Telangana Reverberations In The Northeast
The resolution of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), on July 30, 2013, to sanction statehood to Telangana as the 29th state of India by bifurcating Andhra Pradesh, has opened a floodgate of Statehood demands across the country, particularly in the troubled Northeast (NE), where the reactivation and strengthening of such, often dormant, demands has created ‘unintended consequences’ across the region. A few days after the endorsement of the Telangana State by the CWC, violence swept across different Districts in Assam, followed by protests from other States in the Northeast, where similar demands were renewed and intensified. Former militants, who had laid down arms for lesser deals, forgoing their original demands for statehood, also expressed a sense of betrayal.
On August 24, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) sent formal invitations to the groups seeking separate states in Assam for tripartite talks in the first week of September, following which the groups suspended their agitations, including road and rail blockades. The main agitating groups – Bodos, Koch-Rajbongshis, Karbis and Dimasas – have jointly conveyed to the UMHA that the tripartite talks should be held in the presence of the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Assam Chief Minister.
In Assam, statehood demands include agitations by the Bodos for Bodoland; Koch-Rajbongshis for Kamatapur; Karbis and the Dimasas for an autonomous State or a full-fledged State. In Meghalaya, the Garos renewed their stir for Garoland; and tribals in Tripura, under the banner of the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), demanded a separate state. In Manipur, the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) revived its demand for a ‘Kuki State’, even as
the Eastern Naga Peoples Organisation (ENPO) in Nagaland resumed its demands for a ‘Frontier Nagaland’ State.
All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) president, Promod Bodo observed that whenever Bodo leaders had met the national leaders, the latter had ignored the demand for a separate state for the Bodos by saying that the Government of India did not have a policy to create new states. But it had created three states, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, in 2000, even while the long-standing demand for Bodoland was ignored, and would now create Telangana under the same ‘policy’. During the ‘Rail Roko’ agitation launched by ABSU in Kokrajhar District on August 2, Promod Bodo said that the situation would soon become as volatile as in 1987 when the ABSU statehood movement was at peak, if the Government fails to respond to the reality and start talking with the Bodo tribe over their demand for a separate State. The Bodos in Assam have been demanding a separate state since 1987. They were granted Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) under the amended Sixth Schedule of the Constitution in 2003.
Dima Hasao Dal (DHD) ‘president’, Dilip Nunisa, chairman of the now disbanded Dima Halam Daogah-Nunisa faction (DHD-N), fighting for a Dimasa State, alleged that both the central and state governments had ‘deceived’ the Dimasas by granting them only a territorial council. Nunisa declared, “When DHD had earlier approached the Central Government with this demand (for Statehood), they said they would not go for further divisions and that the separate State demand would be impossible to fulfill. However, creation of Telangana has shown that a separate State is possible and proven that the Centre is a liar.” On October 8, 2012, the Central and the State Governments signed Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) with the DHD for enhanced autonomy of the existing North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC) to be renamed as the Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council (DHATC)”.
Violence was particularly intense in Karbi Anglong District. This assumes significance in the context of the ‘historic’ MoS signed by Karbi militant group, United Peoples Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), on November 25, 2011, with the Centre and State Government. On August 3, 2013, UPDS members tore up the MoS at Diphu, the headquarters of Karbi Anglong District, declaring that they were no longer bound by the peace accord. The ‘general secretary’ of the disbanded UPDS, Haren Sing Bey, and ‘joint secretary’ Wazaru Mukrang [now a leader of the Hill State Democratic Party (HSDP)], tore up the MoS in the presence of their supporters. Both of them became Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council (KAADC) members after the UPDS surrendered in December 2011, following the peace accord. Wazaru Mukarang, stated that people were angry because the Centre had lied to them, saying no new State was possible without first putting in place a States Reorganisation Commission (SRC). “Then how did they allow Telangana without the commission?” he demanded. On why the UPDS had agreed to a more empowered autonomous council before saying farewell to arms, Mukarang claimed, “We were never satisfied; that was not what we wanted. We were made to sign the MoS.” Mukarang said if the Government could betray them, they could also return to militancy: “We can don fatigues again.”
