Boost for homeland stir & an assertion of rights ~ j b lama
Now that Telangana is a reality, there will be no stopping ethnic tribes in the North-east from reviving their demands for separate states. The Bodos have come a long way since 1967 when the Plains Tribals Council of Assam, under the leadership of S Brahma Choudhury, demanded a separate Udayachal state, but the movement fizzled out because of infighting among leaders. In 1989, leaders of the All Bodo Students’ Union and the Bodo People’s Action Committee took it upon themselves to complete the process. They followed the policy of forbearance and reposed faith in negotiations, kept their agitation non-violent — although it was often breached by the militant Bodo Security Force (now renamed the National Democratic Front of Boroland) — and also suspended their agitation for seven years when talks were on. In February 1993, they signed an accord with the Hiteswar Saikia government, accepting the Bodo Autonomous Council, but the Centre remained a mute spectator when Dispur started diluting the accord in the name of implementing it, and within 10 years it ran off the rails.
In the interregnum, the NDA government persuaded a Johnny-come-lately and little known militant group called the Bodo Liberation Tigers, led by Hagrama Mohilary, to give up the demand for sovereignty and settle for a territorial council under the Sixth Schedule. He achieved this after signing an accord in February 2003, and after the 2005 elections Mohilary has been chairman of the Bodo Territorial Autonomous Council. He supports the Tarun Gogoi government. However, his main objective is to achieve a separate homeland and the BTAC has already passed a resolution to this effect. Little wonder, then, that he landed in Delhi last week to plead for a homeland!
The Karbis in Karbi Anglong district are the second plains tribe to get territorial status. They, too, had agitated for years for a separate state comprising their district and the North Cachar Hills (renamed Dima Hasao). On 31 July, following the announcement on Telangana, angry demonstrators took to the streets and 13 were injured in police firing. Pro-statehood leaders argued that if small states like Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh could be created under Article 222(1A), why not for them. They have already given a call for a 100-hour bandh beginning today.
More than three million Koch Rajbongshis are also agitating for a separate Kamtapur state comprising 15 Assam districts. In Manipur, the Kukis recently revived their 30-year-old demand for a separate Kukiland and have lately been resorting to economic blockades to press their point.
The Bodos settled for greater autonomy after they were given an assurance by the Centre that there would be no more division of Assam and no more new states. Unfortunately, today India does not have a strong leader like Vallabhbhai Patel to stand up and say a categorical "No!" to statehood protagonists.
IT is unfortunate that the 16 June 12-hour bandh in Dimapur, organised by the Action Committee Against Unabated Tax (imposed by underground organisations) to voice their complaints, should have developed into a war of attrition between it and the NSCN(IM). The latter has claimed that since signing the ceasefire accord with the government of India it is now functioning as a de facto government and that it has every right to impose tax and this should not be treated as extortion. It has told the Acaut “not to try, in any way, to exert authority in the market but exist as a pressure group”, further advising it to “function within its bounds and limits and not dilute its focus, lest the maurading adversaries turn them into another form of faction” — an obvious reference to the remark by former Ceasefire Monitoring Group chief Major-General (Retd) N George, who reportedly said it was his belief that “the Acaut had spoken out on behalf of the people and the issue that needs to be resolved now is who represents the people and that the bane of Naga society has been its inability to speak out due to the fear of the gun”.
All that one can say is that people are now seeing the true face of the NSCM(IM).