Autonomy and Devolution of Powers

Can it Fulfill People’s Aspirations in Northeast India?

A two-Day seminar

18-19 august 2013, GUWAHATI

A report

 

 
Assam Governor Shri Janaki Ballav Patnaik addressing the participants during the Inaugural Session of the Seminar
 

The Centre for Development and Peace Studies organized a two-day seminar titled 'Autonomy and Devolution of Powers: Can it Fulfill People’s Aspirations in Northeast India?’ at Guwahati on 18-19 August, 2013. The seminar was inaugurated by His Excellency the Governor of Assam, Shri Janaki Ballav Patnaik. The Keynote Address was delivered by Mr. P.C. Haldar, former Director, Intelligence Bureau, and Member, National Security Advisory Board, Government of India. The seminar was attended by a cross section of people from the northeastern states which included Autonomous Council members, civil society leaders, student union leaders, academics, senior journalists, social activists, college and university students, retired and serving army officers, senior police officers and bureaucrats.

 

Day 1: august 18

 

inaugural session

 

Welcome: Mr. Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, CDPS

Mr. Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, CDPS welcomed all the participants of the seminar and said that CDPS, as a research centre, is interested in understanding the aspirations of the various groups and communities in Assam and the rest of the Northeast. He said CDPS is also keen to know as to why those communities who are already enjoying autonomy in the form of District Councils set up in accordance with the Constitution’s Sixth Schedule are still clamouring for more autonomy.

He made it clear CDPS was not taking a stand on the issue and is looking for views from the speakers and participants in the course of the seminar. He said that the Centre wants to know what the majoritarian groups and the leaders representing the majority community think about the rights, hopes and aspirations of the other groups, including the minority groups, who cohabit in areas where maximum autonomy is sought.

 
 
CDPS Executive Director Wasbir Hussain during his welcome address
 

Mr. Hussain further said that there are questions like whether there is any limit to ethnic aspirations and whether autonomy can be the magic solution to resolve the problems of the groups and communities; to what extent are areas inhabited by the tribes-people relatively backward and underdeveloped because of poor governance over the years; can the administration in a state as large as Assam provide equitable justice to all the districts and its people. He also said that the Government must listen to voices of peaceful protests and give them due importance.

 

Inaugural Address: His Excellency the Governor of Assam Shri J.B. Patnaik

Inaugurating the seminar, His Excellency the Governor of Assam, Shri J.B. Patnaik said that the people of Northeast India are conscious of their identity and self-respect and are fiercely independent and vocal of their views, which is rarely seen in any other part of the country. He said that India has a flexible Constitution which amply provides for devolution of power and aims at a fully integrated Indian nation. He referred to the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution that empowers Autonomous District Councils with legislative, judicial, executive and financial powers. He also said that though some sections of people have resorted to illegal means of taking up arms while seeking more autonomy, however, because of Government of India’s open-door policy on resolving critical issues through dialogues, many of these armed groups have over the years given up violence and reached agreements with the Government on their core demand of autonomy.

 

The Governor emphasized that there can be real autonomy only if people at the village level are empowered and become part of the development planning process. He said that he was in favour of further decentralisation of powers in the Autonomous councils, which can be achieved with introduction of the Panchayati Raj as is prevalent in the rest of the country. He further stated that the political and economic right of the people must percolate to the grass roots of the society, without which there will be no equitable growth. He also said there is a need to empower the tribal communities with the means to determine their own destinies, their livelihoods, their security, their dignity and self respect, as equal citizens of the country and as equal participants in the process of social and economic development.

According to the Governor, there is the need of good governance on the part of the community leaders who are leading the District Councils. He said that the challenge before the leaders at the helm of affairs of these councils is to provide equitable justice to all people living within the jurisdiction of the councils, including the minority groups and communities. He also said that good governance and commitment by leaders of different groups and communities is necessary to uplift all groups of people living within an Autonomous Council area.

 

Keynote Address: Mr. P.C. Haldar, former Director, Intelligence Bureau, and Member, National Security Advisory Board, Government of India

Delivering the Keynote Address, Mr. P.C. Haldar said that India is home to one of the most diverse societies on earth and the real strength of India lies in its pluralistic ethos, shaped by centuries of multi-culturism, multi-linguality and multi-religiosity. He said that India’s Northeast with the magnificent diversity of its people, culture and ethnicity is truly a continuation of India’s rich ethno-cultural tapestry that merges and mingles seamlessly into that of Southeast Asia.

 
 
Mr PC Haldar, former Director, Intelligence Bureau, and Member, NSAB delivering the Keynote Address
 

Mr. Haldar said that, in modern India, rule of law has been used as an effective instrument of progressive change for managing ‘plurality and diversity’. It has strengthened the polity to endure and overcome successfully formidable challenges. He urged that this process needs to be nurtured and protected by everyone irrespective of vocation, identity or station in life. He further said that the politics of identity in the northeastern region often turns aggressive, intolerant and violent, because of which conversations between communities who are neighbours by geography have suffered. He said that it is the responsibility of the civil society to guard against any attempt to use identity related concerns to deepen the divide between communities/ ethnic groups.

“History and background are not the only way to identify ourselves. We all bear multiple identities. These identities together compose the person. Divesting even one of these diminishes the person. All significant markers of identity viz. ethnicity, religion, language provide a sense of cohesion and strength but become exclusionary beyond a point. Recognizing plural nature of our identity is important. Our identity is something that distinguishes all of us by giving a context, a tradition and a way of life. But it should neither be viewed as a liability nor a weapon. It is necessary to put an end to hostilities and eliminate the tension and conflict.  A new approach of accepting and respecting the differences could be explored through shared social and cultural histories and traditions”, said Mr Haldar. He said that effective institutions of local governance at the grass roots level can contribute in creating and reinforcing such ties by reducing mutual distrust and friction.

Mr. Haldar said that closer economic ties between Northeast India with its immediate neighbours and other ASEAN countries are being planned. While the necessary infrastructure and other facilities are under way and will eventually be in place, there is still a lot required to be done to prepare the human capital and environment that could reap the benefits from opening up of the economy. He said that the real benefit will not come if the region merely becomes a transit route for trade. It will benefit only when the region itself will produce tradable goods and services locally. Stability and peace in the region will both be prime requirements to take advantage of this opportunity. He said that empowering the self-governance institutions at the ground level can do wonders in this regard. This will provide assurance to stake holders signifying preparedness of this region to embrace that opportunity.

