Karbi Accord Unlikely To Usher In Permanent Peace In Assam’s Hills Until Root Cause Of Unrest Is Addressed
A tripartite pact signed on Saturday in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma increases the administrative and financial autonomy of the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC).
However, the new-found peace could be illusory if the root cause of the issue is not addressed.
Even before the ink could dry on the tripartite signed between the Union and Assam governments and five militant outfits who had been fighting for a separate state of Karbi Anglong on Saturday (4 September), a large number of civil society organisations termed the pact a gimmick and .
As many as 24 influential civil society organisations demanded on Sunday that the three hill districts of Assam — West Karbi Anglong, East Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao — be carved out of Assam and declared as an ‘autonomous state’ under Article 244(A) of the Constitution.
The demand for an autonomous state comprising the hill areas of Assam dates back to the early 1980s and enjoys widespread support in those districts. The demand was born out of what the Karbis, Dimasas and other small tribes inhabiting the hill areas of the state alleged was ‘neglect’ of the hill by the Assam government.
The movement for an autonomous state was inspired by the successful statehood demands for the creation of Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. All these states were carved out of Assam.
Those movements were also based on assertion of tribal identity and allegations that Assam used to neglect the hill people.
A political party — the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC) — was formed by leftists and it has championed the demand since the early 1980s. The ASDC also contested and won elections from the hill districts.
The autonomous state movement spawned a few insurgent groups since the late 1980s and early 1990s. The hills witnessed a lot of bloodshed and unrest over the next three decades and many lives were lost.
The militant outfits were brought overground through sustained anti-insurgency operations and political outreach, especially after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government came to power in Assam in 2016.
The tripartite pact signed on Saturday in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma increases the administrative and financial autonomy of the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) that was set up in 1976 under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.
Under the pact, Rs 1,000 crore will be given to the three districts for development works over the next five years. The Karbi Accord will also grant more financial and administrative autonomy to the KAAC under Article 280 of the Constitution.
The five militant organisations, who were party to the accord are Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front, People’s Democratic Council of Karb Longi, Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers, Kuki Liberation Front and United People’s Liberation Army.
After the pact was signed, Chief Minister Sarma said: “Insurgency in Assam comes to an end with this Accord”.
But, as Sunday’s protests in the hill areas of the state showed, the peace that the pact has ushered in could be illusory if the root cause of the issue is not addressed.
The primary issue, it must be realised, is poverty, under-development and unemployment. Despite recent development initiatives, the fact remains that the hill areas are backward and the people there do not have proper access to healthcare and education. They are largely poor and unemployment is high.
Greater autonomy in running the KAAC will please only the political elite of the hill districts while the rush of financial assistance will mostly benefit contractors and businessmen there if leakage of funds is not checked.
Thus, if the core issues of poverty, backwardness and unemployment are not addressed, it will only be a matter of time before the autonomous statehood demand takes a militant turn once again.
“Both the state and Union governments have to ensure that the funds allocated for development are spent judiciously and all development projects are implemented in a time-bound manner. Employment-generation schemes have to be started and a major push should be given for healthcare and education, especially vocational education,” Pradip Rongpi, a leader of Karbi Adorbar (the apex body of all Karbi organisations) told Swarajya over phone from Diphu, the headquarters of East Karbi Anglong district.
Maniram Timung, a civil society leader and former teacher at Diphu College, said that stress should be laid on honest implementation of development projects. “It is the duty of the state and central governments to ensure that the Rs 1,000 crore that has been budgeted for the hill areas is spent properly and no leakages happen. There should be strict oversight and audit,” he said.
Karbi Adorbar leaders told Swarajya that the state government needs to launch a wide range of initiatives to boost agricultural production, encourage young men and women to take up horticulture, animal husbandry and other self-employment activities and also provide marketing support for their produce.
“Job-oriented vocational training is also a must. The issues being faced by the people of the hills have to be looked at with a fresh perspective. Just granting more financial and administrative autonomy to the KAAC or channeling in more money will not help,” said Rongpi.
Timung pointed out that the hill people’s demand for an autonomous state arose from their feeling of neglect and alienation. “If these feelings are taken care of, the demand will automatically subside,” he said.
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