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DHD deal clinched, but where's the euphoria?


wasbir hussain
director, centre for development and peace studies

After scores of cold-blooded killings, kidnappings, rampant extortion, threat and intimidation of sections of people in North Cachar Hills, now Dima Hasao district, the Government on 8 October 2012 clinched a deal with both factions of the once dreaded Dima Halam Daogah (DHD). There was a demonstration of importance attached to the event in North Block with Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh, Assam Chief Secretary N.K. Das, DGP J. N. Choudhury, and the Centre’s peace interlocutor P. C. Haldar standing by to witness the MoU being inked by the two DHD faction leaders, Dilip Nunisa and Jewel Garlosa, and the Government representatives.

As part of the deal, the area is being granted greater autonomy with the politico-administrative structure to govern the place being called the Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council (DHATC). The Centre will give a grant of Rs 200 crore (Rs 40 crore annually) for an ‘all round development of the district.’ Yes, local Council polls are due in two months time and the ruling Congress there will have to fight the DHD leaders, who are expected to disband the rebel factions and float either one or more political parties.

Unlike most other peace accords in the Northeast, the DHD accord lacks the euphoria. Haflong, the district headquarters, was under curfew for several days on the eve of the signing of the deal because the non-Dimasas, who comprise more than 50 per cent of the district’s population, are unhappy with the agreement and has reservations on its provisions. Now, there is a serious agitation in the district with the non-Dimasas seeking the bifurcation of the district. One of the non-Dimasa groups, the Indigenous Students’ Federation (ISF), demands that the Dimasa-dominated Maibang subdivision should be converted to a district known as Dima Hasao, and there should be another district comprising the Haflong sub-division called North Cachar Hills.

There have been at least three grenade blasts in Haflong and its vicinity in the past fortnight. But, the anger of the non-Dimasas is not the only worrisome development over the deal. The rivalry between the two DHD factions (the DHD-N and the DHD-J) are part of the local folklore now, if I can say so. Hats off, therefore, to Mr P. C. Haldar for being actually able to get the two warring factions together and make them agree to put their signatures to one single agreement. But we all know that this peace can be fragile. Now that they have a piece of paper where New Delhi has committed to upgrade the existing District Council into a Territorial Council and also decentralize power to the village level by setting up village councils, it would be up to them to take control of the administration in the area.

This is possible by jumping into the electoral fray and that can happen as early as December-January when the Council elections are due. The DHD factions will have to disband themselves but the big question is whether Nunisa and Garlosa can be part of the same political party that will emerge in the next few weeks. This, according to observers, is highly unlikely because the approach of these two leaders even on the issue of pushing the interest of the Dimasas have been different. Moreover, Garlosa had defied Nunisa’s leadership once by floating the Black Widow or the DHD (J), an outfit that has carried out a reign of terror in the area, forcing the Government at one stage to put in more than 8000 troopers on the trail of its marauding cadres.

Once again, it is autonomy granted on ethnic lines—in this case the Dimasas. But, statistics show that the Dimasas constitute only 43 per cent of the district’s population. Therefore, the question comes whether the Government should henceforth consider granting regional autonomy and not autonomy on ethnic lines. Well, learning lessons is not among the strong points of governments!

(courtesy: The Sentinel)