created) and autonomy for some states in particular, a range of accords and unilateral measures on Darjeeling, Bodoland, Leh, North Cachar Hills, Karbi-Anglong district, Khasi district, Jaintia Hills district, Tripura Tribal Areas district, Chakma, Mara and La districts in Mizoram, created autonomous areas and district councils under the fifth and sixth schedules.  The pattern of combining a republican nationhood with exceptional autonomies is significant. Is autonomy part of the basic features of the constitution that the Parliament should not touch? There is no clear answer whether the provisions of autonomy are inviolable or not in the context of the erosion of Article 370 providing for autonomy of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The republican nature of the political declaration sways the overwhelming part of rights. Thus provisions such as Articles 14-16, (combining exceptional discrimination on positive grounds), Articles 22-23, Article 25 (combining exceptional right), Article 29, Articles 38-39 defining common welfare, securing common good and indeed laying down the constitutional basis of a welfare state, Articles 46-47, Articles under Part IX (the panchayats) – create a polity based on republicanism that while allowing autonomies lays down the principle of one nation, one people, and one land. Therefore provisions such as Article 244 (administration of scheduled areas – fifth and sixth schedules) may appear as exceptions.


2.6 Variety in Indian forms of autonomy and the limits of the Indian model: There is no uniform civil law, on the contrary a variety of personal laws, and linguistic autonomy in some measure. Indian constitutional and political system has evolved through at least seventy years history of a range of forms of autonomy - administrative, cultural, religious, fiscal and legal-juridical. Yet, demands for right to self-determination ranging from more autonomy to secession have arisen frequently, and if some have mellowed, others have persisted and have grown insistent notwithstanding massive state-suppression and loss of lives. The legal-administrative measures for protection of autonomy such as the Minorities Commission, Human Rights Commission, Women's Commission, are severely limited in their powers. These national commissions have their state counterparts even more limited in powers and functions. So are weak and inadequate the commissions in the states for protection of minority languages and cultures, interests of scheduled castes and tribes. In short, we have in the Indian instance the most extra-ordinary juxtaposition of measures of autonomy and a relentless centralization - seen from another angle, the most relentless constitutionalism and the most insistent cry for the political self to achieve recognition. To put briefly, "the Indian paradox", to borrow a term from late Myron Weiner, lies in two contradictory facts – (a) the Constitutional-political system is marked by a sense that autonomy is an exceptional measure, and (b) the politics of the country shows that the demand for autonomy is widespread and has assumed a variety of forms (from autonomy of the states to autonomous areas, from political autonomy and cultural autonomy to fiscal autonomy), and that these arrangements of autonomy have rarely been gifts from above - they are mostly results of pressures from below, and the aim of the pressures has been almost uniformly to rewrite into the constitution and the justice system the specific demand for autonomy, and thus widen the constitutional ambit of autonomy.. The paradox has effects on the politics of citizenship as well. Politics of recognition has to be seen in the context of the dual politics of citizenship and justice.


2.7 Success of the forms of autonomy is linked with requirements of minimal justice: Understanding the paradox mentioned above is significant, because such an understanding can help us to grasp the implications of this paradox for a policy study on autonomy and citizenship. It will take us away from the familiar and at times banal route of studying "recognition politics" and will link the issue of autonomy to the requirements of minimal justice. These requirements broadly are: (a) the principle of compensation on behalf of the national state for past injustices, and wrongs in order to convince the people and groups who are demanding autonomy of its desire to make up at least partially for the past wrongs; (b) the principle of supervision, which means deciding on the right and agreeable way to supervise the introduction of autonomy; (c) the principle of custodianship, which is crucial to settle the balance between the territorial sovereignty of the state and the autonomy of the dissenting community; (d) the principle of guarantee – guarantee against future erosion of autonomy, guarantee of a mechanism for continuous conversation; and (e) the principle of innovation of federalising and autonomic practices along non-territorial lines towards federalising the political society.