Three civilians were killed in the District and many injured even as Police arrested as many as 77 persons in the course of the protests after the Telangana announcement even as Assam was cut off as various ethnic communities started intensive statehood movements. A spokesman of Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR), on August 5, informed that the railways had to cancel 13 pairs of trains
that run between Lumding-Tinsukia, Alipurduar-Kamakhya and New Bongaigaon-Guwahati sections because of the volatile situation and picketing on the tracks by the agitators. An August 12 report, quoting Director General of Police (DGP), JN Choudhury also said that the Centre has already sent 25 companies of forces since the agitations for separate states began.
With the renewal of statehood demands, oppositions to the statehood demands were also renewed.
Accusing the Central and the State Government of encouraging the Bodoland stir, the Sanmilita Janagosthiya Sangram Samiti (SJSS), a conglomeration of non-Bodo organisations, on August 8, said that creation of a separate state for Bodos would leave the non-Bodo communities in the lurch. The SJSS also had launched a strong protest against formation of the BTC under the Sixth Schedule.
Meanwhile, President of AKRSU, Biswajit Ray termed the “Concept of Bodoland is totally baseless”. In addition, Aboro Surakshya Samiti (Non-Bodo Protection Committee) ‘advisor’, Hareswar Barman stated that the separate Bodoland state demand is not supported by history. Hareswar Barman further said that the area sought to be included in the Bodoland state belonged to Kamatapur Kingdom of the Koch dynasty and majority of the Bodos living in this area recently migrated to this area from other parts of the country and some even from Bangladesh.
Significantly, a 20-member delegation comprising leaders of seven opposition political parties of the state on August 7 submitted a memorandum to Governor Janaki Ballav Patnaik at Raj Bhavan in Dispur opposing further division of the State in view of the growing demands for separate states.
Further, the Char-Chapori Sahitya Parishad (CCSP), a literary body for the Muslim community living in sand islands of Brahmaputra, on August 28, demanded that the state government invite representatives of other communities for talks on the creation of separate states. “Apart from the agitators who are demanding separate states, representatives of other communities, including Muslims of Bengal origin, tea tribes, Nepalese and Adivasis must be invited,” Hafiz Ahmed, President of CCSP, said.
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), who does not want disintegration of the age-old bonding between the indigenous ethnic groups in the name of creating separate states also blamed the Congress and its vote-bank politics for the present unrest in the state.
The renewal of statehood demands in other NE states following Assam, was first ignited in Tripura followed by Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland.
On August 2, the IPFT called for a state-Twipraland, comprising the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC). Senior IPFT leader and former elected member of the district council, Budhu Debbarma said the formation of the council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, has failed to safeguard the distinctive culture, tradition, language and lands of the indigenous people. On August 23, large number tribals in Tripura organized a massive rally to demand a separate state by upgrading the existing TTAADC. A seven member delegation IPFT submitted a memorandum addressed to Governor Devanand Konwar. The TTAADC, set up in 1985 has jurisdiction over two-thirds of Tripura’s geographical area of 10,491.69 sq km.
In Meghalaya too, the demand for Garoland (a demand since 1974) reverberated in the Garo Hills. The Garo Hills State Movement Committee (GHSMC), on August 6, launched its first round of agitation with a two-day sit-in protest outside the Deputy Commissioner’s Offices in all five districts of Garo Hills followed by a 12 hour bandh (shut down strike) on August 8. GHSMC general secretary Augustine Marak said the government should consider creation of Garoland based on linguistic lines of the States Reorganisation Act (SRA), 1956. Interestingly, even as the GHSMC threatened to intensify its stir for a separate Garoland, the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP), on August 13, also renewed its demand for creating a separate Khasi-Jaintia State. Stating this as a long pending demand of the party, HSPDP general secretary Enbin K Raswai said that the Centre should consider the creation of separate Garo and Khasi-Jaintia states in Meghalaya based on linguistic lines as envisaged in the SRA, 1956.
In Manipur, the KSDC while renewing its demand for creation of a separate ‘Kuki State’, enforced 48 hours bandh in Kuki inhabited areas on August 13 midnight. The committee’s information and publicity secretary George Kuki, on August 7, said, “Our demand is creation of Kuki State, nothing more nothing less. We will continue our movement till Kuki Statehood is achieved”.’ Incidentally, the KSDC’s call for the strike came in the aftermath of the United Naga Council (UNC) call for 48 hours bandh to urge the centre and state to hold the 6th round of talk for ‘alternative arrangement’ for the Nagas of Manipur. The KSDC also had joined hands with the Bodo groups, on August 22, in their hunger strike in Assam’s Kokrajhar district unitedly pursuing its separate goals.
The latest to join the bandwagon is Nagaland. In a symbolic move to intensify the demand for a separate statehood – ‘Frontier Nagaland’, the 6 tribes of Eastern Nagaland under the aegis of Eastern ENPO observed a “Black Day” by wearing black arm bands as a formal protest on August 15. The ENPO took the decision as “a practical message” to the GoI for the immediate declaration of Statehood based on the distinctive and the different historical and geo-political background of Eastern Nagaland. The ENPO, is demanding creation of a separate ‘Frontier Nagaland’ State comprising the four eastern Districts (Mon, Tuensang, Kiphire and Longleng) of Nagaland with a special status within the Indian Constitution. The demand has already been turned down by both the Centre and the State Government. The demand was first raised in the year 2010. ENPO has also rejected the State Government’s offer of an autonomous council, regional council and economic package, in lieu of ‘Frontier Nagaland’.
The way forward, in the present situation remains volatile, despite the fact that tripartite talks with the agitating groups of Assam have been held, termed as ‘positive’ by each party concerned. The talks with the Joint Action Committee for Autonomous State (JACAS), which is seeking an autonomous state for Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts, was held on September 2, with the Centre asking the JACAS to prepare a draft of the structure of the Autonomous State, the details of which is likely to be discussed at the next round of talks in the first week of October. The Government on September 3 held talks with two Koch-Rajbongshi groups, AKRSU and Koch-Rajbongshi Mahasabha separately on their primary demand for a separate state of Kamatapur and suggested that they prioritize their other demand for tribal status above the statehood demand, so that their rights will be protected when the separate state is created in future. Besides a separate state, the groups also demanded scheduled tribe status for Koch-Rajbongshis in the state and inclusion of their language in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. However, Ray warned after the meeting, “If we do not get our rights through democratic means as we have tried, we will take up arms.” Meeting with the representatives of ABSU on September 4 also winded up with a strong understated message that suggests it’s going to be only more autonomy for the Bodos and not statehood, at least for now. The Centre also held two separate rounds of dialogue with the Bodo National Conference (BNC) and the Bodo Peoples Front (BPF), on September 5, with the government telling them that it wants to address the problems in the functioning of the present council as an immediate measure so that when the separate state is formed, we do not have any problems. Justifying the need for creation of a separate state, the ABSU president had also earlier said that the creation of a BTC was not enough to protect the identity of the Bodo people and that it has failed to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of the people.
The management of the issue however is likely to let violence erupt again if ‘assured solutions’ are not addressed quickly and would get worst with the actual creation of Telangana. One factor for apprehension remains the overlapping demand area for separate states as well as the minority communities opposing their demands. We have also witnessed the recent violence between the Bodos and the Muslims in Bodoland Territorial Administrated Districts (BTAD) between July and September 2012 which left at least 109 dead. An August 25 report also stated that with movements for separate states in Assam and West Bengal gaining ground, the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) planned to expand their bases in these areas, which has become a major cause of concern for the security agencies. According to Sources in the UMHA, the CPI-Maoist supported the CWC decision to create a separate state of Telangana and said that though the decision was taken by the ‘ruling class’, it should be supported. At the same time, the ‘central committee’ of the Maoists has decided to support other separate state movements, including the movements for creation of Gorkhaland and Bodoland. Earlier, on August 13, Tarun Gogoi had sounded alarm to the centre that the CPI-Maoist and insurgent groups might take advantage of the situation to create trouble in the State.
As Telangana issue created a domino effect across troubled NE, peace talks are also in jeopardy as former militants who signed peace agreements for ‘lesser deals’ threatens to return to militancy. The situation need to be tackled diligently in a scenario, where, even as the centre ruled out creation of new states and respective state governments ruled out further division of their states, organisations against statehood demands, too, demands talks from the government. Renewing demands and violence has become a norm in India’s NE, where varied ethnicity thrives, as ‘no solutions’ are insight.
By Veronica Khangchian