Autonomy and devolution of function and powers, according to Mr Haldar, are often the means through which a plural society deals and copes with diversity. Even if a new state is created, the challenge of coping with diversity in a diverse society will remain and require appropriate degree of devolution of powers for self-governance at the grass roots level. However, he said that, a multi-tiered architecture of governance brings greater complexity and requires seamless co-ordination between various levels. Well publicized, transparent and easy to understand/comprehend procedures will help proper functioning of local self-governance institutions. He said that though many states have completed the formality of making laws and rules and notifying executive orders, but mere issuance of formal notifications of devolution of functions and powers may not by itself be sufficient. Capacity building and hand holding are also critical needs. Allowing functioning autonomy and resources to democratic institutional arrangements and processes are important to strengthening and enhancing good governance at the grass roots level.

Mr. Haldar said that in the matter of devolution of powers, the areas covered by Schedule VI were initially ahead of non-schedule areas but factors like incomplete devolution of functions and power, procedural bottlenecks, lack of proper training and less than satisfactory holding of hands have adversely impacted the functioning of these institutions too. 

Mr. Haldar further said that despite obvious constraints, there is no reason why the Autonomy and Devolution should not be successful in the context of the Northeast. He felt that effective village level devolution might prove beneficial in stabilizing and calming the situation through wider participation. He also saw a distinct need for harnessing capabilities of the civil society to sustain effective village level devolution. He said that active participation of the civil society acting as both promoter and watch dog will discourage any misuse of the structures of local governance.

Mr Haldar also raised a few questions: Whether a change in training, management and procedures for accountability is needed? What procedural or legal safeguards will be necessary to prevent these institutions being hijacked for ideological or other partisan considerations?  Are we sure we are giving the existing institutions a fair chance? Is it possible that we remain passive onlookers while institutions are being thwarted through a combination of corruption and inefficiency on the one hand and the vested interests on the other?

Mr. Haldar said that he had based his observations on his personal experience of over the last few decades during which he had been closely following events in this region of the country and also relied on whatever he have learnt through his personal interactions with various stakeholders and others in course of his association in various capacities with various conflict resolution initiatives. He wished the seminar and its participants success and hoped that their contribution can make the seminar a forum for incubator of new ideas on the subject.

Vote of Thanks

Mr. Arun Sarma, President, CDPS, delivered the vote of thanks.

  DAY 2: august 19
 

SESSION- I
Chair: Mr. Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, CDPS

 

Introductory Remarks and Presentation by Chairperson

The first session began with the chairperson, Mr. Wasbir Hussain, welcoming the seminar participants and introducing the panelists in that session. He then delivered a power point presentation on the theme of the seminar. He highlighted the ethnic aspirations of the people residing in the Northeast and stated that even though the region got its first autonomous council way back in 1952, the hopes and aspirations have not yet been fulfilled. And this is evident again from the recent statehood movements that have gained momentum in the State after the decision of creation of a separate state of Telangana. Mr. Hussain shared the findings of a field survey conducted by CDPS on the same topic. The field survey, conducted in the areas falling under the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) and North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC) areas in Assam, indicated that the people living in those areas are not satisfied with the present autonomy arrangements and demand more autonomy.

 
 
Mr Wasbir Hussain chairing the session
 

Mr. Hussain then raised a few questions: Why have the autonomy arrangements in the Northeast not been able to satisfy the hopes and aspirations of the people? Can formation of separate state satisfy these aspirations? What about the other communities living in those areas? Do they support the creation of a separate state? Will there be agitation by these groups if a separate state is created?  What are the other options that can lead to better devolution of powers?

Mr. Hussain then shared a few ideas that are in circulation for creating a workable autonomy. He talked about setting up of a politico-administrative structure that enjoys maximum autonomy with provisions for devolution of powers up to village level. He also shared the idea of direct central funding to the autonomous councils, providing rights over resources to Panchayats/Village Councils instead of the Centre and creation of an Upper House in the states with representation from all the ethnic groups. He talked about creation of regional councils instead of tribe-specific councils and setting up village councils under them. He shared the idea about representation of all the ethnic groups in the autonomous district councils proportionately to their population and reservation of jobs in the government offices in the same manner.

Mr. Hussain also talked about the autonomy arrangements in three different regions of the world: Aland Archipelago off the southwestern tip of Finland, Trentino-Alto Adige, an autonomous region in Italy and the Sami Parliaments in Norway, Finland & Sweden. He suggested that these autonomy arrangements may be studied so as to incorporate some of their features in the present framework in the Northeast.

Mr. Hussain concluded by saying that an effective mechanism is needed for devolution of powers to the village level and to ensure that benefits from the development projects reach the common masses. He said that the government must pay adequate heed to peaceful forms of protests and peaceful negotiations with the government and involvement of all the communities in such talks is the need of the hour.

 
 
A view of the participants during the second day
 

Speaker 1: Mr. Paul Lyngdoh, Working President, United Democratic Party, Meghalaya

Topic: Ethnic Aspirations and Politics of Autonomy in Northeast India

 

The first speaker, Mr. Paul Lyngdoh said: “It is fairly predictable now that there will be demand for more new states in the coming days, whether in Northeast or other parts of the country.” He said that the very definition of autonomy originates from the Greek words – auto meaning self and nomos meaning law. Thus autonomy means—those who give themselves their own law. He said that there are various theories concerning the idea of autonomy. The most important one is by Immanuel Kant that speaks about the idea of the will of every rational being, as the will that legislate universal law.  

He referred to a map that compares the northeastern states with some of the independent nation states of the world. He said that from the map it can be seen that the population of Assam is comparable to that of Peru, population of Arunachal Pradesh with population of Swaziland, Meghalaya with Mongolia, Mizoram with Jamaica and Nagaland with Latvia. The map also depicts states like UP as equivalent of Brazil, Gujarat tof Italy and Andhra Pradesh to Egypt. “This gives a fairly good idea of population of our country and the justification of having states that are governable based on population as one of the criteria”, Mr. Lyngdoh said.
 
 
Mr Paul Lyndoh speaking in the first session
 

Mr. Lyngdoh raised a point to be considered: whether India is actually a union of states, as stated by the Preamble to the Constitution. He said that there is a strong Central bias in the Constitution, which denies this country its federal character. He said there are still institutions like Planning Commission, Office of the Governor and CBI that serve to reinforce the strong Central bias of the Constitution. He cited the example of Election Commission of India, which is appointed by the President and represents the union government and can be removed from office only by the Parliament, for which there is a need of two-thirds majority. He said that this majority comes from the single largest party, which can only be a national party.

