North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Article 355 imposed in Manipur


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Article 355

Mains level: Read the attached story


Central Idea

  • Recently, unrest in the state of Manipur was triggered by a decision of the High Court to pursue a 10-year-old recommendation to grant Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to the non-tribal Meitei community.
  • In view of the prevailing unprecedented burning situation, the Centre has imposed Article 355 in the state, in an effort to control the situation, according to reliable sources.

What is Article 355?

  • Article 355 of the Indian Constitution is a provision that empowers the Union government to protect every state in India against external aggression and internal disturbances.
  • It is a provision under Part XVIII of the Constitution, titled “Emergency Provisions”.
  • It is based on the principle of “duty to protect” enshrined in the Constitution, which makes it mandatory for the Union government to protect every state from external and internal threats.

Restrictions under Article 355

Under Article 355, the Union government has the power to issue directions to any state to ensure compliance with the Union’s laws and regulations. However, there are certain restrictions on this power:

  • The directions can only be given when there is a failure of the state machinery to comply with or give effect to any Union law or regulation.
  • The directions should be of an urgent nature and may not extend beyond the necessary period for remedying the failure of the state machinery.
  • The state government should be given an opportunity to submit its views before the issuance of such directions.
  • The Union government cannot use this power to intervene in the internal affairs of a state unless there is a failure of the state machinery.

Duration of restriction

  • The duration of the assistance provided under Article 355 is not specified in the Constitution.
  • The Union government can withdraw its assistance when the situation is normalized or when the state government requests it to do so.
  • The duration of the assistance provided under Article 355 is subject to judicial review and can be challenged in court if it violates any fundamental rights or constitutional provisions.

Circumstances of imposition

Article 355 can be invoked by the President of India in certain circumstances, such as:

  1. When a state fails to comply with or to give effect to any of the directions given by the Union under the Constitution.
  2. When the security of India is threatened by external aggression or internal disturbance.
  3. When there is a threat to the unity and integrity of India due to any violent activities by any group or organization.
  4. When a state requests for assistance from the Union to maintain public order and the Union is satisfied that the situation in the state cannot be controlled by the state’s own forces.
  5. When a state fails to provide adequate protection to minorities, particularly in cases of communal violence.
  6. When a state government fails to ensure that the constitutional machinery is maintained in the state.

Reasonable restrictions

It is important to note that the use of Article 355 is subject to certain restrictions:

  1. The President cannot use this article on his/her own initiative; it must be done on the advice of the Union Council of Ministers.
  2. The use of Article 355 does not authorize the President to intervene directly in the affairs of the state.
  3. The President can use this article only to give directions to the state government, and not to the state legislature or the judiciary.
  4. The use of Article 355 should be limited in duration and scope, and should not result in the permanent erosion of the state’s autonomy or the violation of its constitutional rights.

Centrestage of the row: Meitei Community

  • Manipur is geographically divided into the Imphal Valley and the surrounding hills.
  • The Imphal Valley is dominated by the non-tribal Meitei community, which accounts for more than 64% of the population.
  • The hills, which comprise 90% of Manipur’s geographical area, are inhabited by more than 35% recognized tribes, which are largely Christians.
  • The Meiteis are largely Hindus followed by Muslims, while the 33 recognized tribes are broadly classified into ‘Any Naga tribes’ and ‘Any Kuki tribes.’

Behind the ST status: The Meitei Argument

  • The Manipur High Court directed the State government to submit a 10-year-old recommendation for the inclusion of the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list.
  • The ST status is needed to “preserve” the community and “save the ancestral land, tradition, culture, and language” of the Meiteis.
  • The Meiteis were recognized as a tribe before the merger of the State with the Union of India in 1949.

Tribal groups’ opposition to the ST Status

  • Advantaged community: Many tribal groups say the Meiteis have a demographic and political advantage besides being more advanced than them academically and in other aspects.
  • Benefits at others cost: They feel the ST status to the Meiteis would lead to loss of job opportunities and allow them to acquire land in the hills and push the tribals out.
  • Already benefited: The language of the Meitei people is included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, and many of them have access to benefits associated with the SC, OBC, or EWS status.
  • Political vendetta: The demand for ST status is a ploy to attenuate the fervent political demands of the Kukis and Nagas, as well as a tacit strategy of the dominant valley dwellers to make inroads into the hill areas of the State.

Immediate triggers of unrest

  • Some tribal groups with vested interests are trying to scuttle Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh’s crusade against drugs.
  • The anti-drug drive began with destroying poppy fields and the theory that “illegal settlers” from Myanmar — ethnically related to the Kuki-Zomi people of Manipur — are behind clearing forests and government lands to grow opium and cannabis.
  • The first violent protest on March 10 was against the eviction of the residents of a Kuki village.
  • The large-scale arson and violence claiming the life of at least one person on May 3 and 4 followed a “tribal solidarity rally” against the reported move to include the Meiteis in the ST list.


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