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ST status to six communities in Assam: BJP missing a game-clinching trick

Rajeev Bhattacharyya | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:47 IST
QUICK PILL

The promise

  • Six communities indigenous to Assam have been demanding Scheduled Tribes status
  • PM Narendra Modi himself had promised \'good news\' to representatives of the communities

The disappointment

  • As the Assembly polls in the state draw closer, there has been no action from the BJP\'s central high command
  • Assam BJP workers are disappointed, because they feel this could\'ve been a game-clincher for the party

More in the story

  • The potential positive impact of granting ST status to these communities
  • What does the pro-talks faction of ULFA say on the matter?

A sizeable section of the Assam state BJP is disappointed with the party's central high command. The reason? The powers that be in Delhi have been dilly-dallying over granting Scheduled Tribe status to six indigenous communities in the state.

The state unit of the party was hoping that either a Bill would be placed in Parliament ahead of the forthcoming Assembly polls, or an Ordinance issued, since it could have been a game-clincher for the party.

Read: Expect Congress to bounce back in Assam as BJP, AIUDF stay confused

The six communities demanding the ST tag are the Ahom, Moran, Motok, Chutia, Koch Rajbonshi and tea tribes. They are currently placed in Other Backward Classes category in Assam.

"Prime Minister Narendra Modi had twice committed that ST status would be granted to these six communities. On several occasions, we had briefed the leadership about the importance of this measure, but it seems there was no effect," said a senior BJP functionary, who is expecting to contest from a seat in upper Assam in the elections.

Pressure mounts

On January 19, Modi had assured delegates of these communities in Guwahati that they could look forward to "good news" ahead of the polls. A committee of four MPs was also formed to study the issue and forward recommendations to the government.

But, more than a month later, there has been no word from the government.

Six indigenous communities want ST status - Ahom, Moran, Motok, Chutia, Koch Rajbonshi & tea tribes

On 22 February, over 5,000 activists from several Adivasi (tea tribes) organisations blocked the railway tracks at Kokrajhar from morning till noon, in order to step up pressure on the Centre for ST status. Several long-distance trains, including the Rajdhani Express, were left stranded.

The possibility of protests erupting in pockets in upper (eastern) Assam, inhabited by the Ahom, Moran and Motok communities, cannot be ruled out. A section of BJP workers is of the opinion that the Congress might provoke them to hit the streets for political mileage.

Why it's a game-clincher

The views of the BJP functionary quoted above are echoed by other workers in the party.

Drawing attention to the importance of the measure, a former MP explained that ST status could have been doubly effective weapon for the BJP, since it would fulfil a long-standing demand, as well as check the danger from Bangladeshi immigrants.

Also read: What Assam can expect from Anup Chetia led peace talks

The rationale of granting ST status to more communities in Assam is the reservation of seats in the Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies as a safeguard against the unabated influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

If the demand is accepted, there would be restriction on sale of land as well, like some other states in the Northeast like Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, and the tribal inhabited areas in Manipur and Tripura.

Govt lethargy on the issue

The clauses that provide for the detection and deportation of foreign nationals in Assam have remained only on paper, more than 30 years after the Assam Accord was signed between the Centre and the All Assam Students' Union (AASU).

The 2001 and 2011 censuses have revealed an abnormal growth of Muslim population in the districts bordering Bangladesh. In 1998, former Assam Governor Lt Gen (Retd) SK Sinha had submitted a 41-page report to the President, detailing the steps that were urgently required to check the demographic onslaught.

The pro-talks faction of ULFA, headed by chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, has also placed the same demand

However, the report has been gathering dust in North Block, in spite of reminders by delegations from time to time. On 3 January, Home Minister Rajnath Singh told a gathering of senior citizens in Guwahati that he had never seen the report!

Incidentally, the pro-talks faction of ULFA, headed by chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, has also placed the same demand. An ULFA leader who has participated in several rounds of talks in New Delhi claimed that the Centre had given a commitment about fulfilling the demand.

Rajnath had discussed the issue with Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram last year. According to informed sources, the ministry had raised objections to granting ST status to these communities in Assam, but later agreed to make a "special consideration" for the state, which would not be applicable to the entire country.

Read more: As Gogoi stares at anti-incumbency, Congress warms up to AIUDF

The Registrar General of India, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and the Anthropological Survey of India have already submitted their opinion on granting these six communities ST status. The Tribal Affairs Ministry was expected to prepare a draft note to be tabled before the Union Cabinet last year, but that has not happened so far.

The issue is expected to figure in the next round of talks between the pro-talks faction of ULFA and the Centre, scheduled to be held soon. However, the general secretary of the outfit, Anup Chetia, had categorically said that ULFA was in "no hurry" to sign the agreement with the Centre.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 25 February 2016, 6:19 IST
 
Rajeev Bhattacharyya

Rajeev is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of 'Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India's Most Wanted Men'.

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