NE Dispatch: BJP Wins Karbi Anglong Council in Assam; Sikkim to Sue Bengal over Gorkhaland Agitation

A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.

Tuliram Ronghang voted chief executive member. Credit: Facebook/Tuliram Ronghang

Assam: BJP wins Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council; party’s decision to elect ex-Congress leader accused of corruption as council head irks public

The BJP grabbed power in the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) for the first time. The BJP pocketed 24 of the 26 seats while the Congress and Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) drew a blank.

The June 12 election to the KAAC, which administers Assam’s Dima Hasao district with Diphu as its headquarters, also saw the Karbi Anglong Democratic Forum (KADF) winning two seats. The KADF was formed by disgruntled politicians who were denied tickets by the BJP. The KADF also backed 13 independent candidates.

Though the BJP has made it to the council through an election for the first time, it has been ruling it for nearly a year now after most of the elected members of the then Congress-led council defected to the BJP, including the chief executive member (CEM) Tuliram Ronghang.

Though the council’s term was to end on January 13 after completing five years in office, state governor Banuwarilal Purohit extended its term by six months on January 18. The state election commission then reportedly said elections wouldn’t be “practicable” due to “unavoidable circumstances arising out of publication of the electoral roll on December 12, 2016.” Interestingly, the June 12 elections were held without updating the electoral roll. On April 21, hundreds of Karbi young men belonging to 24 student and civil society organization  carried a nude rally through the Diphu town demanding an updated voters’ list for the district as per the sixth schedule of the constitution and demanded that the next KAAC election not be held without it.

Though the BJP was chosen by the voters this time, many expressed anger with the party for re-electing Ronghang, accused of massive corruption as a Congress leader. In the run up to the elections, media reports quoting sources in the BJP said there were two other contenders to the post of CEM, apparently raising public hope against selection of a leader accused of corruption.

After the BJP took the decision on July 6 in favour of Ronghnag, there was a public demonstration in Diphu.

“We wanted a change and voted for the BJP but what is the use when the same person was chosen to head the council? We feel cheated by it,” a protester was heard saying it on an Assamese news channel.

The Congress ruled the council from 2001 to 2015.

BJP leader Haren Singh Bey was elected the council chairman. A former militant who contested the last council elections as an independent candidate, Bey joined the BJP along with many others last year. Interestingly, in the last 12 years, there have been 26 chairmen, which highlight the continuous power struggle in the council.

Gorkhaland protest

Activists of Gorkha Janamukti Morcha demanding Gorkhaland in Darjeeling. Credit: PTI

Sikkim: State government alleges harassment by West Bengal government for supporting the demand for Gorkhaland; to file petition in SC

The Pawan Chamling government in Sikkim has accused the West Bengal government of creating “unconstitutional circumstances” for its extension of support to the agitation in the Darjeeling hills demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland, adding that it is likely to file a petition in the Supreme Court against it.

As per media reports, the Sikkim government would file a petition in the apex court against the Bengal government’s in the coming week.

Reports said the Bengal government, through its police force, “have deliberately prevented” the supply of goods to Sikkim by stopping trucks from entering the state “because of support” offered by Chamling and his government to the ongoing unrest and bandh in the Darjeeling hills. The only road route to Sikkim is through Siliguri in North Bengal through the national highway 10.

“We are planning to approach the Supreme Court next week. The circumstances which have been created are unconstitutional. Our food supplies and all other essential goods coming to Sikkim have been stopped. In Siliguri, many of our trucks carrying essential goods have been stopped by police in civil clothes, while uniformed police have looked on. Just because we have a particular stand, which has been a known stand for many years, this is being done,” the state’s lone Lok Sabha member P.D. Rai told The Indian Express.

Rai said such “disruptions” happening for the last 20 days had caused a loss of Rs. 200 crores to Sikkim, adding that the state in the last three decades has incurred “losses worth Rs. 60,000 crores” due to such disruptions (by Bengal government).

On June 20, the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front government expressed support to the protest in the Darjeeling hills. In March 2011, the state assembly had passed a resolution supporting the state of Gorkhaland.