Mr. Lyngdoh said that there is now a need for adopting common minimum parameters to judiciously examine all the various demands for statehood. It is only then that the exercise will be objective, fair and acceptable, he said. A few parameters he mentioned were:

(i) Economic viability and resource base of the proposed state

(ii) Fixation of minimum size and population for any proposed state

(iii) Adequate safeguard for all smaller ethnic, religious or linguistic groups

Mr. Lyngdoh proposed the formation of a permanent state reorganization commission, which can function independently and be institutionalized and given a clear cut mandate. This Commission can then examine various demands and aspirations based on the parameters mentioned earlier.

He said that one needs to look at the growth records of the newly created states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. These states have recorded more than double the growth rate of its parent states during the 10 th plan period, he said. Chhattisgarh recorded a growth rate of 9.2% compared to that of 4.3% of its parent state Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand recorded a growth rate of 11.1% compared to 4.7% of its parent state Bihar and Uttarakhand recorded a growth rate of 8.8% compared to 4.6% of its parent state Uttar Pradesh. These growth rate figures justify the creation of these new states.

Mr. Lyngdoh said that it is important that while acceding to the aspirations of the people, the stress should be more on development, ethnicity, decentralization and governance and not religion, caste or language. He also said that in order to strengthen the federal structure of India, there is a need to take a look at the size of the representation from the northeastern states in the Parliament. He said that the number of states in India needs to be increased to at least 50 so that there is a balanced representation of all states in the Parliament. Mr. Lyngdoh said that whatever aspirations people have at the local or regional level, these aspirations will not bear fruit unless they can be heard in the floor of the Parliament.

 

Speaker 2: Dr. N.G. Mahanta, Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science and Coordinator, Peace and Conflict Studies Centre, Gauhati University

Topic: The Autonomy Experience and the Demand for Federal Restructuring in Assam

Dr. N.G. Mahanta, in his presentation, argued that autonomy principles in Northeast India are still guided by colonial principles essentially highlighted by Partially Excluded and Excluded Areas Act of 1935. He said that rather than dividing India on administrative and economic lines, the post-colonial experiment of state reorganization in 1955, essentially on language basis, has unfolded the demand for separate states in the northeastern region.

He said that the autonomy debates in India’s Northeast has got two important dimensions:

  • The autonomous demand in India’s Northeast is couched not in linguistic but in terms of historical, ethnic distinctiveness and exploitation by the dominant groups.
  • The demand for ethnic constitution or re-modeling of the autonomous institutions of the region is quite natural.  The burgeoning demand of the ethnic/indigenous groups to reframe the homeland demand in the dominant group’s name is a reflection of majoritarian urge of democracy.

He said that the Indian government has attempted various autonomous models in the Northeast region in general and Assam in particular. Some of these experiments are –

  • Creation of separate states
  • Autonomous states under article 244 A of the Constitution
  • Sixth Schedule
  • Development Council
  • Satellite Council
 
 
Dr N G Mahanta making his presentation
 

Dr. Mahanta also mentioned about the state reorganization process in Assam and the Northeast and said that it is primarily the ‘security’ concerns of the Indian state that has led to the creation of seven states in the region. He also talked about the creation of autonomous councils and development councils in Assam.

Dr. Mahanta said that the experience of autonomy, particularly under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, has been a failure. He explained several levels of accusations that are put forward by various sections:

  • It has failed to fulfill the burgeoning state demand of the Karbis, Dimasas and the Bodos.
  • Leaders of Karbi Hills have leveled serious allegations of apathetic attitude and negligence by the State government in terms of fund allocation and granting power.
  • There are serious allegations of misconduct, mal-governance and corruption against the Karbi Anglong and NC Hills autonomous councils 
  • The Sixth Schedule has apparently failed to settle the issue of representation, justice to various ‘ethnic-others’ and non-ethnic groups into the administration of councils.
  • The Sixth Schedule has become an instrument to serve the class interest of new tribal bourgeois class, who mobilize people of their community in the name of historicity, self-determination and negligence by the dominant group.
  • Such ethnicisation of space has put a great theoretical challenge to the much coveted ideals of democracy such as coexistence, pluralism and accommodation.

Dr. Mahanta argued that creation of states on ethnic lines is bound to happen in a multi-ethnic region like India’s Northeast, especially in a situation when their issues of insecurity and identity have hardly been taken care of. There are many instances to suggest that the tribal leaders were dissatisfied at the denial of an autonomous space through which they could develop their own language, culture and identity. He said that there is nothing unnatural at the growing identity consciousness of indigenous groups in Assam. Such articulation of separate states giving salience to primordial factors has already been legitimized by the state reorganization Commission in 1955.

Dr. Mahanta said that today in areas like Bodoland, the issue is not primarily the exploitation by the Assamese. The primary cause, he said, for increasing assertiveness in terms of a separate Bodo identity is their gradual loss of their indigenous land and loss of numerical strength at the hands of the illegal immigrants and the Muslims of east Bengal origin. Protection of the traditional tribal land always remains perhaps the most important or vital issue for the tribals. It is for this reason that the tribals of the Northeast have always been fiercely protecting the inner-line permit system. The loss of land is a matter of great concern to the tribal psyche as it means loss of a collective resource to which they are attached since time immemorial. Land is not just a piece of commodity but also a part of their culture and customs. They perceive for themselves a proto-jurisdictional property right over land, a pre-emptive right sanctioned by historical prerogative.

Dr. Mahanta proposed that two autonomous states under Article 244A of the Constitution within the state of Assam be granted:

  • One combining the Karbi-Anglong and the Dima Hasao district with the present boundary and territory.
  • The other is the Bodoland state in the western sector of Assam with the present boundary and demarcation.

The Bodoland autonomous state will have provision for a District Autonomous Council for the Koch-Rajbongshi, combing the present Bongaigaon district and reorganizing a few areas of Kokrajhar and Chirang. The Assembly of the proposed autonomous state should have adequate provision for representation to the ‘ethnic others’ and other social and religious groups. In the process, ST status should be granted to the Koch-Rajbongshis and the Adivashis. The proposed state should have adequate protection to all the communities and there should not be any reservation in the grass root and middle level Panchyati Raj institutions. The proposed state would have all powers except law and order and a few others as per the norms of the Constitution.

 

Speaker 3: Dr. Ranoj Pegu, Advisor, Takam Mising Porin Kebang

Topic:  Community-based Autonomy in Assam: An Exercise at Appeasement, not Development?