3. Research Agenda

3.1 The research gap: While the theme of protection of minorities and minority rights has been the subject of wide-ranging discussion among intellectuals, human rights community, policy makers and analysts, and jurists, in the context of what has been briefly described above it is intriguing that constitutional-juridical thinking on autonomy as new forms of self-rule, has not received adequate attention in India. Autonomy has been seen in our country mostly as a provision meant for fur-flung areas, and an “exception” –not of concern with the “mainstream”. Strangely at the same time it has been considered as a talisman for devolution of power to protect indigenous communities, frontier areas, and minorities. The proposed research and dialogue programme will take a deep look into the gap on the basis of case studies of select issues and select areas. It will involve wide-ranging study into the experiences of autonomy in the light of the functioning of the autonomous district councils in the east and the northeast – in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, and Mizoram – and the issue of cultural autonomy particularly as defined by the Constitution, along with the related issues of rights, democracy, decentralisation of power, justice, and co-existence. By looking into the concrete practices of governing by the state through conceding or acknowledging autonomy, the proposed programme aims to point out the need for placing the question of “rights and shared sovereignty” at a fundamental normative level, which can address the issue of autonomy of the political self, people, and the community in the background of the experiences of the east and the northeast. In short, it will not be a study of exceptions, but a study of the generalised lessons of what hitherto was considered as an exceptional dimension of Indian political democracy. Autonomy, it has to remembered, has not been till date seen as part of a broader democratic principle, and belonging to a wide set of federating and con-federating arrangements, whose range, variety, links, and mutually related historical bases require to be investigated.


3.2 Research issues: In the context of the need for research as stated above, the proposed programme will address the following fourteen research questions. These issues are of both empirical and theoretical nature. They involve both legal and historical investigations into practices and institutions of autonomy. They can be taken up singly or in batches, and in an inter-linked way. They will require interdisciplinary study, collaboration in research, and group work, and will have enormous policy implications. The research programme accompanied by an equally significant dialogue segment will have three tasks – interpreting existing relevant data and material, generating new data, and posing frontier issues of research around the problematic. 

  1. Juridical-political thinking in South Asia, India in particular, on autonomy, group rights, particularly land rights

  2. Experiences of autonomous district councils in the east and the northeast – Tripura, West Bengal (Darjeeling), Mizoram, and Bodoland

  3. Identity and autonomy in India’s North East: the constitutional framework

  4. State of autonomy in Kashmir

  5. Review of accords that gave birth to the autonomous arrangements

  6. Formation of the state of Nagaland and the quality of autonomy

  7. Autonomy and resource control and resource management

  8. Panchayat raj in West Bengal or Karnataka, or elsewhere, and the quality of autonomy

  9. The voice for autonomy in minority communities - Muslim publications in West Bengal

  10. Horizontal autonomy - quest for cultural autonomy

  11. Globalisation, diverse experiences on autonomy, and international legal thinking

  12. Forms of autonomy and links with justice – gender, citizenship laws, property rights, forms of political participation, indigenous/migrant relations, and legal pluralism

  13. The principle of autonomy and its reflection on the possibility of variegated forms of citizenship

  14. The human rights dimension in federalising society

4. Proposed activities in the research and dialogue programme

4.1 Three sets of activities: The proposed project will include three sets of activities (a) research, (b) dialogues, (c) publications, preparation of a compendium, and archiving of collected data. These three segments are of equal significance in the programme.


4.2 Research segment: In order to address the research questions listed above, the first year will consist of conducting researches in 10 areas for which 10 scholars will be entrusted with responsibility. The 10 research papers will be able to collectively address the concerns mentioned above. They are on: 

4.3 Dialogue segment - The research segment will be strengthened by a dialogue segment which will involve constitutionalists, jurists, administrators social scientists, area specialists, and human rights activists on cross-cutting themes/sub-themes arising out or involved in the above mentioned research work. The dialogue segment will have three dialogues to be held in two years: They will be as follows: 

4.4 Publications and documentation segment – The documentation and publication segment is intended to preserve relevant material and undertake publication of the results of research and dialogue. The following activities will be in this segment: