CM, Finance Minister welcome move; leaders of communities concerned sniff an ‘election gimmick’
Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on Tuesday welcomed the Union Cabinet’s nod for granting Scheduled Tribe status to six communities listed as Other Backward Classes in Assam. Leaders of these communities, however, were more sceptical than happy with the announcement and sniffed an ‘election gimmick’. These six communities – Chutia, Motok, Moran, Koch-Rajbongshi, Tai-Ahom and Tea Tribes/Adivasis -– have been agitating for a long time demanding ST status. Soon after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that a draft Bill, adopted by the Union Cabinet, would be tabled in Parliament, Mr. Sonowal said granting ST status would go a long way in protecting land and political rights of the indigenous people of Assam. Finance and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said the decision would – along with the constitutional status to Clause 6 of Assam Accord – “protect us from demographic invasion”.
Biswajit Roy, leader of the All Koch-Rajbongshi Students’ Union, said they would believe the Centre only when the Bill is passed by both Houses of Parliament and gets the President’s nod. “The Koch-Rajbongshis have been victims of half-hearted decisions. We were given ST status during the Congress rule in 1996 through a Presidential Ordinance that was re-promulgated thrice but lapsed as the Bill was not enacted in time. If there is no intention to enact laws, we will take it as a political gimmick ahead of the Lok Sabha polls,” he said. Adivasi leader Rupesh Gowala also sniffed a poll-oriented design in the move. “This is a lollipop being doled out to the six communities with a message that they will get the ST status if the BJP is voted back to power.
We have come to know that of the more than 100 groups within the Tea Tribe or Adivasi community, only 36 are being considered. This will create division within the community,” he told The Hindu . Moran community leader Arunjyoti Moran, too, was critical of the move ahead of the polls when the government had five years to do so. “Without any legal status, this approval has no meaning,” he said. All Assam Students’ Union leader Samujjal Bhattacharya said the draft Bill has to be first perused minutely to know if the ST status move was for real. “We are not against ST status for the six communities, but the government has to ensure this does not infringe upon the rights of the existing ST communities in Assam,” he said, indicating the status could open a Pandora’s box.