Dr. Ranoj Pegu said that autonomy, in Assam’s context, is neither an exercise of appeasement nor a subject concerning development as the one and only object. It has larger issues embedded in it. He said that contrary to what most people believe that the smaller tribes like Mising, Rabha, Tiwa etc. had started demanding autonomy in the wake of the Bodoland movement, it must be made clear that the Mising people had first passed their resolution for autonomy in 1947. The Tiwas or Lalungs raised their autonomy demand at the same time as the Bodos did in 1967 and these autonomy movements in the plains of Assam gained popularity impetus during the late eighties and early nineties.

 
 
Dr Ranoj Pegu making his presentation
 

Dr. Pegu said that in 2003, the Rabha, Mising and Tiwa people came to an agreement with the government.  The two most important points of agreement, among others, were as follows:

  1. Although the Councils are named after the respective major tribe, their protective and ‘promotive’ measures would be for all the Scheduled Tribes people residing therein.
  2. (a) Compact and contiguous areas having 50% or more ST population as a whole in the area and not necessarily in individual villages should be considered as Core Area of such an Autonomous Council; and (b) Cluster/clusters of villages having 50% or more ST population in the cluster and not necessarily   individual villages should be considered as Satellite area/areas of such Autonomous Councils.

Following this understanding, all the three autonomous Council Acts, namely MAC Act, RHAC Act and TAC Act were amended in 2005. However, following opposition from a section of people who insisted that only those villages having 50% or more ST population should be taken, the fate of these Autonomous Councils have stuck in a limbo for 18 years now, without elections being held. Dr. Pegu raised a key question: “If we take the criteria of 50% ST population in a village, what about the 50% non-tribal population of that village?” He said the present autonomous council act has well defined legal safeguards for the non-tribals residing therein.

Dr. Pegu also said that it is ridiculous to demand scrapping of these autonomous councils due to allegations of rampant corruption, as corruption has now spread everywhere right from the very sensitive Defence Ministry up to the Gram Sabha.

Dr. Pegu said that some people talk about lack of development or economic growth as the foremost reason for autonomy demands and movements and advocates development through good governance. Lack of development is a matter of serious concern and everyone agrees that the tribal areas are very backward and the tribal people are backward in all spheres. He said that out of 105 Gram Panchayats falling under the MAC, 80 Panchayats are not yet connected by motorable road despite the flagship programme of PMGSY. However, he said that one person’s development may be a reason for disaster for another person. He asked, ‘what is development?’ Does development only mean black-topped roads and pucca houses planned and designed at a distant place and constructed by a city-based contractor in a tribal area? The question relevant to the tribal people is how to bring about development in their own way, as per their need and in their style. Here, Dr. Pegu recounted a childhood fable about the friendship between a fox and a long billed egret and compared the fox with the State Government and the egret with the autonomous councils.

Dr. Pegu said that India is a plural society and the Northeast is more plural, more diverse and different than the mainland. He provided a few suggestions:

  1. Democratic elections to the MAC, RHAC and Sonowal Kachari Autonomous Council should be held immediately with adequate security cover so that they are held peacefully.
  2. Financial rules and administrative procedure should be framed
  3. Fund allocated to an Autonomous Council must be released within two months after the budget session.
 

Speaker 4: Dr. Samujjal Bhattacharya, Advisor, All Assam Students Union (AASU) & North East Student Organization (NESO)    

Topic: The Autonomy Discourse in Assam

Addressing the participants, Dr. Samujjal Bhattacharya said that autonomy is a much misused word in Indian politics. According to him, autonomy is given or granted and assured on a piece of paper and the politicians ensure that it remains only on paper. Politicians and bureaucrats never intended autonomy to be an instrument of change. He said that the basic purpose of autonomy should be to empower people to manage their own problems, and for this, authority to make planning is required and this should be granted legally. The demands for separate states are products of distortion of this idea, he said.

 
 
Dr Samujjal Bhattacharya addressing the participants
 

Dr. Bhattacharya said that the Central Government has over the decades reduced the State Government to mere executing agencies and in turn, the State Government has marginalized the functioning of the autonomous councils. He proposed two solutions:

a)      Autonomy should be granted as an instrument of real change. Autonomy must be given as such that people can plan their own budget and execute the schemes.

b)      It must be constitutionally ensured that autonomy is not misused to discriminate people on the basis of language and religion.

Dr. Bhattacharya said that the various councils in Assam are not getting powers in true sense. They have powers for planning but they do not have fiscal powers. Another big problem is that budgets of the councils are not cleared on time. He also said that it is necessary to discuss whether the powers that are given to autonomous councils are effectively implemented or not. For him, question arise as to why there are problems even when the autonomous councils are ruled by people from amongst the ethnic groups residing in the area. He said that this issue can be addressed by giving full powers to the autonomous councils in true sense and the councils should be regional in character and democratic. And the questions that are in the mind of other communities should also be addressed.

Dr. Bhattacharya said that the recent statehood movements should not be treated as a law and order problem. There should be a continuous political dialogue and both the State and Central Government need to be involved in it. At the same time, there should not be any violence also. He concluded by saying that the AASU would not want any ethnic group to go out of Assam and that the issues that have arisen recently can be solved within the geographical territory of Assam, provided the power, and a true autonomy is granted to the autonomous councils.

 

DISCUSSION

Mr. Pramod Boro, President, All Bodo Students Union (ABSU):

Initiating the discussion, Mr. Pramod Boro suggested that there should be a commission at the Centre to look after all the issues of the northeastern states. He said that some people may think about themselves as a global citizen or a citizen of the country, so they do not need any identity. In this context, he asked how many people are ready to rechristen the name ‘Assam’. He said it is not a problem of economy but a question of identity.

 
 
Mr Pramod Boro interacting during the discussion
 

Chayanika Goswami, Student, Handique Girls College, Guwahati:

She asked what would happen to the identity of the non-Bodos residing in the proposed Bodoland state.

Mr. Pramod Boro:  

In reply to the question, Mr. Boro, said that they have been talking about equal representation of all groups in the proposed Bodoland state. He said that Bodo population in Assam is 4.6% and there are 12 MLAs in Assam Legislative Assembly from amongst them, which compared to a total strength of 126 MLAs, is nothing when it comes to policy making. He said if the Bodoland state materializes, there will be no large group population-wise; Bodo population may be around 20%, Assamese-speaking population may be around 20%, Adivasi population will be around 3-4%, Mising population may be around 6%. So there will be almost equal population of all communities and then the question of identity will not arise in the proposed Bodoland state.

