A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.
Assam: FIR against Bengal CM over comment on NRC update
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s recent labeling of the ongoing process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam as a “conspiracy against the Bengalis” has attracted considerable protests from different organisations of the state and the BJP-led government.
Assam finance minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said that since the process of NRC update has been conducted by the Registrar General of India (RGI) under the supervision of the Supreme Court, the state government “would now decide whether to draw the attention of the SC to it.”
Addressing a public rally in Birbhum on January 3, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader termed the process a “Bengali hatao” movement from Assam and called it a political conspiracy hatched against Bengali-speaking people residing in the state. According to media reports, Banerjee warned the BJP that she would not remain silent if Bengalis were dislodged from the state.
Banerjee’s comment was in response to the first draft of the NRC published on December 31. It features only 1.92 crore verified names out of the total 3.29 crore applicants. As per the RGI, the remaining verification process of the applications would resume soon and is likely to be completed by end 2018. Most of those left out of the first draft are reportedly of East Bengal origin.
Taking umbrage at Banerjee’s comment, a Guwahati-based advocate filed an FIR against her on January 4 alleging that she was trying to create enmity between two communities on the basis of language. The advocate, Tailendra Nath Das, told local media that her comment was “inflammatory” and has asked for registration of a case under Section 153(A) of the IPC.
In the 1960s and the ’70s, Assam saw communal tensions between Assamese and Bengali residents.
While organisations like the Brihattar Asomiya Yuva Mancha held protests in different parts of the state against Banerjee’s comment, Bengali groups such as the Nikhil Bharat Banga Sahitya Sabha and the Bengali Students’ Federation of Assam have termed it an attempt to “take political mileage”. The All Assam Students Union called it “instigative”.
Meanwhile, Union home minister Rajnath Singh told the parliament on January 4 that no genuine citizens would be left out of the updated NRC. Singh was responding to a statement during the Zero Hour by Lok Sabha MP Saugata Roy and a senior member of Banerjee’s TMC that the NRC in Assam is a “conspiracy to drive out the Bengali population”.
Earlier in the day, Assam Pradesh Congress Committee president Ripun Bora wrote a letter to the Registrar General, whose office has been conducting the update process, alleging “deliberate negligence” of the NRC authority in verifying documents of applicants in 208 NRC Seva Kendras of 13 districts of the state to keep a large number of people out of the first draft.
Bora’s letter said: “As a result, in those areas, the names of only 10% population have appeared in the first draft.”
The districts mentioned were Darrang, Morigaon, Nagaon, Goalpara, Dhubri, Cachar, Karimganj, Hailakandi, Kokrajhar, Barpeta, Mancachar, part of Nalabari and Bongaigaon, where, he wrote, “religious minority and linguistic minority people are predominant.”
Meghalaya: CBI books PWD minister, additional chief secretary in teacher recruitment case
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a case against Meghalaya public works minister Ampareen Lyngdoh, the state’s additional chief secretary P. S. Thangkhiew and others for allegedly manipulating the recruitment of assistant teachers in government-run schools between 2008 and 2009.
During the time of the alleged scam, Lyngdoh was the state education minister while Thangkhiew, a 1984-batch IAS officer, was the principal secretary of education.
The CBI’s action, taken this past January 4, came following an order by a division bench of the Meghalaya high court on November 3 to hand over the case – registered at the Laitumkhrah police station in Shillong – to the central investigating agency.
Acting on it, the CBI registered an FIR under various sections of the IPC which included criminal conspiracy and forgery of public register.
According to local media reports, Lyngdoh allegedly instructed J. D. Sangma, the then director of elementary and mass education, and two others to increase or decrease the marks of the candidates who appeared in an eligibility test for the posts of assistant teachers by applying white fluid. It was done allegedly to manipulate the selection process.
Sangma had made this submission to the CBI during his interrogation earlier.
In 2011, as per a high court order, the CBI conducted an enquiry and submitted a 107-page report which found “strong prima facie evidence of massive irregularities, arbitrariness and manipulations”. However, in 2012, the state government challenged the necessity of a CBI inquiry and appealed the HC to allow it to conduct an internal inquiry. In the internal inquiry too Sangma alleged that the minister called him to her residence and asked her to manipulate the score sheets.
Meanwhile, RTI activist Agnes Kharshiing filed a case of forgery against Lyngdoh and those named in the CBI report at the Laitumkhrah police station in Shillong and simultaneously filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking the transfer of the case to the CBI. The SC asked the HC, which was hearing the case, to take note of Kharshiing’s petition and take a fresh look at the CBI report and the internal committee report submitted to the HC.
The November 3 high court order stated, “We are clearly of the view that the state police would not be the proper agency to be entrusted with the investigation, and for the requisite investigation and for bringing to book all the persons responsible in this scam, it is rather imperative that investigation in the FIR…to be carried out by the CBI.”