On June 29, transporters in Sikkim began an “indefinite strike” after some of their trucks were vandalised and looted by miscreants in the Siliguri-Sikkim border on June 28. State truck drivers’ association president Mingma Sherpa told reporters, “Our trucks plying to Siliguri in West Bengal to ferry goods are being attacked and drivers’ lives are in threat.” Sherpa said the strike would continue till the Bengal government gives an assurance about the safety of their drivers and vehicles. The associated has submitted a memorandum to the Sikkim chief secretary, transport secretary, the home secretary and the director general of police, urging them to speak to their counterparts in Bengal to take “appropriate action” and “arrest the culprits”.

The NH 10 also passes through Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts. Some time ago, the state government had urged the protesters and political parties in the Darjeeling hills to keep the highway open as it is the only road link to Sikkim.

A popular tourist destination, Sikkim attracts a huge number of domestic and foreign tourists. According to state government officials, the ongoing unrest, leading to “disruptions” by Bengal police, has affected business and also supply of food items and medicines in different parts of the state.

A Gangtok-based reporter, who didn’t want to be named here, told The Wire, “The Bengal government’s action against trucks bringing supplies to Sikkim may also be an attempt to dry up the channel of essential goods reaching the Darjeeling hills. The stock of everyday things is beginning to get over there. It may help the Bengal government break the indefinite bandh.”

Mizoram governor Nirbhay Sharma. Credit: PTI

Mizoram: Governor dissolves Congress-ruled Chakma Autonomous District Council days after BJP urges him to dissolve it and hold fresh elections

Mizoram governor Lt Gen (Retd) Nirbhay Sharma suspended the Chakma Autonomous District Council (CADC) on July 5 and placed its administration under his rule.

A notification to that effect was issued by Raj Bhavan, which stated that the governor appointed the deputy commissioner of Lawngtlai district as the caretaker head of CADC to exercise the day to day functions of the departments under the council. It said the governor has asked the chairman of the council to hold a floor test within a week’s time.

The CADC was set up under the sixth schedule of the constitution in 1972 to exercise execute powers over a range of departments specially allotted to it. According to the 2011 Census, there are about 43,528 people of Chakma tribe live within the district council.

Trouble began when six of the 17 executive members of 20-member council run by Congress rebelled against the chief executive member (CEM) Kali Kumar Chakma (Tongchongyia) and thereafter resigned from it. Thereafter, six others also resigned. The council, which controls 27 departments from its headquarters in Kamalanagar (or Chawngte-C) besides 73 village councils, has 24 seats, out of which four are nominated.

Kali Kumar, elected to the council in 2013, took over as the CEM from Buddhalila Chakma in September 2015 after a bout of violence in Kamlanagar area which led to the death of a student.

Interestingly, the governor’s action has come five days after a delegation of the Mizoram unit of the BJP submitted a memorandum to him urging him to dissolve the Congress-ruled council. In a press statement, the BJP said its party leaders submitted the memorandum keeping in mind “the constitutional crisis” in the CADC after resignation of the executive members. It reportedly said the resignations were “a clear case of no confidence against the executive council headed by CEM”.

According to unconfirmed sources, some of the executive members who resigned from the council “are set to join the BJP soon.”

NorthEast Hill University in Shillong. Credit: NEHU website

Meghalaya: CBI files charge sheet against NEHU professor, three researchers

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed a charge sheet in the court of CBI special judge in Shillong against a professor and three researchers of the prestigious North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) for allegedly misappropriating central funds. The incident has shocked the local community.

Though the state police and the CBI are tight-lipped about the case and have not yet shared any details about the charge sheet filed on July 4 with local media, newspaper reports quoting informal university and police sources said the professor, S.K. Jha, has been accused of misusing funds of a project of the regional centre run jointly with the national afforestation and eco-development board and the ministry of environment and forests. Though three researchers were also named in the charge sheet, their names have not been made public yet.

The university, considered a premier institution in the northeast, has been in news since this past April. Though the final results were declared by the university in February, the students had to wait for two months for the university to hold a convocation day to confer their degrees. Students accused the vice chancellor S.K. Srivastava of “playing politics” and deferring the convocation for want of “the guest of choice”.

On April 28, when the convocation was finally held in the NEHU campus, the NEHU Students Union carried out a demonstration in protest against the authorities’ “adamant attitude” as many students missed out on job and further studies opportunities for lack of their degree certificates on time.

Out of the 9,000 students conferred degrees by Niti Aayog member Vijay Kumar Saraswat amid slogan-shouting and protests outside the convocation hall, 7,495 of them didn’t attend the function.

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