Mr. Sushanta Talukdar, Special Correspondent, The Hindu:

Mr. Talukadar, directing the question to Mr. Paul Lyngdoh, asked whether he sees any economic viability in the creation of Garo and Khasi-Jaintia states carved out of Meghalaya, as has been demanded by various groups. He also asked whether the leaders of the autonomous councils are ready to devolve powers to the village level.

Mr. Paul Lyngdoh:

He said that the state reorganization commission that he talked about has to be institutionalized and this commission can analyze the demands that have come up from Meghalaya. He said that the parameters that he had earlier spelt out can be used here to objectively analyze such demands.

Mr. Debojit Thaosen, Chief Executive Member, North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council:

Replying to the second question of Mr. Sushanta Talukdar, Mr. Debojit Thaosen said that the BTC, KAAC and NCHAC have all passed bills for devolution of powers to the village level. Once that bill receives assent from the State Government, it would be implemented.

Col (retd.) Manoranjan Goswami, Retired Army Officer:

Directing the question to Dr. Samujjal Bhattacharya, he asked whether he can clearly state that AASU do not want further division of Assam.

Dr. Samujjal Bhattacharya:

In reply to the question, Dr. Bhattacharya reiterated his point that he would not want any group to go out of Assam and that the issues can be solved within the geographical territory of Assam. He alleged that both the State and Central Government are playing divisive politics and the various groups in Assam should not allow them to take advantage of the situation.

Mr. Pramod Boro:  

Mr. Pramod Boro, in response to the divisive politics comment made by Dr. Samujjal Bhattacharya, said that they are ready to face divisive politics and as they are citizens of this country, the government is bound to give them justice. He also said that there is a need to be clear on the issue of autonomy and what powers can be given under it.  

Dr. Ranoj Pegu:

Dr. Ranoj Pegu said that Indian Government and the Assam Government has not been able to regulate migration, whether it is inter-country, inter-state or inter-district migration and it has totally changed the demographic pattern of Assam and it has weakened the indigenous minorities of the State. He said that in case regional autonomy is now granted where the indigenous groups are in a majority, but after 20-30 years there might be migration of outsiders, which will reduce the indigenous communities to a minority. So there is need of a mechanism to protect the right of the indigenous communities in that area.

Talking about devolution of powers up to village level, he said that it is a Constitutional pledge and steps have already been initiated in this regard in case of the autonomous councils under Sixth Schedule.

Ms. Sahina Jamal, Student, Handique Girls College, Guwahati:

“If we continue demanding new states, till when we can promote the maxim of ‘unity in diversity’ of our land in the world stage?”

Dr. N.G. Mahanta:

Dr. Mahanta, while replying the question, said that the various communities in the region have been living together for many years. Even though there were a few disputes, but there was some mechanism through which the various communities maintained their distinct identity as well as cohabited amicably with each other. But now one thing is clear that no one wants to live under another’s influence, so even if an autonomous state is granted, it has to be ensured that the rights and identity of all the groups living in that state is protected. Justice cannot be from the eyes of one community. So an autonomous state under Article 244A of the Constitution and Constitutional safeguards for the indigenous communities can be suggested.

 

SESSION- II

Chair: Dr. A.N.S. Ahmed, former Prof., Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, & Director (Research), CDPS

Speaker 1: Ms. Patricia Muhkim, Editor, The Shillong Times & Member, NSAB

Topic: Autonomy on Ethnic Lines in Northeast India: Recipe for Ethnic Divide?

Ms. Patricia Mukhim said, “Very often we forget the voices of the silent majority and we believe we are speaking on their behalf. People clutter for more power but where does that power reside?” She said that in a democracy, there is a need for autonomy but autonomy is not a stand-alone word. It is invariably linked to governance. Autonomy is of no use if it does not bring better governance, if it does not devolve powers to the village level. She said autonomy means the autonomy of self-governance and governance means participation, where people plan for themselves, where people have the platform to speak for themselves. She further said that in India we do not have a model for good governance.

 
 
Ms Patricia Mukhim making her presentation
 

Ms Mukhim said that in India a number of programmes have been designed and implemented by the Central Government which have made the people merely beneficiaries and not stakeholders.  She said that in India, the Planning Commission decides how much funds the states need, so where is the autonomy of the states. “We have turned the democracy in this country into a full-fledged oligarchy”, she added.

According to Ms. Mukhim, the demands for statehood are good as long as they do not come out from the barrel of a gun. But she cautioned that if statehood is granted without proper deliberations, it could become a recipe for disaster. She said that the decision to create Telangana is not right. Language is not the only ingredient to bind people together. States need to be created to take development closer to the people. She said that power should not be vested with a central force but should be diffused outwards and downwards. So in India, the power should have flown from the states to the Centre but the tenuous nature of states in the Northeast have made them hugely dependent on Centre even for its own law and order problems.

She said that while arguing that autonomy is the best form of self-rule, the ideas of autonomous states are defined by ethnic boundaries. While it may have emotional appeal, it is a very problematic idea. There is a need to look at other models of autonomy.

Ms. Mukhim asked the people demanding separate state whether a separate state is the ultimate goal. She cited the example of Meghalaya, where people demanded a separate state but did not have a vision beyond that. So the agitating groups need to come out with a blueprint as to what they plan to do after gaining statehood. She said that devolution of powers in the autonomous councils have not empowered the people as they should have. So what is the use of autonomy, if real power does not reach the people, she questioned.

Ms. Mukhim said that the autonomy may bring ethnic divide in areas where there are various ethnic groups. In Meghalaya, the poor tribals are becoming rapidly landless. She said this was not the idea of autonomy that the tribals, whose very life and culture is linked with land, is getting eradicated from their own land. She concluded by saying that if statehood means that communities get more and more fragmented, then that is not a good idea.

 

Speaker 2: Mr. Debojit Thaosen, Chief Executive Member, North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council

Topic: Six Decades of Autonomy in Dima Hasao: The Road Ahead

Mr. Debojit Thaosen in his presentation delved into the history behind the framing of the Sixth Schedule and brought out how and why such special status was required to be accorded for the people of these tribal areas. He talked about the various regulations and acts that were used to administer the tribal areas like Regulation X of 1822, Garo Hills Act, 1870, Scheduled District Act, 1874, Assam Frontier Tracts Regulation, 1880, Government of India Act 1935, etc.

