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Telangana Sparks Northeast Statehood Stir

POSTED ON 3 AUGUST 2013

rani pathak das
senior research associate,
centre for development and peace studies

The ruling Congress party’s decision to grant a separate state of Telangana by dividing Andhra Pradesh has caused tremors in the northeastern region of India. As many as six statehood demands have become louder with agitations, protests and violence in different parts of the region. The different statehood demands include: Bodoland state demanded by the Bodos, Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao state demanded by the Karbis and Dimasas, Kamatapur state demanded by the Koch Rajbonshis, Garo state demanded by the Garos, Khasi-Jaintia state demanded by the Khasi and Jaintia tribes of Meghalaya, and Frontier Nagaland state demanded by the Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organization representing six Naga tribes.

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s assurance about carefully examining all the demands for creation of new states bears significance. While confirming dispatch of additional forces to Assam, Mr Shinde’s appeal for peaceful and democratic agitations and assurance that the Government of India will listen to all the groups seeking statehood has so far not been heeded by groups in the region, particularly Assam.

On 30 July 2013, the ABSU (All Bodo Students’ Union) announced a revival of the Bodo statehood agitation that began in 1987. “We had not called any bandh over the past 12 years. However, the deceptive policy of the UPA government on the demand for Bodoland has compelled us to call a bandh and to resort to other mass agitation programmes,” said ABSU president Pramod Boro. The agitation to press the statehood demand have actually started from 2 August, 2013 with a 12-hour railway blockade to be followed by a 60-hour Assam bandh from August 5 to August 7 and a 1000-hour economic blockade, if the ‘situation demands’.

The Peoples’ Joint Action Committee for Bodoland Movement (PJACBM)—a conglomeration of 55 outfits of various ethnic groups in the proposed Bodoland—has also started protests and agitations. The ABSU spearheaded the Bodo Movement from 1987 to 1993 that culminated in the signing of the first Bodo Accord on 20 February 1993 with creation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council (BAC)—that later proved to be a non-starter due to its silence over the question of the boundary of the BAC. The statehood movement was revived in 1996 and then suspended following the signing of the second Bodo Accord between the Centre, Assam government and the erstwhile militant outfit Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) on 10 February 2003 that led to the creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). According to Hagrama Mohilary, the president of Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) and chief of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), the BTC Assembly had passed a resolution on February 17, 2010, demanding the creation of Bodoland state.

Peace seemed to return to the hill districts of Assam when the UPDS (United Peoples’ Democratic Solidarity) had laid down arms on 14 December 2011 and the DHD (Dima Halam Daogah) signed accord with the Government on 8 October 2012. But in the context of the present situation, UPDS leader Wajuru Mukarang said “people were angry because the Centre had lied to them by saying no new state is possible and there was no plan to set up another States Reorganization Commission.” He now asks the question: how could the Government allow the creation of Telangana without setting up such a Commission. The anger was demonstrated on 1 August 2013 by hundreds of youth in Karbi Anglong who defied curfew and set into fire almost all the government offices in Diphu, the district headquarters. The Hills State Democratic Party has been demanding a separate State comprising the two hill districts of Assam — Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao.

Again, a 36-hour strike was called by the All Koch Rajbongshi Students’ Union (AKRSU) from 1 August 2013 thus gearing up with the demand for a separate Kamatapur state. The Kamatapur Liberation Organization (KLO) was formed on 28 December 1995 with the objective to carve out a separate Kamtapur state comprising six districts–– Cooch Behar, Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, North and South Dinajpur and Malda––of West Bengal and four contiguous districts of Assam––Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Dhubri and Goalpara.

The Telangana spark has fired the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia organizations as well in adjoining Meghalaya, reinforcing their demands of separate statehood. Apart from the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), the militant group, the Garo National Council (GNC) and the Garo Students’ Union (GSU) have been demanding a separate state for the Garos—a demand made since 1974. The Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) has been demanding a Khasi-Jaintia state. Both of the proposed states are demanded on linguistic lines. GNC president Clifford R. Marak who has been spearheading the Garo state demand since 1992 says that the size of the state does not really matter as the demand is based on linguistic lines.

The Garo Hills State Movement Committee has been organizing public meetings across Garo hills in the last few years to take the demand to the people. The HSPDP general secretary Enbin K. Raswai thinks that unlike in Telangana, where the movement has been on for over 40 years, Meghalaya is yet to see a full fledged movement for the creation of a Khasi-Jaintia or Garo state.

On the other hand, the Eastern Nagaland People's Organization (ENPO), demanding the creation of a separate state of 'Frontier Nagaland' within the boundary of present Nagaland, has decided to wait for ‘Centre's official response’ till 15 August before making any agitation plan to achieve their goal. ENPO is the apex organization of six Naga tribes—Konyak, Khiamniungan, Chang, Yimchunger, Sangtam and Phom—inhabiting the four districts of Kiphire, Tuensang, Mon and Longleng. Prior to Nagaland's attainment of statehood in 1963, the entire area was under the Tuensang Frontier Division of NEFA.

According to the ENPO, for decades, gross injustice has been done to the people of these four districts by the successive governments, both in the State and at the Centre. ENPO General Secretary Toshi Wungtung said that the ENPO demands were finalized after taking views from the 400 village councils covering all the six tribes of Eastern Nagaland. About 100-odd members of the central executive council will meet in the third week of August and will decide ENPO's next course of action.

We have seen that accords have been signed with the Bodos one after another, Autonomous Councils were created for the Karbis and the Bodos. Now, ethnic aspirations are at its peak in the backdrop of the process of creation of the Telangana state. It is really significant that even before completion of one year of the Dimasa Accord, the Dimasas are now demanding statehood, while after signing two accords to put end to Bodo insurgency, the Bodos are now again demanding statehood.

Does all these reflect that ethnic aspirations are never going to be satisfied? If statehood is granted to the respective groups, what will happen to the rights of the other communities living in those areas who will become minorities? Will there be more rebellion by such groups who will be deprived in the process of statehood creation? Will there be autonomous councils within the proposed states? Co-habitation of various communities thus will become difficult and this could be a big challenge to the country. The Government must foresee the future complexities before arriving at any conclusion.