President Pranab Mukherjee may have made an egalitarian gesture by asking not to be addressed by honorifics such as ‘your honour’ or ‘excellency’ but a backward community in western Assam has elevated his status to that of god.
The Koch-Rajbongshis have their own reason for making Mukherjee their deity this Durga Puja: they want his blessings to get scheduled tribe (ST) status they have been demanding for the past 15 years. So, this festive season, members of the community are garlanding his pictures and performing puja before them.
“The ball of granting ST status to us is in the President’s court. We have made him our deity since only god can give us our due,” said Bimal Kumar Barman, president of the Koch-Rajbongshi National Forum from Bongaigaon town, 210km from Guwahati, on Tuesday.
Once a ruling community, the Koch-Rajbongshis are spread across Assam and West Bengal. They were granted ST status briefly between January 1996 and April 1997. But the ordinance promulgated by then President Shankar Dayal Sharma was not passed by Parliament.
The Assam government is wary of the demand being accepted. Officials said it will create complications as it the government will then have to address the same demand for ST status from five other communities, including tea plantation workers.
“Tea workers, whom we know as the ‘tea tribe’, comprising 87 ethnic groups including Santhals, Kols, Bhils and Mundas, enjoy ST status in central India. Granting them ST status in Assam will lead to an avalanche of demands from several tribes in the Northeast,” a state government spokesperson said.