Congress seeks to make most of BJP’s failure in keeping Assam ST status promise | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Congress seeks to make most of BJP’s failure in keeping Assam ST status promise

Apr 16, 2024 03:06 PM IST

A bill introduced in Rajya Sabha for the status months before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls was not discussed or put to vote and lapsed

In the run-up to the 2014 polls, Narendra Modi, who was then the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prime ministerial candidate, met representatives of Assam’s Tai Ahoms, Tea Tribes (Adivasis), Morans, Muttocks, Sooteas, and Koch-Rajbongshis in Guwahati and backed their demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to these communities.

Workers at a tea garden in Assam’s Jorhat. (HT PHOTO/Representative)
Workers at a tea garden in Assam’s Jorhat. (HT PHOTO/Representative)

The BJP, in its vision document ahead of the 2016 assembly election, promised to work with the Union government to grant the status to the communities, which are categorised as other backward castes, in a time-bound manner. A bill for the purpose introduced in Rajya Sabha months before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in January of that year was not discussed or put to vote and lapsed.

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Ruling BJP candidates have avoided the issue even as the campaigning for five of the 14 Lok Sabha seats in Assam, which will go to polls on April 19, has peaked.

Congress leader Pawan Singh Ghatowar, who belongs to a tea tribe, said there is resentment over the BJP’s failure to grant them the ST status. He added the members of this community in states such as West Bengal and Tripura have that status.

Ghatowar said the Congress would bag almost 70-80% of the votes of the tea tribes. “The BJP has made inroads...But it would be wrong to presume that the community would vote en masse for the BJP this time.” He added they got around 30-35 % of votes from the community in the last election despite their organisational weakness. “...issues such as price rise, which affects all, would play on voters’ minds. Even schemes announced for the community have reached only a few.”

BJP legislator Rupesh Gowala said they want to fulfil the promise. “In the interim, the BJP government in Assam tried to address the issue by increasing reservation of seats for members of the tea tribe community and others in medical colleges. Our government has implemented many welfare schemes for these communities. Therefore, the issue of ST status would not affect the BJP.”

The state government in June last year increased the seats in medical colleges for tea tribes students from 27 to 30, 10 to 13 for the Koch Rajbongshis, seven to 10 for Tai Ahoms, six to nine for Sooteas, and five to eight for Morans and Muttocks.

People aware of the matter said the issue of the ST status has been put on the back burner. They added there were fears of ethnic violence similar to what has been happening in Manipur since May last year over the issue of granting ST status to the Meiteis.

All Moran Students Union general secretary Joykanta Moran said the unfulfilled promise will affect the voting patterns of the nearly 250,000 voters from his community. “Our organisation has made people aware that it was the same BJP, which made the promise, but is silent on it.”

All Tai Ahom Students Union president Basanta Gogoi echoed Moran. “There is resentment among voters of our community. Around 570000 of the 1.75 million voters in Jorhat and around 430000 of the nearly 1.6 million voters in Dibrugarh are Ahoms. Their votes will be crucial in both seats.”

The existing ST communities in Assam are opposing the idea of including more under the category as they fear it would affect their prospects in seats reserved in educational institutions and jobs.

The British brought tea tribes, who account for around 17% of Assam’s total population, from places such as West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, and Madhya Pradesh between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries. Around a million of them are employed in the 800 big gardens and small holdings. Some of them have left work in tea gardens for other professions. The community plays a key role in the outcome of the Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Sonitpur, and Kaziranga Lok Sabha seats. As per the 2011 census, the tribals (around 3.8 million) accounted for 12.4% of Assam’s population.

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