| Chief minister Tarun Gogoi campaigns in Karbi Anglong and (right) Biren Singh Engti and his supporters. Pictures by UB Photos |
Larsika Englengpi wants to spread her wings and soar, but finds them clipped by the backwardness of her region. She, like others in Assam’s Karbi Anglong district, feels that the only solution to her woes is hemprek kanthim or an autonomous state.
Larsika, a Karbi girl who resides at Donkamokam, a small town 170km from Diphu, the headquarters of Karbi Anglong district, under Autonomous District Lok Sabha constituency, completed her graduation last year from the lone non-deficit college at Baithalangso, another small town 20km away.
But she regrets her decision of not leaving her nest earlier, as she feels this has marred her career. Better late that never, she now plans to venture out for higher education.
“Backwardness, frequent strikes and lack of quality education have hampered our students compared to those in other parts of the state. Some guardians send their kids to neighbouring Nagaon where they work in other people’s houses and go to school. Well-to-do families keep their children in rented houses or private hostels there,” she said.
Larsika and her college friends believe one day their Karbi Anglong will become an autonomous state and that would ease all their problems.
“A hemprek kanthim (an autonomous state) under Article 244 (A) will bring a big change in the system. Colleges and higher educational institutions will be in abundance everywhere. Outsider’s reluctance to work in these remote areas will end. New Delhi’s direct funding might bring an end to the present state government’s apathy and red tape,” she said.
Like Larsika, most people in Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao, the twin hill districts of Assam, cherish the dream of a self-ruled homeland. A majority of the indigenous people believe that hemprek kanthim is the only solution to all their problems.
An autonomous state, thus, is the main issue for a majority of voters in Autonomous District Lok Sabha constituency, which comprises Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao, this election. Under-development, backwardness, unemployment and other issues follow.
The struggle for an autonomous state had started in the area in 1986. It gave birth to the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC), an influential political party till ideological differences brought about a split in 2000. The struggle intensified in June last year after the Centre announced its decision to create Telangana.
The issue has also spawned seven militant outfits in the two hill districts so far — the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), Karbi National Volunteers (KNV), Karbi People’s Front (KPF), Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), the Dima Halam Daogah and its Joel Gorlosa faction and the Karbi People’s Liberation Tigers (KPLT).
Rameswar Chauhan, a resident of the Kheroni area in Hamren subdivision, said they have been expecting their Lok Sabha members to take dynamic steps on the hemprek kanthim issue but the MPs have not fulfilled their expectations so far.
The constituency covers five Assembly seats — four in Karbi Anglong and one in Dima Hasao. All the five Assembly seats — Bokajan (ST), Howraghat (ST), Diphu (ST), Baithalangso (ST) and Haflong (ST) — and the Lok Sabha seat are represented by the Congress.
Of the 6,97,657 voters under the constituency, 2,56,533 are males and 3,42,124 females. Karbis are in a majority in the constituency, followed by the Dimasas, the Hmars and the Kukis. Others include the Adivasis, Hindi-speaking people, Nepalis and the Khasis.
This Lok Sabha constituency was first represented by Biren Singh Engti of the Congress, who won it in 1977 and held it till 1991, when Jayanta Rongpi of the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC) wrested it and represented it till 2004. A split in the ASDC paved the way for Engti again, who has represented it since 2004.
Six candidates have submitted nominations for the seat, including three heavyweights —Biren Singh Engti of the Congress, Jayram Engleng of the BJP and Chomang Kro of the Hill State Democratic Party.
“Our organisational set-up is strengthening day by day and Engti is very close to the voters,” Karbi Anglong district Congress committee president Som Ranghang said.
BJP leader Padma Maibongsa, however, feels that the people of Karbi Anglong “deserve a change”.
“They will elect the BJP candidate from the constituency this time,” he said.
l Karbi Anglong votes on April 12