Will PM Modi betray Assam in ‘No ST, no rest’ or let the state burn?

Will PM Modi betray Assam in ‘No ST, no rest’ or let the state burn?

   ~~ Ningombam Bupenda Meitei

In the recent Assam strike over ST (Scheduled Tribe) status, called by the state’s six communities [Koch Rajbongshi, Moran, Matak, Tai Ahom, Chutia and Adivasi (Tea Tribes)] of Assam, demanding Scheduled Tribe status for them, there was a slogan of “No ST, no rest”. Supporting the protest, the president of the Tinsukia unit of All Tai Ahom Students Union, told The Telegraph, “This is just the start. The BJP governments in the state and the Centre have betrayed us and we will not stop short of anything but ST status even if Assam has to burn. The governments shall be responsible for the consequences of their betrayal.” It was reported in The Telegraph, dated 4th of July, 2017. (Source: https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170704/jsp/northeast/story_160006.jsp )

To grant ST status to the 6 communities in Assam, the Modi government has set up a Committee, to be headed by Special Secretary (Internal Security) in the Home Ministry, which is to consult the Assam government and suggest the modalities for the required reservations and shifting the existing reservation for these communities from OBC to ST. It is to be noted that the 6 different communities are in OBC category of Assam, at present. The Committee is also to look into the modality to protect the interests of existing tribals and frame a mechanism to ensure fairness of reservations within these six communities and related security considerations, a Home Ministry official said. It was reported in The Hindu, dated 1st of March, 2016. (Source: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/panel-set-up-for-st-status-to-6-obc-communities-in-assam/article8297458.ece ). The said Committee was formed in February, 2016 and it was expected to submit its report by May 31st, 2016. It was published in PIB, GoI, MHA, dated 29th February, 2016. (Source: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=137037 )

In 2004, the then Assam Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to accept and press to the then Government of India for the inclusion of the said 6 communities in ST List of India. In 2014’s Lok Sabha election, the then BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Shri Narendra Modi, during a rally in Bongaigaon, in Assam, acknowledged and promised for the inclusion of the 6 communities in the ST List of India. It was reported in India Today, dated May 27, 2016. (Source: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/narendra-modi-assam-elections-tribals-scheduled-tribes/1/678674.html). The Committee, or the ST panel on Assam –  which was later headed by Rina Mitra after the retirement of Mahesh Kumar Singla – missed the deadline to submit its report. Both Mitra and Singla chaired the Committee at the rank of Special Secretary (Internal Security), MHA, GoI. It was reported in The Telegraph, dated July 1, 2017.

(Source: https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170701/jsp/northeast/story_159515.jsp )

The Committee was formed as a result of a meeting held with the Union Cabinet Home Minister of India, after a meeting attended by the Union Minister for Tribal Affairs, India. It was carried in Sroll.in, dated 7th July, 2017. (Source: https://scroll.in/newsrepublic/842839?s=cm )

All three political parties (the Congress, the BJP, the AGP) have mentioned and supported for the ST status to the 6 communities in their 2014 Lok Sabha and 2016 Assembly election manifestos in Assam. The Single Committee, set up by the Modi government on March 1, 2016, was to originally submit its report in three months, by May 31st, 2016 but was given time until October 15th, 2016. It was reported in The Indian Express, dated October 24th, 2016. (Source: http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/demand-for-tribal-status-assam-3099402/ )

The issue, today, is:  why should not the question – whether PM Modi will betray Assam on his promise made in 2014 over the matter of granting ST status to the 6 OBC communities in Assam – be raised?

If Narendra Modi government fails to grant ST status to 6 different communities (Moran, Muttock, Tai Ahom, Koch-Rajbongshi, Sootea and Tea Tribes) of Assam in 2017, then the people of Assam will never forgive the Prime Minister, the incumbent Chief Minister Shri Sarbananda Sonowal of the state and the party to which both belong to, because of the following reasons:

(1) Prime Minister of India is from BJP;

(2) Chief Minister of Assam is from BJP;

(3) The largest party in terms of number of MPs in both Lok Sabha (where the Constitutional Amendment for inclusion in/ exclusion from ST List of India is to get passed) and Rajya Sabha is BJP;

(4) The then BJP PM candidate Shri Narendra Modi and his party’s manifesto in 2014 Lok Sabha election have promised for granting ST (Scheduled Tribe) status to the 6 different communities in Assam;

(5) Both the Government of India and the Government of Assam have expressed their commitment to granting the ST status to the 6 different communities in Assam in April, 2017.

Time has come for both the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of Assam to convert their promises on the said matter into action, so that the same issue is again not repeated in 2019 Lok Sabha election by none other than the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister of the state concerned and the party to which both belong to.

Unlike Assam; in Manipur, neither the Manipur Legislative Assembly (though, constitutionally the recommendation – on the advice or know of the state’s Cabinet – of the state’s Governor on the said matter to the Centre would suffice) has unanimously passed the ST status for Meitei/Meetei nor have the political parties (like the Congress or the BJP) in Manipur mentioned their support for ST status to Meitei/Meetei in their election manifestos published in 2017’s state assembly election. Their manifestos are available in Manipur’s CEO website (http://www.ceomanipur.nic.in/Manifesto_2017.html ).

The larger question for both Manipur and Assam is: when will the state governments of Manipur and Assam, and the Union Government of India led by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi have constitutional safeguards for Meitei/Meetei community and the 6 different communities of Assam? The reply to this question will justify the commitment of the party that is, currently, ruling in Manipur, Assam and India, and the party is the same – the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party).

The future of the history of Manipur, Assam and India will decide the destiny of the BJP, and that destiny will be the result of the litmus test – whether BJP governments in New Delhi, Imphal and Dispur can constitutionally safeguard, by granting ST status, the Meitei/Meetei community of Manipur and 6 communities [Koch Rajbongshi, Moran, Matak, Tai Ahom, Chutia and Adivasi (Tea Tribes)] of Assam in 2017?

[The writer, Ningombam Bupenda Meitei, a Distinguished alumnus of St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi, taught Philosophy at Hindu College, University of Delhi. He holds MA (Philosophy) 1st class with UGC – NET. He is also a Member of the International Network in Biolinguistics]

(Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in this article is that of the writer and TNT-The Northeast Today may not subscribe to the same views)