Telangana triggers statehood demands in Indian northeast

Kolkata, Aug 11 (IANS) The decision to make Telangana India's 29th state has set off statehood demands in the northeast, home to 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 have seen a flare-up following the United Progressive Alliance's endorsement of Telangana to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh.

While the Darjeeling hills in West Bengal have been on the boil with the renewed movement for a Gorkhaland, the movement for a Kamtapur state has been renewed 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 tribal state have called a rally later this month. Meghalaya has been hit by protests for 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 a prime issue at times," Arunabha Ghosh, professor for political science in Rabindra Bharati University, told IANS.

"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. If you yield to a Gorkhaland state, 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 groups have called a Assam shutdown and rail blockades in the past week.

"The demand for a Bodo state is genuine 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 districts of Assam - governed by autonomous district councils - 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 - has called for road and rail blockades for a Kamatapur state on the basis of the historical Kamatapur kingdom comprising some Koch Rajbongshi-dominated areas of lower Assam and West Bengal districts.

Life has been paralysed in Darjeeling hills since Aug 3 due to an indefinite shutdown called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) demanding a Gorkhaland. Two GJM supporters immolated themselves, and one died.

"Our movement will not stop until our demand 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.

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

The demand for a Khasi-Jaintia state in Meghalaya was first raked up by the Hill State People's Democratic Party supremo Hoping Stone Lyngdoh in 1987. For over two decades, the party has campaigned 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.

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

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

(With inputs from Raymond Kharmujai, Sujit Chakraborty and Anup Sharma.)

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