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Dispur effort hits council poll wall

Guwahati, Jan. 21: Dispur’s meetings today with Rabha and non-Rabha organisations to ensure peaceful conduct of panchayat polls in Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council (RHAC) areas in Goalpara district and parts of Kamrup failed to make any headway as the latter refused to budge from their stand.

Senior MLA Bhumidhar Barman separately met representatives of both Rabha and non-Rabha organisations at the state secretariat today but the meetings remained inconclusive as the Ajanajati-Garo Sonmilita Sangram Samiti, an umbrella organisation of non-Rabhas, made it clear that they were against holding of elections to the council without exclusion of 375 non-Rabha villages, while the Rabha-Hasong Joint Movement Council, representing 34 organisations, demanded holding of council elections before the rural polls. The Rabha organisations have also been demanding inclusion of the council areas in the Sixth Schedule.

Sources in Dispur told The Telegraph that Barman sought the co-operation of both organisations to ensure peaceful conduct of panchayat as well as council polls. But both wanted the government’s commitment towards fulfilment of their longstanding demands. “As both parties stuck to their stands, no decision could be taken in today’s meeting. Now it is the turn of the cabinet sub-committee to take a decision when it meets on Thursday,” a source said.

Deputy commissioners and superintendents of police of Kamrup and Goalpara districts attended the meetings.

Assam government had constituted RHAC in 1995 with 779 villages and formed an ad hoc body, following demand for autonomy to protect the political rights of Rabha and Hasong people living in Goalpara and parts of Kamrup district and for their socio-economic uplift. But though planned, elections to the council could not be held because of opposition by non-Rabhas. The Rabha organisations have been demanding conduct of the long-pending council polls ahead of the panchayat elections, which are slated for February 12. The council elections are slated for April 30.

Today’s failure, however, has raised questions about elections in the already restive area. “The cabinet sub-committee is likely to take an important decision on Thursday. It may even suggest postponement of rural polls as a 2008-like disturbance may erupt if the government goes ahead with the rural elections as per schedule,” a source said.

Panchayat polls had to be postponed in the council areas in 2008 following violence that claimed seven lives in police firing in Goalpara.

Dispur had constituted the cabinet sub-committee headed by revenue minister Prithbhi Majhi in 2011 to look into the issue of holding elections to the Rabha-Hasong, Mising and Sonowal-Kachari autonomous councils.

Ajanajati-Garo Sonmilita Sangram Samiti chief convener Chandan Keshav said they had disagreed with Dispur as Barman did not talk about their demands for revision of tribal belts and blocks in the council area and exclusion of 375 non-tribal villages before holding the polls. “We are not against panchayat elections but we cannot allow the council polls without revision of the belts and blocks and exclusion of non-Rabha villages.”

The Samiti has been demanding revision of the tribal blocks and belts in RHAC area, as according to it, these were created by the British and could be revised. “In 2005, a ministerial sub-committee headed by Bhumidhar Barman himself had suggested revision of the tribal belts and blocks and notification of the non-tribal population in the autonomous council,” he said.

In a related development, around 100 women from villages in Kamrup district visited the capital today seeking exclusion of their villages from RHAC. “Like us, there are around 60,000 families who were displaced by floods between 1971 to 1980 and were rehabilitated in Kamrup district by the government. If our villages are included in the sixth schedule area, we will lose our rights over the land given by government,” said Parbati Mali, one of the women.