A round-up of what’s happening in India’s Northeast.
Assam: Chief minister announces enquiry into Dima Hasao police firing
Women groups of Assam’s Dima Hasao district carried out a sit-in dharna in front of the deputy commissioner’s office at Haflong, the district headquarters, on February 3, demanding the arrest of those responsible for the death of two youths in police firing in Maibong on January 25.
On January 29, following a meeting with a 12-member delegation representing various Dimasa civil society and students groups, state chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal ordered a magisterial enquiry into the firing. According to news reports, two people were killed and ten others injured when police opened fire at protesters when they stopped a Silchar-bound train in Maibong railway station.
The ‘rail roko’ protest was a part of a 12-hour bandh called by various organisations demanding an apology from a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) functionary for proposing a draft aimed at finding a solution to the Naga political issue. The draft suggested “special development authorities” for Naga inhabited areas outside of Nagaland including in the Dima Hasao state.
RSS functionary Jagdamba Mall’s proposed draft was first published in The Wire which said that his draft is “a personal effort” but is understood to have the support of the RSS based on a recorded interview. Though neither Mall nor The Wire claimed it to be the proposed draft of the central government in the ongoing Naga peace talks, a large section of national and state media claimed it to be so. The news led to a series of protests by various mass-based organisations demanding that the Centre make public the clauses in the framework agreement signed by it with NSCN (I-M) in August 2015.
However, the state chief minister has given written assurance to the protesters on January 29 that neither will Assam’s territory be compromised to arrive at a Naga Accord nor any satellite council be allowed to set up in the Dima Hasao district.
As per Sonowal’s orders, the district magistrate of the district, Devajyoti Hazarika, ordered an enquiry on January 30 to be conducted by the additional district magistrate of the Karimganj district. The order stated that he would submit a report within seven days.
Many protesters and eyewitnesses reportedly blamed the DM and the superintendent of police for the police resorting to firing live bullets to disperse the crowd from the railway station instead of standard procedures, such as the use of tear gas. They claim that the police resorted to firing after the DM arrived at the protest scene.
Nagaland: BJP to have pre-poll alliance with NDPP, not to sever ties with NPF
Union minister of state for home and Bharatiya Janata Party’s poll in-charge for Nagaland, Kiren Rijiju, has confirmed that his party would have a seat-sharing arrangement with the newly formed National Democratic People’s Party (NDPP) in the February 27 assembly elections in the state.
On January 17, The Wire reported about BJP exploring the possibilities of a pre-poll alliance with NDPP as the present Lok Sabha MP Neiphu Rio as the chief ministerial candidate, following the gradual souring of relations with Naga People’s Front (NPF).
Speaking at a press meet in Guwahati on February 3, Rijiju, however, said that though BJP would share seats with NDPP, it would not break its ties with the ruling NPF, with which it has had an alliance since 1977. When NPF first formed a government in the state in 2003, the BJP became its junior partner and continues to be so. Both have, however, contested an assembly poll without sharing seats.
Rijiju told reporters that while BJP would contest 20 seats in the coming polls, the rest of the 40 would be left to NDPP.
On January 29, as many as 11 political parties, including the BJP, NPF and NDPP, joined a boycott call given by Core Committee of Nagaland Tribal Hohos and Civil Organisations (CCNTHCO), an umbrella group of civil society, tribal and insurgent groups, demanding that the Centre find a “Solution before Election” to the vexed Naga political issue.
The NSCN (Isak-Muivah) has been in a ceasefire with the Indian government since 1997. Even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in August 2015 that a framework agreement had been arrived at with NSCN to sign a Naga Accord, it is still not a reality.
However, following pressure put by the central leadership of the party and suspension of its members who signed a joint declaration at a meeting called by CCNTHCO to stay away from elections, BJP went back on the decision. It has instead suggested “Election for Solution”.
BJP’s decision to reject the boycott call was followed by that of the NPF, the NDPP and eight tribes’ groups. They include the Lotha Hoho, Angami Hoho and Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) which represents six tribes – Konyak, Chang, Sangtam, Yinchunger, Kiamngan and Phom.
Though BJP and NPF have declared their candidates’ list, none have filed their nomination papers till now. The CCNTHCO carried out a bandh on February 1, the first day of filing nominations, urging the candidates not to file their nomination papers. The last day of nomination is February 7.
On February 2, CCNTHCO co-convenor Theja Therieh told local reporters: “The people at the grassroots do not understand the politics behind all these push for election before the solution…there is a division among the electorate.”
In 1998, a similar call for boycotting the elections was made, which was defied by the Congress. The Congress had won 53 of the 60 seats; the rest of the seven were picked by independents. The Election Commission of India also froze the election symbol of NPF for boycotting the polls.
At the February 3 press meet, Rijiju said, “We are not undermining the sentiments of the Naga people and the NGOs but letting 1998 repeat is not in the spirit of democracy.”
Assam: Bhutan opens consulate, announces flight from Paro to Singapore via Guwahati
Bhutan has become the second neighbouring country that shares a border with Assam to open a consulate in the state’s capital city Guwahati.
In May last year, Bangladesh opened a consulate in the city.
On February 2, Bhutan’s foreign minister Damcho Dorji inaugurated the consulate in the presence of Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal. Speaking on the occasion, Dorji reiterated “deep-rooted social, cultural and economic ties “with Assam since the olden times and the “cordial relationship between the kings of Bhutan and medieval Assam”, adding, “Therefore it is apt for us to set up our second consulate in Guwahati.”
Sonowal hoped that Bhutan would actively participate in India’s Act East Policy while that country’s Gross National Happiness rubs off on Assam.
The other consulate of Bhutan is in Kolkata while its high commissioner to India is stationed in New Delhi.
It’s official! We now have a mission in Assam. Lyonpo Damcho Dorji and Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal jointly inaugurated the offices of the Royal Bhutanese Consulate in Guwahati this morning.
The Consulate will further strengthen relations between India and Bhutan. pic.twitter.com/tgwYls7ioZ
— Tshering Tobgay (@tsheringtobgay) February 2, 2018
On January 27, the state government agreed to a proposal by the Bhutanese government to set up a consulate in a meeting held with a five-member delegation of that government. Besides an agreement to set up the consulate, it was also agreed to share intelligence inputs on terrorist activities with each other.
Foreign minister Dorji is part of a high-level delegation led by Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay to Assam that arrived on February 1 to take part in Advantage Assam, the state government’s business summit to attract investment to the state and pose itself as a gateway for business from the ASEAN to the Northeast. Modi inaugurated the two-day extravaganza in Guwahati on February 3.