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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 25 June 2024

Himanta Biswa Sarma's remark on Jiban Singha's 'discussions' raises brows  

In December 2021, Assam CM through social media said that KLO was ready for peace talks

Our Correspondent Siliguri Published 21.04.23, 05:25 AM
Supporters of the Greater Cooch Behar Peoples’ Association in front of the district magistrate’s office in Cooch Behar on Thursday

Supporters of the Greater Cooch Behar Peoples’ Association in front of the district magistrate’s office in Cooch Behar on Thursday Picture by Main Uddin Chisti

Jiban Singha, the self-styled chief of Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), a proscribed militant outfit, is discussing with central agencies his demand for statehood, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Wednesday.

“It (the peace talks) is not a subject of my state. Jiban Singha is discussing with central agencies,” Biswa Sarma told journalists on the sidelines of a cultural event hosted by the All-Koch Rajbanshi Students’ Union in Bongaigaon, Assam.

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Such remarks by Biswa Sarma, who in recent years is the first political leader to give a call to the KLO to start peace talks with the Centre and return to the mainstream, have raised questions both in Bengal and Assam.

In December 2021, Biswa Sarma through social media said that the KLO was ready for peace talks. After over a year, Singha, along with some of his associates, entered India from Myanmar and is now in the custody of security forces in Assam since January this year.

“There were reports that peace talks would be held in January, but there has been no further development. We are apprehensive as to whether he was brought here as a part of some larger plan.... If the talks are not held and our longstanding demand of statehood is not met, it would obviously have political ramifications in (the Rajbanshi-dominated belts of) Assam and Bengal,” said Biswajit Roy, a representative of the Assam-based Koch Rajbanshi Jatiya Parishad, who is also a member of the five-member team of mediators announced by Singha for the peace talks.

In Assam, Goalpara, South Salmara, Bongaigaon, and Dhubri have a substantial Rajbanshi population. In north Bengal, the community has a considerable presence in Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and North Dinajpur.

Political observers pointed out that in earlier elections, BJP played the statehood card, albeit indirectly, to woo the Rajbanshis. But now the party seems to be in a fix in both Bengal and Assam, because people of districts other than those with a significant Rajbanshi population do not want any further division of the states.

“When Union home minister Amit Shah is setting a target of 35 (of 42) Lok Sabha seats in Bengal, it is evident that the party will take measured steps on this sensitive issue. That is why, it seems the chief minister of Assam is dodging a direct reply on the proposed peace talks with the KLO,” said an observer.

That the BJP intends to retain the support of Rajbanshis in Assam through a different approach was clear as Biswa Sarma visited the office of Kamapur Autonomous Council in Bongaigaon and spoke with its office bearers.

In 2020, the state Assembly passed the bill to constitute KAC.

“We will soon identify villages in the four districts to be included under the council’s jurisdiction. We want to hold elections of the council this year,” said Biswa Sarma.

A senior Trinamul functionary based in Siliguri said they would flag this issue during campaigns before the panchayat polls and refer to the comprehensive rehabilitation package for the KLO rolled out by the Mamata Banerjee government.

“Some militants responded to it. The BJP on the other hand, proposed peace talks over the statehood demand. It was yet another hollow promise to draw votes. Now, BJP leaders here (in Bengal) have stopped speaking about statehood. In Assam, the (BJP leader and) chief minister is singing a different tune,” said the Trinamul leader.

Memorandum

Supporters of a faction of the Greater Cooch Behar Peoples’ Association went to the district magistrate’s office in Cooch Behar on Thursday.

Led by its leader Bangshibadan Barman, the delegation submitted a memorandum seeking a separate state, which was addressed to the President and the Prime Minister.

Additional reporting by our Cooch Behar correspondent

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