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Student ST lobby courts rebels

Guwahati, Aug. 23: Adivasi students of Assam are looking to militant groups to add teeth — and weapons — to their unsuccessful campaign for Scheduled Tribe status, just as the state government had feared they would.

Reports about the All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam wooing the Adivasi Cobra Militants of Assam and the Birsa Commando Force to float a joint pressure group forced Dispur to clarify in the evening that Delhi had not quite rejected the community’s demand for ST status.

Quoting Union tribal affairs minister P.R. Kyndiah, the statement said he had informed Parliament only about the registrar general’s reservations about expanding the ST list.

The exercise of granting ST status requires the state government, the registrar general and the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Commission to reach a consensus. The statement said Kyndiah spoke to chief minister Tarun Gogoi about it and assured him that Delhi was still considering his government’s recommendation to accord ST status to six ethnic communities, including the tea tribes.

Both the militant groups that student leaders from the tea tribes are said to have approached are in ceasefire with the government. The catch is, both are reportedly frustrated at the slow progress of the peace process.

The fact that their demands include ST status for the tea labour community has given the student organisation more muscle to arm-twist Delhi.

Sources said student leaders have already held two rounds of talks with representatives of the militant groups.

The joint pressure group they are expected to form will have members of both militant groups and various other organisations representing the community.

The association is expected to make a formal announcement about it after a meeting convened by it here tomorrow.

Sources said the development was being kept under wraps as “many forces” were trying to sabotage the move, fearing that it could put the tea belt in a state of perpetual unrest.

The tea tribes have been up in arms against the government ever since Kyndiah hinted that their demand for inclusion in the ST list had been rejected. The other five communities in waiting are the Tai Ahoms, Muttocks, Morans, Chutias and Koch Rajbongshis.

The chairman of the Congress’s Tea Cell, B. Karan, said “some leaders sitting in Delhi do not understand the ground realities here”.

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