NEW DELHI: Almost 60 years after Nagaland attained statehood, the national anthem was played inside its assembly for the first time in February.
The move is historic for a state that has been ravaged by decades of secessionist violence and protracted peace talks that still hang fire.
Nagaland attained statehood on December 1, 1963, and was the 16th state of the Union.
The budget session of the assembly started on February 12 with an address by governor RN Ravi.
“The national anthem was played before and after the governor’s address on the first day of the session. This is how it happens in most states, but playing of the anthem wasn’t part of the convention in Nagaland,” PJ Antony, commissioner and secretary of the legislative assembly, told TOI.
And is it the first time that the anthem has been played in the assembly? “It is at least the first time since the assembly occupied the new building in 2007,” confirmed Antony. The initiative was taken by Speaker Sharingain Longkumer, he added.
“It is fitting that the anthem be played when the governor graces the House. That is what happens in every other assembly. I suggested this and the government endorsed my views,” said Longkumer, who was elected the Speaker in February 2020.
Longkumer said he couldn’t comment why the anthem wasn’t played earlier as it is a “protocol” but added, “Whenever the governor graces the Nagaland assembly, it will be played.”
Playing of the national anthem isn’t mandatory in state assemblies and it is mostly a matter of convention, say constitutional experts.
“There is nothing in the Constitution that makes playing of the national anthem compulsory. The Fundamental Duties talk about respecting it,” said Subhash Kashyap, former secretary general of the Lok Sabha and expert in Indian Constitution.
“The anthem was first played on January 24, 1950, when the Constitution was adopted and the Constituent Assembly was adjourned sine die,” he added.
Former Lok Sabha secretary general PDT Achary said that each assembly follows its own convention and there is no uniformity in their practices.
In Parliament, the anthem is recited when the President addresses the opening session, says Kashyap.
What is most interesting in case of Nagaland is that governor Ravi is also the interlocutor for the peace talks with the state’s militant outfits, including the NSCN (IM) and the other Naga national political groups (NNPGs) that espoused a separate Naga nation, and has taken a tough stand on the “taxes” levied by them.
Last June, Ravi had written to chief minister Neiphiu Rio and threatened to take over the reins of the government for allowing “armed gangs” to run riot in the state.
On Republic Day, Ravi delivered a strong speech and slammed the “gun politics” of NSCN(IM) without naming the outfit. He has indicated that there is going to be no concession to NSCN (IM) on its demand of a separate flag and constitution.
Antony said the playing of the anthem was the Speaker’s initiative and “there is nothing more to be read between the lines”. “I don’t know of any assembly that doesn’t follow this convention, and now it has been introduced here too,” he added.
The lawmakers of Nagaland have welcomed the governor’s initiative regarding the anthem, said Mmhonlumo Kikon, advisor to the Nagaland government and national spokesperson of BJP.
“Proud of The National Anthem,” tweeted Temjen Imna Along, minister of higher education & tribal affairs and BJP’s state president.
Constitutional expert Achary backed the move and said it should be played in every assembly. He, however, said BJP “is demonstrating its nationalistic image” with it.
In Tripura assembly too, the national anthem was first played only a couple of years ago after the BJP came to power in the state.
“The anthem was first recited in Tripura assembly on March 23, 2018, the first session after BJP took over and it was the idea of CM Biplab Deb,” said Sanjay Mishra, OSD to the chief minister.
According to Mishra, there was no tricolour in the CM’s office earlier, which was “rectified” by the incumbent.
“Left parties governed the state for a long time and they weren’t nationalistic enough,” said Nabendu Bhattacharjee, Tripura BJP spokesperson.