In Diphu, a tribal majority Lok Sabha constituency in Assam, candidates of all parties have pledged to implement Article 244(A) aiming to establish an autonomous ‘state within a state’ in this election.

About Diphu constituency and its social profile:

  • Diphu, the least densely populated among Assam’s 14 Lok Sabha constituencies is reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs). 
  • It covers six legislative Assembly segments in three tribal-majority hill districts of Assam: Karbi Anglong, West Karbi Anglong, and Dima Hasao.
  • Governed under the Sixth Schedule of the
  • Constitution, these districts fall under two autonomous councils: the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) and the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council. 
  • Voters in this constituency represent diverse communities, including the Karbi, Dimasa, Hmar, Kuki, Rengma Naga, Zeme Naga, Bodo, Garo, Assamese, etc.
  • Despite this diversity, only the members of the Karbi community have consistently represented the seat since 1977. 

Article 244(A) of the Constitution:

  • Article 244(A) was added through the Constitution (Twenty-second Amendment) Act, 1969, empowering Parliament to enact legislation for the creation of an autonomous state within Assam, encompassing specific tribal areas, including Karbi Anglong. 
  • This autonomous state would have its own Legislature, Council of Ministers, or both.
  • It represents a more advanced form of governance compared to the existing provisions of the Sixth Schedule applicable in these regions. 
  • The autonomous councils established under the Sixth Schedule have elected representatives to provide decentralized governance, but their authority is limited.
  • Because they lack control over law enforcement and possess restricted financial powers.

The evolution of the autonomy demand:

  • The demand for autonomy dates back to the 1950s movement in the hill areas of undivided Assam, demanding for a separate hill state. 
  • This movement led to the establishment of Meghalaya as a full-fledged state in 1972. 
  • Despite this, owing to the assurances provided by Article 244(A), leaders of the Karbi Anglong region opted to remain integrated with Assam.
  • The Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC), formed as a mass organization championing regional autonomy, has been operating ever since its formation.
  • In 1995, the ASDC, alongside student bodies in the region, entered into a Memorandum of Settlement with the state and central governments to enhance the powers of two autonomous councils. 
  • However, implementing Article 244(A) escalated into armed insurgency. 
  • In 2021, a peace settlement was reached with five militant groups in Karbi Anglong, including the Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers, People’s Democratic Council of Karbi Longri, Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front etc.
  • This agreement pledged greater autonomy and a special development package worth Rs 1,000 crore over five years.
  • Likewise, last year, an agreement was also reached with the Dimasa National Liberation Army, following similar lines.

Current scenario of Diphu:

  • The discussions around Article 244(A) have not been silenced despite the signing of the peace accords. 
  • All the candidates of the Loksabha constituency are promising the implementation of Article 244(A) as their primary campaign slogan.
  • Successive state and central governments have often ignored this issue and attempted to regain authority over Diphu rather than increasing it’s autonomy.

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