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Permit cry in Meghalaya

Despite having produced a Lok Sabha Speaker, Purno Agitok Sangma, and a number of Union ministers, Meghalaya fights for the Inner-Line Permit (ILP) regime to regulate visitors from outside as it goes to polls tomorrow.

The demand for the permit system has arisen because of the lingering fear of assimilation of the indigenous tribes with outsiders and the latter outnumbering them.

The inner-line permit is a government permission that an outsider requires to enter certain north-eastern states for a limited period.

The issue of cultural identity reigns supreme during elections, with the Khasi, Garo and Jaintia tribes still not on the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.

The remnants of last year’s agitation for the implementation of the permit are still visible. Wall writings — “No ILP, No Rest” — that dominated Meghalaya in the latter part of 2013 still adorn some Shillong neighbourhoods. From the western region of the Garo Hills to the eastern region of the Khasi Hills, 13 pressure groups have demanded the permit regime.

The agitation, which also led to the immolation of two persons in broad daylight in Shillong, was halted this January following talks between the groups and chief minister Mukul Sangma.

Like elsewhere in the Northeast where the issue of “identity” — political, cultural, linguistic and historical — plays on everyone’s mind, the demand for the permit regime, too, was probably an offshoot of the “fear” of being overwhelmed by “outsiders” from other parts of the country and illegal immigrants from across the Bangladesh border.

In 2011, after the census data was released, the pressure groups started reinforcing their demand for a strong mechanism to tackle “outsiders”.

According to the data, Meghalaya had registered the highest growth (27.82 per cent) among all states in the Northeast between 2001 and 2011. The national growth during this period was 17.64 per cent.

The blame was pinned on illegal immigration. However, on August 29, 2013, when the chief minister met the pressure groups, the government had stated that while the Scheduled Tribe population was 86.15 per cent, the non-indigenous population was 13 per cent.

At the same time, the chief minister showed census figures of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland — where the permit regime is in place — which indicated that the indigenous population in these states had declined.

The indigenous population in Arunachal Pradesh had declined from 79.02 per cent in 1971 to 68 per cent in 2011 while in Nagaland, the corresponding figures were 88.61 per cent in 1971 and 86 per cent in 2011.

The Meghalaya government has been unambiguous in its stand that permit is not the solution. But one of the pressure groups has asked for another round of talks.

While the result of the polls will be eagerly awaited, the talks between the government and the pressure groups will be crucial for the state.