Statehood demand main issue in Assam hills

A landmark in Diphu, the headquarters of Karbi Anglong district about 250 km southeast of Guwahati, is the statue of Rongpharpi Rongbe near the stadium.

The statue, immortalising the first Karbi tribal woman who rebelled against exploitation and oppression of a cruel king, has been falling apart. This, locals say, has been symbolic of the fate of leaders of subsequent rebellions, some of whom became “statues of silence” in Parliament.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, seeking its first MP from the constituency straddling three hill districts — Karbi Anglong, Dima Hasao and West Karbi Anglong — has targeted incumbent Biren Singh Engti of the Congress for “sleeping” through his tenure and not pushing for an autonomous State, a long-time demand.

Mr. Engti, Assam’s oldest Congress candidate at 74, has been a parliamentarian for five stints sandwiching four terms of Jayanta Rongpi of the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) backed Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC).

“Autonomous State under Article 244(a) of the Constitution is our major poll plank. If elected, our candidate Horen Sing Bey will be the first to place the demand in the Lok Sabha,” Tuliram Ronghang, the chief of the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) said.

KAAC lords over Karbi Anglong and West Karbi Anglong districts. Dima Hasao is under the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council. The BJP, which has fielded Mr. Bey,49, rules both the councils. The five Assembly segments of Autonomous District have BJP legislators too.

A former extremist, Mr. Bey used to be the general secretary of the now-disbanded United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS) that once sought statehood through the barrel of the gun.

Former MLA Holiram Terang, 61, who is the ASDC candidate, has revived the autonomous State demand too.

Mr. Engti has blamed Mr. Bey as well as the ASDC for having put up hurdles in the path of upgrading Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao to autonomous State.

More powers

“The ASDC signed a pact with the Centre in 1991 for more powers to the autonomous council while the UPDS inked a surrender treaty in 2011 to upgrade the autonomous council to a territorial council. Both agreements blocked the statehood process. They are making noises to misguide the people,” Mr. Engti said.

The agreements of the past bother the constituency as much as a deal waiting to be sealed since 1997 — settlement with the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM).

Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts border Nagaland and people there are wary of the possibility of ceding land if Greater Nagaland, the NSCN(IM)’s map of self-ruled territory comprising Nagaland and large swathes of neighbour States, is part of the deal.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in August 2015 signed a Framework Agreement with the NSCN(IM). But its contents have been shrouded in mystery.

“We cannot give up our ancestral land. Which is why statehood is important for us,” said a 21-year-old who had rebelled against the “Naga plan” with Mithunjoy Digradege and Probanto Hakmaosa, the two firing victims. He declined to be quoted.

Six candidates are vying for this seat going to polls on April 18.

ASDC signed a pact with the Centre in 1991 while UPDS inked a surrender treaty in 2011. . Both agreements blocked the statehood process. They are making noises to misguide the people.

Biren Singh Engti

Congress candidate

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