Telangana triggers slew of statehood demands in northeast

Kolkata/Agartala/Shillong/Guwahati, Aug 11 (IANS) With the ruling Congress party's move to make Telangana India's 29th state, it has set off separate statehood demands across the country, especially in the northeast, home to over 220 ethnic groups and an equal number of dialects which make it a hugely diverse region.

From northern West Bengal to Assam, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya, there are several simmering demands for new states within the Indian union. Some of them have seen a flare-up following the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance's endorsement of Telangana to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh.

While the Darjeeling hills in northern West Bengal have been on the boil with the renewed movement for a Gorkhaland, the Kamtapur movement leaders have become active in both West Bengal and Assam. Statehood demands for Bodos and for Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts have gained momentum and triggered violence, blockades and shutdowns in Assam. In Tripura, those demanding a separate tribal state have called a rally later this month, while Meghalaya has been hit by protests demanding a Garoland state.

While none of the demands are secessionist, experts feel creation of new states could not be a panacea for all the ills.

"Development is a prime concern behind the demands, but not always. The question of ethnic identity is also a prime issue at times," Arunabha Ghosh, professor for political science in Rabindra Bharati University, told IANS.

"As for ethnic identity, in a multi-ethnic country like India, you cannot have exclusive zones for each and every community. For instance, so many Nagas live in Mizoram. And if you yield to a Gorkhaland state, in future communities like Lepchas or Rabhas may also want their separate state by dividing Gorkhaland," said Ghosh.

In Assam, the All Bodo Students Union (ABSU) the Bodoland Peoples' Front (BPF) and several other socio-cultural organisations have called for a Assam shutdown and rail blockades in the past week,

"The demand for a separate state for the Bodos is a genuine one and it is a right of Bodo people. We are going to secure our rights peacefully," said ABSU president Promod Boro.

In Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao district of Assam - which are ruled by autonomous district councils created under Sixth Schedule of the constitution - protesters have set ablaze government offices and properties of political leaders and called for shutdowns to raise the pitch for separate states.

The All Koch Rajbongshi Students' Union (AKRSU) - a students' body of the Koch Rajbongshi communities - have called road and rail blockades for a Kamatapur state on the basis of the historical Kamatapur kingdom comprising some Koch Rajbongshi-dominated areas of some lower Assam and West Bengal districts.

Life has been paralysed in Darjeeling hills since August 3 due to an indefinite shutdown called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) demanding the formation of Gorkhaland out of Darjeeling and parts of Jalpaiguri district. Two GJM supporters have attempted self-immolation, one of whom died. Two home guards sustained burn injuries, while a police camp and a forest bungalow have been burnt in attacks by supposed GJM activists.

"We have gone for an indefinite shutdown and our movement will not stop until our demand for Gorkhaland is met," said GJM general secretary Roshan Giri.

A remodelled movement for Greater Cooch Behar - comprising districts in West Bengal and Assam which formed part of the erstwhile Cooch Behar kingdom - is also gathering pace.

"Now that the government has granted Telangana, why not Greater Cooch Behar? Our demand is both legitimate and justified," said Greater Cooch Behar People's Association president Nirmal Roy, who recently met union Home Minister Sushilkumar Sindhe.

The demand for Garoland is reverberating in the Garo Hills of western Meghalaya. A shutdown was also called.

"Our statehood demand is on the linguistic lines of the States Reorganisation Act and the government must concede it," Augustine Marak, general secretary of Garo Hills State Movement Committee (GHSMC), told IANS.

The demand for a separate Khasi-Jaintia state in Meghalaya was first raked up by the Hill State People's Democratic Party (HSPDP) supremo Hoping Stone Lyngdoh in 1987. For over two decades, the GNC has been campaigning for Garoland.

In Tripura, the tribal-based Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) has occasionally demanded a separate state by upgrading the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC).

The TTAADC, a socio-economic development body for tribals, has jurisdiction over two-thirds of the state's geographical area. Tribals form a third of Tripura's 3.7 million people. The IPFT has so far failed to garner support even from the tribals.

"A rally will be held in Agartala on August 23 to press for the demand. Leaders of separate state movements from across the country will be invited," IPFT general secretary Aghore Debbarma told IANS.

The NSCN (I-M) (National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah), one of the oldest and most powerful of the 30-odd militant outfits in India's northeastern states, earlier fought for an independent homeland for the Nagas. The demand was scaled down to a Greater Nagaland, which the NSCN (IM) proposed to be formed by merging Naga populated areas of adjoining states with Nagaland.

The demand is opposed by neighbouring Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.

(Inputs from Raymond Kharmujai, Shillong and Sujit Chakraborty, Agartala)

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