 
 
Mr Debojeet Thaosen speaking during the session
 

He summarized some of the main reasons that led to the concept of autonomy in the Constitution of India in the form of Sixth Schedule as follows:

  1. Backwardness and isolation of these areas vis-à-vis other parts of India.
  2. Their quest for security of land, freedom in pursuit of the traditional methods of livelihood and the reasonable exercise of their ancestral customs
  3. After the war, their being immersed with ideas of isolation and separation.
  4. Certain institutions like the village administration system and the method of settling disputes among the hill people were too good to be destroyed.
  5. The decision to obtain the cooperation of these people for governance of these areas rather than the use force for the purpose of integration.
  6. To keep the frontiers safe by keeping the tribals in a satisfied condition.
  7. The tribal people of these areas being different from the tribals of other parts of India.
  8. The desire of the framers of the Constitution to meet the aspiration of the people of the area to the maximum and on the other hand to get these areas assimilated with the mainstream of the country in due course of time.
  9. Mr. Thaosen said that the road ahead is very challenging. Autonomy should lead to overall development. As such the road ahead should be ideally to bring overall development in the district. One of the ways to bring a well meaning development is through decentralization and devolution of powers to the grassroots on the lines of the Panchayati Raj system. However, no amount of decentralization will yield the desired results so long as the route, vis-à-vis projects/funds etc., from the Centre to the desired destination is not shortened. Longer the route, more the perforation. More the perforation, more the dissatisfaction amongst the masses leading to various situations.

He said that insurgency problem in the area has to be solved. A major step to cut off breeding ground for insurgency is to improve the education system in the district and eradicate illiteracy as far as possible. In fact, in the near future there is going to be a steep rise in the sphere of educated unemployed youths and decrease in the number of dependents all over India as well as in our district thus leading to the yield of demographic dividends. However, these unemployed youths will have to be directed towards vocational training as government, with its limited job avenues, will be unable to absorb them.

In the road ahead, he said, we have to improve sustainability if not for anything but to solve permanently some problems like that of salary. The rich forest and mineral resources of Dima Hasao need to be tapped to the fullest. Likewise, in the case of art, crafts and handloom, lots need to be done to make the people use them for their sustenance.

Mr. Thaosen said that one of the sectors for development should be in the area of tourism. Dima Hasao is the only hill station that Assam can boast of. Further, the unique and mysterious bird phenomenon in Jatinga makes it the only State in India where such a phenomenon takes place. The picturesque meter gauge train ride across green forest and hills and tunnels is another attraction. These and others along with the unique customs and traditions of the area make it a perfect tourist destination. However Dima Hasao, Haflong, or Jatinga seldom finds mention in the tourism map of Assam.

Mr. Thaosen concluded by saying that autonomy in any form or degree should not be granted solely on political considerations but should be based on ground realities for reasons of sustainability.
 

Speaker 3: Mr. U. G. Brahma, Former MP and BPPF leader

Topic: Coexistence in a Small State: the Bodoland Perspective

Mr. U.G. Brahma said that constitutionally it is not possible to stop the creation of new states as our Constitution has not set any limits on the number of states. He said the reorganization of states was and is still a continuous process. He said that the leaders of various statehood movements need to have a very positive approach towards the issue as this will create a space for reaching out to a solution of the problem. He said that there have been many movements but the settlements have been done behind the scenes.
 
 
Mr UG Brahma speaking during a session
 

Mr. Brahma said that Constitution of India defines nothing about the characteristics of small or big states, the only basic difference between the two is in terms of area and population. But co-existence is a crucial issue which can be found in small states. He suggested that there has to be a permanent institutional mechanism for dealing with the demand of creation of smaller states.

Mr. Brahma said that coexistence is a gigantic responsibility of the society. There has to be talks in positive manner among various communities for coexisting peacefully. However, there has been contradiction and confrontation between various ethnic groups in the Northeast. He said that the various statehood demands have not been the reason for this confrontation, rather a few other external factors, including foreign hand, was responsible for these conflicts. He also held responsible the community-based politics of political parties to be also a reason for this. Mr. Brahma asked why political parties can’t talk about nation building. He said that one cannot talk about regional integrity without talking about national integrity.

Mr. Brahma said that it is a gigantic task to unite all the ethnic groups in the region and it will take a long time. He also said that the various communities have a lack of patience and they react too quickly to situations, resulting in various conflicts. He said that politics have failed to bind the communities in Assam. The politics in the State have been mainly based on language and culture, starting from the language movement in 1960 to the Assam Movement in 1979-85. He said that politics in Assam talks about community building and not state building, nation building or society building.

He said that when demand for a separate state for plain tribals began in 1967 it was a united movement and the non-tribals never stood against the tribals. When the second stage of movement began in 1987, some opposition flared up from the ruling groups but there was no visible opposition from any community in the proposed Bodoland area. Mr. Brahma said that the Bodo Autonomous Council formed in 1993 failed due to lack of political will and lack of budgetary provisions. In the present BTAD area also, development can be seen in Kokrajhar district and a few places of Chirang district but the other two districts of BTAD, Baksa and Udalguri are still under-developed. There are also allegations of corruption in the BTC, there has been siphoning of funds. Mr. Brahma said that this will continue to happen unless an accountability system is put into place. He concluded by saying that only a full-fledged state can satisfy the aspirations of the people.
 

DISCUSSION

Ratna Bharali Talukdar, Freelance Journalist

Ms. Talukdar said that while talking about autonomy, one talks only about political autonomy. There is a need to discuss autonomy in other fields like education, art, culture and their safeguarding too.

Dr. Maqbool Ali, University of Science and Technology Meghalaya

Dr. Ali, directing the question to Ms. Patricia Mukhim, asked whether without economic development is it possible to gain power or get autonomy and devolution of powers. He directed the next question to Mr. U.G.Brahma. He said that after the creation of BTAD, economic development has gone to few hands, so will that be the case after the creation of Bodoland state.

Mr. B.C.Langthasa, President, Jadikhe Naisho Hasong

Mr. Langthasa said that in India, the name of a state is not named after a particular community. He asked Mr. U.G.Brahma what he had to say about the nomenclature ‘Bodoland’ as it is named after a particular community.

Ms. Patricia Muhkim, Editor, The Shillong Times & Member, NSAB

Ms. Mukhim replying to the question of Dr. Maqbool Ali said that power comes from certain things like education, which many people in rural areas in places like BTAD, Karbi Anglong or Meghalaya do not have. If people don’t have basic education, they are afraid to question. So education itself is empowering. If rural people are provided functional education or vocational education, that will bring economic empowerment as well. In this way they can talk and negotiate.

Mr. U. G. Brahma, Former MP and BPPF leader

Mr. Brahma said that provisions of Sixth Schedule are exclusive to tribals and it is provided to a particular tribe. But if a separate state of Bodoland is created, it will not be a tribal state, Mr. Brahma said and added that things will be much more open and will be for all the communities.

