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Congress in for statehood storm in NE

The Congress in the Northeast is facing the statehood music the UPA government composed on Telengana last week. The party is expecting the opening notes - marathon bandhs across tribal councils in Assam beginning Monday - to be jarring.

india Updated: Dec 13, 2009 18:01 IST
Rahul Karmakar

The Congress in the Northeast is facing the statehood music the UPA government composed on Telengana last week. The party is expecting the opening notes - marathon bandhs across tribal councils in Assam beginning Monday - to be jarring.

The statehood cacophony has hit Congress-ruled Meghalaya too, with the nod for Telengana having stoked the Garoland fire that the Ministry of Home Affairs had almost doused during a meeting with separatist militants this September.

The Garos, one of the three major matrilineal tribes of Meghalaya, have been demanding a separate Garoland comprising the western half of the cloud-kissed state. Like the other statehood demands in the Northeast, militants hijacked the Garoland demand.

In Assam, the newly formed United Democratic Peoples' Front (UDPF) - it is backed by Congress' ruling ally Bodoland Peoples' Front - has called for a two-day statewide shutdown from Monday. The Indigenous Tribal Peoples' Front has supported the bandh..

"There can be no alternative to Bodoland state, not after Telengana," said UDPF general secretary Bhraman Baglary. "If the Centre can honour the demands of separatists in a mainland state, it must also not ignore similar demands from the fringes of the country."

The Bodoland issue, which had its origin in the demand for Udayachal in 1967, was calmed in 2003 with the creation of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in areas dominated by the Bodos, the largest plains tribal group in the region.

BTC is spread across 8970 sq km of northern and western Assam comprising Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska and Udalguri districts. The last three were carved out of Barpeta, Nalbari, Kamrup and Darrang districts.

Almost simultaneously, the Left-leaning Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC) has called for a bandh in Assam's two hill districts - Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills - on Tuesday. Not to be outdone, other organizations including the CPI (M-L) have sought shutdowns thereafter.

Both these districts, together measuring 15,322 sq km, were made autonomous in February 1970 under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. "We have been seeking the elevation of these districts to autonomous states under Article 244 (A) of the Constitution. If New Delhi does not listen, we will be forced to go for a separate state," said ASDC general secretary Elwin Teron.

In Meghalaya, the militant A'chik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) has revived its demand for statehood for the Garos. "The creation of Garoland was the basis of our struggle in 1995, and with Telengana on the cards, we will give it all to get our self-rule territory," said Artist Sangma, ANVC's publicity secretary.

Both the Assam and Meghalaya governments have negated bifurcation of their respective states.