New Delhi, Oct. 8: The Centre and Assam government today signed a memorandum of settlement (MoS) with the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD) factions but the “historic moment” was not without concerns about division of areas on ethnic lines.
The MoS paved the way for constitution of the Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council (DHATC) with village-level councils where elections will also be held. The constitution of the village councils will entail amendment of the Sixth Schedule under which tribal areas are empowered.
Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said it was a “historic moment” in respect of decentralisation of governance and empowering people at the grassroots in Dima Hasao district of Assam. That the DHD has settled for an autonomous area instead of the Dimaraji state they had wanted in the 1990s and in 2004, after the ceasefire in 2003, is indeed a development to tom-tom.
Shinde took the opportunity to convey a message to other militant groups to come to the negotiating table. “Government has always shown its willingness to enter into a dialogue with a group that is willing to abjure the path of violence and place its demands within the framework of the Constitution,” Shinde, who termed the signing as a historic moment, said.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi tried to dovetail the overall process of dialogue with today’s development. He said Ulfa, except Paresh Barua, has joined negotiations and even the Ranjan Daimary faction of National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) was coming around. The interlocutor for DHD, P.C. Haldar, is also negotiating with Ulfa and NDFB.
Beneath all the happiness and smiles — Shinde accepted Nunisa’s invite to be chief guest at a function in Haflong — however, there is consternation over the ground situation in Dima Hasao.
The Indigenous People’s Forum (IPF), a motley group of non-Dimasa communities living in the district, is spearheading the movement against the DHD settlement. “Let them (DHD) sign. Let them have an autonomous territorial council. We have demanded a separate district (Haflong) and the rest we have left to the people,” Jonah Jeme of the IPF said over phone.
There have been three bomb blasts in Haflong, the district headquarters, in the past 24 hours. The administration clamped an indefinite curfew in Haflong from 1am today.
Of the three blasts, two took place last night within an interval of 35 minutes while one took place at Railway Colony in Mahur, 35km from Haflong, at 7.40 this evening. There were no reports of casualties or damage to property. Police are yet to identify those who planted the bombs.
A senior police official in Haflong said the curfew was promulgated to pre-empt any attempt by some ethnic communities to whip up disturbances in the aftermath of the signing of the MoS.
The IPF, a conglomeration of Hmar, Jeme Naga and Kuki tribal communities, is bent on opposing the peace accord with the DHD. It is demanding bifurcation of the district — one for the Dimasas and another for these three tribes.
A senior Assam official who was part of the signing ceremony today conceded that the real challenge begins back home.
Amid the elation of a “final settlement”, Shinde, Gogoi and DHD (N) chief Dilip Nunisa repeatedly assured that interests of all communities, not only of Dimasas, will be taken care of. Addressing the “young leaders Dilipji and Jewelji”, Shinde said he was glad that they had promised to take care of all communities.
“There is no need for any apprehension among any community,” Shinde told The Telegraph while reflecting on the fear among non-Dimasa on power-sharing.
Union home secretary R.K. Singh said since it was a “one-man-one-vote” system no one would get a raw deal.
Asked if the approach of resolving problems on ethnic lines was fraught with danger, Gogoi said there were few alternatives in light of militant movements. “When we had not resolved the Bodoland issue there was problem. Assam is not an easy state (to solve problems in). The idea is to solve problems one after the other,” he told reporters.
The special package of Rs 200 crore will also trickle down to projects for all communities and so will the fruits of devolution of powers.
Political aspirations will follow dissolution of the DHD factions. “Commanders-in-chief” of both factions, Pronob Nunisa (Nunisa faction) and Niranjan Hojai (Jewel), said their cadres would be rehabilitated and political outfits formed soon. “We will join politics and contest for the territorial council elections,” Hojai said. Nunisa said his organisation would speak to people who are against the settlement.
The rival factions were not really on talking terms even today although they signed the agreement jointly. A war of bullets, however, will be replaced by a war of words perhaps for political supremacy in the DHATC. Elections are in any case, round the corner.
Among those present during the signing ceremony were Shambhu Singh, joint secretary (Northeast), ministry of home affairs, Assam chief secretary N.K. Das, DGP J.N. Choudhury, Haldar, principal secretary (home & political) Sailesh, and additional director-general of police (special branch) Khagen Sarma.
Additional reporting by our correspondent in Silchar