Mr. Brahma accepted that the nomenclature ‘Bodoland’ does bring some reservations. He said that though in the beginning this name was not used, it came to use when the Bodos took up the leadership of the statehood movement. He also said that the name do not signify a particular linguistic group, it is a generic term. He however said that there is scope for discussion on the nomenclature of the proposed state.

 
 
A participant interacting during the Discussion
 

SESSION- III / Chairperson: Dr. Udayon Misra, Author and Political Analyst, National Fellow, ICSSR

Speaker 1: Dr. Jayanta Rongpi, Former Member of Parliament and CPI (ML) Leader

Topic: The Autonomy Model in Northeast India: A Failed Experiment?

Dr Jayanta Rongpi said that if we go by the actions of the central government, it can be said that the autonomy experiment has been a failed one in Northeast India. He said that the central government has itself admitted that the provisions of Sixth Schedule are inadequate to fulfil the social, economic, political and other aspirations of the tribal people. But he accepted that without the Sixth Schedule, the conditions of the tribals would have been far worse. However, it has got very limited role in fulfilling the aspirations of the tribal people.

 
 
Dr Udayon Misra (left) is chairing while Dr Jayanta Rangpi is speaking during the session
 

He gave various reasons for failure of the autonomy model. They are:

(i) There was a deliberate attempt to dilute the provisions of the Sixth Schedule even during the formulation of this schedule when there was a debate on it in the Constituent Assembly. And when it came into effect after long drawn negotiations, the original spirit of the negotiations was diluted.

(ii) After the Sixth Schedule came into effect, it was decided that the Governor of Assam will frame the constitution of the council. But as the Governor was bound by the advice of the Council of Ministers of the state, the provisions were further diluted. He cited an example saying that an elected member of the KAAC cannot raise a question in the Council unless it is approved by the Deputy Commissioner. Also the speaker of the council has to place the business of the House to the Deputy Commissioner and if the DC struck off some agenda, it cannot be placed in the House. Dr. Rongpi said that because of such diluted provisions, the autonomy model has been a failure.

(iii) Dr. Rongpi said corruption was another reason for failure of the autonomy experiment. The Council do not have vigilance power because of which they cannot audit the works of the various departments. Thus a mechanism for checking corruption is not there at the hand of the autonomous council.

(iv) The resolutions adopted by the councils take time to get passed and has to pass through the Governor and the Council of Ministers, which results in a delay of implementation of the various resolutions that are proposed.

Dr. Rongpi then offered a few solutions for the present issues:

(i) Implementing the provisions of Article 244A of the Constitution for the formation of an autonomous state of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao.

(ii) The central government must abandon their present ‘piecemeal’ and ‘fire brigade’ approach and instead take a holistic approach and provide a package of solutions not only for the Karbis or Dimasas but for all the communities residing in the region.

(iii) Central government must ensure the safeguard of the economic and political rights of the non-tribals.

(iv) The government must understand that there is no military solution to the present movements. And also the various agitating groups should not pick up arms.

(v) No one should take advantage of the social faultlines in the region, so as to ensure there are no clashes between various ethnic groups.

(vi) The movement leaders should also not be chauvinist or isolationist.

Dr. Rongpi said that they do not want to divide the society of Assam and the democratic opinions of the people are important to them. He asked that if people of Assam believe that Bodos, Karbis, Dimasas are part of the Assamese society than what is the harm if the greater Assamese society gets three states. Dr. Rongpi apealed to the people of Assam to support the tribal people in achieving their aspirations.

 

Speaker 2: Mr Shashadhar Choudhury, former ULFA ‘Foreign Secretary’

Topic: Autonomy and Devolution of Powers: Can it Fulfill People’s Aspiration in Northeast India?

Mr. Shashadhar Choudhury said that the aspirations of people are different from people-to-people, tribe-to-tribe, and community-to-community. He talked about the aspirations of the Nagas and Mizos which were extra-constitutional. But now the demands have come under the Constitution. He said that the autonomous councils have not been granted fiscal powers, which has led this autonomy to become a ‘beggar’s autonomy’. The councils have to beg for money from the government as they do not have the fiscal powers. So unless the region comes out of this ‘beggar’s autonomy’, the aspirations of the people will not be fulfilled.

 
 
Mr Shashadhar Choudhury expressing his views
 

He suggested that Assam be made a community-based system of Special Economic Zone. In that zone, there will be territorial blocks which can make their own decisions in terms of business, trade and commerce. The various communities can live there with their own identity and preserve their traditions and culture. The people can plan for themselves in that region. He said that he was in agreement with Dr. Rongpi’s statement that they are fighting for a separate state and not a separate community.

 

Speaker 3: Dr. Khakchang Debbarma, Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science, NEHU

Topic: An Ideal Autonomy Arrangement to Address Tribal Aspirations in Tripura

Dr. Debbarma said that the idea behind the Sixth Schedule was to empower the tribal people with autonomy and administration to safeguard their customs, traditions, and way of life and manage their own affairs. The tribal people are known to be sensitive about their own lands, forests, customs and systems of justice. The District Councils have to exercise their powers and functions in matters pertaining to their customs and institutions without affecting the unity and general responsibility of the state and the Union Government. Thus, the District Council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India may be considered as important local bodies for direct participation of the tribal peoples in the administration of their own affairs.

 
 
Dr Khakchang Debbarma making his presentation
 

Dr. Debbarma gave a brief history about the formation of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) under the Provision of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India on 1st April, 1985 and said that it has an area of about 7,132 sq km or 70 per cent of Tripura’s land. The TTAADC has now been functioning for the last 3 decades or so but the intellectual people among the tribal felt that the present system of TTAADC cannot fulfill the aspirations of the tribal people of Tripura. The working of the Council under the existing arrangements has been found very dismal.