At a time when the state is set to go for crucial assembly polls with the BJP trying hard to grab power in the northeastern state, the CBI’s action against Lyngdoh would likely affect the prospects of the ruling Congress, which has been facing charges of corruption and misgovernance.
Lyngdoh called CBI’s January 4 action “a well-calculated” move keeping in mind the coming polls but stayed away from naming the BJP. She also added that the CBI didn’t interrogate her in the past before putting together the report on the alleged scam.
Assam: Ex RAW special secretary A. B. Mathur named new interlocutor for ULFA peace talks
The central government has removed former Intelligence Bureau (IB) chief Dineshwar Sharma from the post of central interlocutor for the government’s ongoing peace talks with the Arabinda Rajkhowa-led faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). Former RAW special secretary A.B. Mathur has been appointed in his place.
The notification to this effect was issued by the Union home ministry on January 2, reportedly keeping aside ULFA’s request to the Centre to retain Sharma as the interlocutor. The change is believed to have been triggered by Sharma’s recent appointment as the interlocutor for talks with Kashmiri separatist groups.
However, according to local media reports, Sharma met ULFA leaders for a discussion this past December in New Delhi and had told them that he would continue as the interlocutor even after taking up the recent assignment. An IPS officer of 1979 batch, Sharma was appointed as the Centre interlocutor in June 2017 for a year’s term.
Mathur, an IPS officer of 1975 batch, would be the third interlocutor – after retired bureaucrat P.C. Haldar and Sharma – in the Centre’s peace talks with ULFA.
However, the government hasn’t made it clear whether Mathur would also be the new interlocutor for the ongoing talks with the National Democratic Front of Bodoland in Assam. Till now, Sharma was representing the Centre.
Sharma would, however, continue to be the interlocutor for peace talks with the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and the United People’s Front (UPF) in Manipur. He was named the interlocutor for the UPF and KNO talks this past August.
Tripura: IPFT set to forge alliance with BJP
As Tripura enters a crucial election year, the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) – opposed to the Left Front government led by Manik Sarkar – is all set to forge a pre-poll alliance with the BJP.
The IPFT is said to have agreed to the alliance at a recent meeting held in Guwahati between its leaders and those of the BJP, including the party’s election-in-charge for Tripura, Himanta Biswa Sarma, and the national in-charge for the state, Sunil Deodhar.
According to local news reports, IPFT president N. C. Debbarma had put forward in the meeting the demand for a separate state of Twipraland comprising the present areas of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council. He told reporters that the BJP had agreed to recommend to the central government “a study” on the feasibility of the demand about which the party was somewhat reluctant earlier. He said the next round of talks over a separate state “will be held in the first week of January in Delhi” and their “ demands will also be put forward to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh.”
A delegation of IPFT leaders, led by Debbarma, is learnt to have submitted a memorandum to the PM demanding a separate state on January 5.
Though BJP was said to have given covert support to the IPFT’s agitation demanding a separate state last year, it later backed out considering the fact that the majority Bengali population of the state does not support it.
Of the total 60 assembly seats in Tripura, IPFT has a support base in 20 tribal reserve constituencies, which may turn the fortunes of the national party trying to dislodge the 25-year-old Sarkar government.
Meanwhile, in what seemed like a minor upset to the IPFT, five of its leaders joined the BJP at a function in Agartala on January 2. The contingent included its senior leaders Subhash Reang and Debendra Debbarma besides three youth leaders Ramananda Debbarma, Pushrai Debbarma and Sunil Tripura.
Speaking at the function, BJP leader Deodhar claimed that more leaders from other parties would join the BJP during the visit of the party’s national president Amit Shah on January 7.
Sikkim: Chief minister’s brother forms new political party, criticises the ruling SDF
In an interesting turn of events, Rup Narayan Chamling, the younger brother of Sikkim’s chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, recently floated a new political party.
Criticising the performance of his brother’s party, the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), which has been ruling the state since 1994, Rup Narayan announced at a public meeting in Sribadam in West Sikkim on December 7 that his party, named the Sikkim Rajya Manch (SRM), would try and bring in change of both the government and the administrative system in the state.
Accusing the Chamling government of failing to provide jobs to the younger generation, he said, “Sikkim and Sikkimese people’s interests will be the core agenda of his party if elected to power. The chief minister is surrounded by chamchas (sycophants) and those with moneybags.”
Some of the recent decisions of the Chamling government have been looked at with suspicion by the indigenous Bhutia-Lepcha community of the state, including its support to increase the number of assembly seats to the Limboo-Tamang community, and bringing in an Act to make cow slaughter a cognisible offence keeping in mind the majority Nepali population. Traditionally, the Bhutia-Lepchas are beef eaters.
Rup Narayan (49) is an MLA from Rangang-Yangyan. He had won the by-polls to the seat after it was vacated by his elder brother in 2014 since he had won from two seats.