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HindustanTimes Sat,22 Nov 2014

Telangana tremors: Northeast statehood movements increase ahead of LS polls

Rahul Karmakar , Hindustan Times  Guwahati, March 10, 2014
First Published: 00:36 IST(10/3/2014) | Last Updated: 10:03 IST(10/3/2014)

Parliament’s nod for Telangana has put frontline political parties in the Northeast in a ‘Deccan dilemma’ ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

The northeast has had several statehood movements brewing, the longest and most violent being that of Bodoland. As expected, Telangana has impacted them, and the issue is likely to dog at least eight of the region’s 25 Lok Sabha seats across eight states.

Sensing trouble, the Centre has set up an expert committee to examine the demand for the state of Bodoland, now a tribal council straddling four districts of north-central and western Assam. The Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), a ruling ally of the Congress in Assam, welcomed the move but others see it as a ploy to buy time.

The All Bodo Students’ Union (Absu), spearheading the demand for statehood for 40 years, has announced a series of blockades from 100 to 1,000 hours starting in a few days. Blockades in Bodoland practically cut off the rest of the northeast from mainland India.

“This (forming a panel) is nothing but another form of discrimination, as Bodoland was ignored while several states were created in the past four decades,” Absu president Pramod Boro said. He added that his organisation would be making statehood an issue for the polls. 

The map of Bodoland covers Kokrajhar and large swathes of Barpeta and Mangaldoi assembly constituencies. The BPF, Congress and BJP represent these seats, respectively.

Both the Congress and the BJP have been non-committal on statehood. Their dilemma is understandable. Opposing Bodoland could be counter-productive while supporting it could mean angering other ethnic groups, particularly the sizeable Koch-Rajbongshis, who are demanding a Kamtapur state. The map of Kamtapur covers much of Bodoland and the northern half of West Bengal, including a part of the area under the Gorkhaland council.

“No community deserves a state more than we do,” Biswajit Roy, leader of the All Koch-Rajbongshi Students’ Union, said.

Statehood is similarly playing out in the Autonomous District seat straddling Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts of Assam. The Congress controls the tribal councils in both the districts, but Left-backed regional entities hope to cash in on Telangana-induced sentiments to regain lost ground.

Meghalaya too is feeling the statehood heat following the Telengana development. The movement for the separate Garoland state was spearheaded by students’ bodies before rebel outfits hijacked it. Now, with the general elections round the bend, the movement is taking on political colours.

The concept of Garoland, catering to Garo tribal people, covers five districts and 24 of Meghalaya’s 60 assembly constituencies. It is almost equal to the area under Tura parliamentary constituency, once the domain of former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Agitok Sangma, now the chief of a regional entity – the National People’s Party.

Purno Sangma’s challenger for the control of Garo Hills turf is Meghalaya chief minister Mukul M Sangma, who NGOs allege is soft towards rebel groups violently pursuing the Garoland idea. The chief minister did not respond to a query on the relevance of statehood as a poll issue but Congress leaders said the prospect of Garoland has brightened after Telangana.

The tremor is also being felt elsewhere in the northeast, which was a composite province during the British Raj.

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