Therefore, he said, in order to make the working of the Council more meaningful and to address the tribal aspirations in Tripura, the existing structure of the Council, wherein the state government has control over the entire functioning, has to undergo a dramatic change. Accordingly, for an ideal autonomy arrangement to address the tribal aspirations of Tripura, Dr. Debbarma suggested the following changes and incorporation:

  1. Reserve all the seats in the TTAADC for the tribals. At present 27 out of the 30 seats are reserved for the tribals.
  2. The Council should be fully empowered to make laws to be executed within areas of the Council and sent to the Governor of the state for assent without routing through the state government.
  3. All funds should directly come from the Centre to the Council without state’s interference. The Council should submit certificate of financial utilization to the Centre directly.
  4. The Council should be allowed to raise its own police and para-military forces so that the Council does not remain fully dependent on the state government. Additional police and auxiliary forces may be requested from the state government in times of need.
  5. Currently, education upto the level of middle school is under the Council. However, for a better standard and quality education, all educational institutions should be placed under the complete control of the Council. A college and a Central University may be established in the capital/headquarter of the Council.
  6. In order to attract talents and competent of the indigenous people of the council areas, all employees of the Council should be governed by a better service conditions than the state or should be directly governed by the central government service terms and conditions.
  7. Laws concerning commercial establishment should be passed and strictly be implemented allowing only indigenous peoples to run commercial establishments. Contractors and businessmen other than indigenous peoples should not be allowed carry out any business and contract works under the Council’s development projects.
  8. Establishment of a good hospital with all modern facilities in Khumulwng, the Council’s headquarter may be an ideal arrangement for the tribal people. The existing health care service in many rural areas within the Council may also be upgraded to provide better health services to tribal people.
  9. Judicial system which will strengthen customary tribal laws and settlement of disputes through traditional practices may be established in the Council.

At the end, Dr. Debbarma, said that the TTAADC must strive to work effectively for the welfare of the tribal people within the autonomous region irrespective of their political affiliation. The general feeling has been that the TTAADC has failed to deliver and fulfill the aspirations of the tribal people. The Boroks, the indigenous people, want more powers to the Council so as to reduce the interference of the government. The Indigenous Nationalist Party of Twipra wants more powers and functions for the Council such as rural housing, rural electrification, and management of forests, maintenance of law and order, and higher education. Over 70 per cent of the forest land of the state lies in the autonomous region, but the Council has no control over the forests since the forest land falls under the purview of state/central government. These issues need to be resolved so that the hopes and aspirations of the tribal people in Tripura are met.

 

DISCUSSION

Dr. Noni Gopal Mahanta, Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science and Head, Peace and Conflict Studies Centre, Gauhati University

Dr. Mahanta, reacting to the question to Dr. Jayanta Rongpi, said that looking at the present structure of the autonomous councils, it can be seen that Karbis occupy 85% of the seats in KAAC, Bodos occupy 80% of the seats in BTC but if a separate state is granted would this kind of protection be possible as in that case the number of states will be in proportion to the population of the various communities living in that state. So, will it not defeat the very purpose for which a separate state is being demanded, Dr. Mahanta asked.

Mr. Sushanta Talukdar, Special Correspondent, The Hindu

Mr. Talukdar asked Dr. Jayanta Rongpi that is it prudent on the part of the Karbis to demand a separate state without giving a try of implementing the provisions of the accord with UPDS in 2012. He also asked why the states in India cannot be granted diplomatic autonomy so that they can interact directly with neighbouring countries in matter of trade and commerce like some Chinese provinces.

Dr. Jayanta Rongpi, Former Member of Parliament

Dr. Jayanta Rongpi, replying to Dr. Nani Gopal Mahanta’s question, said that there is no reservation of seats for Karbis in KAAC or for any community; the seats are open for all to be contested and all communities are represented in the Council also. He said that there is no conflict between the ethnic groups in Karbi Anglong or Dima Hasao but rather these were conflicts between the armed insurgent groups of that region.

Replying to Mr. Sushanta Talukdar’s question, he said that UPDS has themselves publicly denounced the Accord and it has not been tried and implemented.

Mr. Debojit Thaosen, Chief Executive Member, North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council

Mr. Thaosen said that the agreements signed with UPDS and DHD has not added anything new. So there was no question of trying out these accords.

Mr. Wasbir Hussain, Executive Director, CDPS

Mr. Hussain, referring to Mr Shashadhar Choudhury talking about making Assam a Special Economic Zone, asked whether he thinks that there is a need for Assam to have some kind of power in terms of carrying out business, trade and commerce with its neighbours.

Mr Shashadhar Choudhury, former ULFA ‘Foreign Secretary’

Mr. Choudhury said that there is a need for community based development for preserving the rights and dignity of the tribals in the region. He said the Brahmaputra valley and the Barak valley may be opened up for sustainable development. These regions can contribute for a sustainable economic growth. He said that ULFA has put the issue of foreign relations with neighbouring countries in their agenda but it is for the central government for the final decision.

Dr. Udayon Misra, Author and Political Analyst, National Fellow, ICSSR

Dr. Misra said that one cannot discuss the issue of diplomatic autonomy without the Indian government. He said that this issue was debated in the Constituent Assembly also and it was spearheaded by members from undivided Assam. But the question is about the federal structure of India, and then there is the issue of security, so it is difficult on the part of the Indian government to grant diplomatic autonomy to the states.

 

Mr. Sushanta Talukdar, Special Correspondent, The Hindu

Mr. Talukdar directed his question to Dr. Jayanta Rongpi. He said that one can see a lot of participation of people from the villages in the various autonomy movements but once the autonomy is granted or council is formed, was there any attempt made by council leaders to decentralize powers to the grassroots level. Steps are being taken now but why such steps were not taken earlier, he asked.

Dr. Noni Gopal Mahanta, Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Science and Head, Peace and Conflict Studies Centre, Gauhati University

Dr. Mahanta said there is a need for more interaction at the civil society level and it needs to be more vibrant. And it should not be for having some agreement but to understand each other’s perspectives.

Dr. Jayanta Rongpi, Former Member of Parliament

Dr. Rongpi said that when he was the CEM of KAAC, they had put proposal for the creation of village councils and regional councils which would be under the autonomous council. Government of India then put the proposal of introducing Panchayat Raj and put in under the control of state government. So there was a dispute on this issue. But the council implemented the various government programmes in their area.

Dr. Udayon Misra, Author and Political Analyst, National Fellow, ICSSR

Summing up the discussion, Dr. Misra said that the ‘Assamese nationalism’ has been constricted primarily to the Brahmaputa valley and we have not been able to overcome the ‘Assamese hegemony’ and have not been able to reach out to the other sections of the population. He said that language is not the sole determinant of nationalism but there are some very important economic factors for determining this. And the present problems are emerging out of the economic issues of deprivation, failure of the state to ensure economic, political and social justice. He said that from his experience he can say that the state and central government has been very consciously and consistently subverting the rule of law and this subversion is what has made democracy very difficult at every point of time. He said that until and unless the civil society stands up, the subversion of rule of law will continue. He concluded by saying that it is necessary to listen to voices of moderation and settle the differences between the various communities.

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