NE Dispatch: Congress Revives North East Coordination Committee; Bhutia-Lepcha Community Protests in Sikkim

A roundup of news from the northeast this week.

Mukul Sangma, the chief minister of Meghalaya, who

Mukul Sangma, the chief minister of Meghalaya, who was named the convener of NECC. Credit: PTI/Files

Congress revives North East Coordination Committee to compete with BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance

Better late than never. That seems to be the Congress’ motto lately while dealing with its affairs in the northeast.

With the BJP aggressively making inroads into the region – long considered Congress’ stronghold, the party, on November 5, reconstituted the North East Co-ordination Committee (NECC).

The decision to revive NECC was keeping in sight the BJP’s North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) formed in June this year, tasked to make the region “Congress mukt”.

Mukul Sangma, the chief minister of Meghalaya, was named the convener of the NECC, as against former Congress man and now NEDA convener Himanta Biswa Sarma. Sources said that Sangma’s having won the no-confidence brought in by the opposition in September helped him clinch his position.

While the chief ministers of Mizoram and Manipur and state Congress presidents of all the eight northeastern states will be its members, all the former chief Congress ministers of these states, including Assam’s Tarun Gogoi and Arunachal Pradesh’s Nabam Tuki, will be the permanent invitees to the panel.

Announcing the decision, party national spokesperson, Manish Tewari told reporters in New Delhi, the move was to “protect the inclusive character of the north-east region” as the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have made “insidious attempts” to communally polarise it.


The NECC meet. Credit. C.P. Joshi/ Twitter

“In order to protect the very inclusive character of North Eastern India, in order to preserve its unity and diversity, the Congress president and Congress vice president have reconstituted the North East Co-ordination Committee,” he told reporters.

Tewari said, “In the past 28 months, one thing has become very evident, that both the BJP and the central government have been working overtime to destabilise north-eastern India. Their inability to manage the larger geostrategic environment has resulted in repeated intrusions by the Chinese into Arunachal Pradesh.” He also added, “there was a major intrusion in June 2016; another intrusion in September 2016 and two days ago in Demchok in Ladakh where there is a stand-off between PLA (People’s Liberation Army) and Indian Army over the construction of an irrigation canal under MNREGA Scheme.”

“In addition to that, there is the whole spectre of internal subversion, the repeated destabilisation of elected Congress government notwithstanding, very severe strictures which were passed by none other than the honourable Supreme Court of India.”

Present at the meet were Sangma, Tuki and All India Congress Committee secretary in-charge Jai Kumar. Sangma said the platform will look at issues in North East, bring leaders onto one platform to “ensure that we protect the region from agendas which are detrimental”.

After losing Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to the BJP and NEDA, Congress is likely to face a stiff competition from the party in Manipur, which is set to go to assembly elections early this year. In Mizoram too, chief minister Lal Thanhawla is facing opposition from Mizo National Front an ally of NEDA.

Assam: State public service commission chairman arrested on corruption charges

Filled with political appointees, the Assam Public Service Commission (APSC) has long been suspected of indulging in rampant corruption in its selection process. In October last year, following a Guwahati high court directive, the CBI conducted a preliminary inquiry against present APSC chairman Rakesh Kumar Paul.

On November 4, Paul was arrested by Dibrugarh police for allegedly engaging a number of persons for collecting bribes from candidates seeking various government jobs through the commission. Properties owned by him and his family members were also raided to collect possible evidence.

Rakesh Kumar Paul. Credit: PTI

Rakesh Kumar Paul. Credit: PTI

As per media reports, Paul was arrested based on statements and evidence collected from one Nabakanta Patir, nabbed by police in Dibrugarh on October 27 for allegedly collecting Rs 10 lakh from a candidate named Angshumita Gogoi on behalf of Paul.

“We arrested Patir red-handed with the money. His interrogation led to the recovery of more cash in the house of a woman in Golaghat district, which is believed to have been kept there by Patir,” Dibrugarh superintendent of police, Gautam Bora told reporters.

The arrest of Patir, an assistant engineer with the town and country planning department in Dibrugarh, led to the arrest of Mamud Ali Choudhury, the personal security officer of APSC member Samedur Rahman in Rangiya in Kamrup district on October 30. On November 9, police also arrested Rahman, a former college teacher.

Arrested under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act and the of the Indian Penal Code, Paul has been remanded to 14 days’ police custody by a special court in Dibrugarh. A little-known lawyer, Paul was appointed by the Tarun Gogoi government in 2008 as an APSC member and was made the chairman in 2013.

Sikkim: Bhutia-Lepcha community protests reduction of proportion of their seats in state assembly

Many from the Bhutia-Lepcha (BL) community gathered at a meeting in Gangtok on November 7 to protest the Sikkim government’s proposal to expand the state assembly from 36 seats to 40, which will reduce the proportion of BL seats in the house.

Presently, 12 seats are reserved for the BL community, which comprises 20% of the state’s population. Another seat, reserved for the monks’ body Sangha, is usually filled by a member of the BL community. These 13 seats together make up for 40% of the 32-member house.

If the state government’s proposal to expand the number of seats comes into effect, the community would lose the present proportion of total seats.

Pawang Chamling. Credit: PTI

Pawan Kumar Chamling. Credit: PTI

Besides expressing anger at chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling, those present at the meeting also directed their ire at MLAs elected from the BL reserved seats on the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) tickets. None of the MLAs were present at the meeting.

Interestingly, though SDF is a part of NEDA, the BJP’s northeast political platform, the meeting saw the presence of BJP state president D.B. Chauhan besides opposition leaders like Congress president B.B. Basnet, Sikkim National People’s Party leader Delay Namgyal and former state chief minister, Nar Bahadur Bhandari.

The meeting passed the resolutions “to fight tooth and nail to maintain the existing 37.5% ratio for BL seats in the assembly, demand proportionate increase in BL seats if the total seats are increased to 40; social boycott of Kt Gyaltsen, the legal advisor to Chamling (he is from the Bhutia community) for his anti-community activities which has causing immense harm to the socio-political interests of the BL community.”

The proposal to expand the number of seats came after a Supreme Court directive to the union home ministry in January this year to find a permanent solution to the long pending issue of Limbu-Tamang (LT) tribal seat reservation in the Sikkim assembly within four months.

The LT reservation issue has been pending since the formation of Sikkim as an Indian state. Though Chamling went ahead with a delimitation of the state constituencies in 2006, the LT community was not given any reserved seats, leading them to go to the court.

In 2008, a committee appointed by Chamling to submit a report on the social sector noted that the strength of the assembly has to be expanded from 32 to 40 and reserve seats for the Limbu-Tamangs.    

Some time ago, after the delimitation process got underway, the Gorkha Apex Committee (GAC) told reporters that seats in the state assembly should be reserved on the basis of population ratio.

“The present structure of reservation is unfair and unconstitutional,” GAC chairman G. Rai said.  

Rai’s comment was in contradiction to the Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (Siblac) which has been demanding that population be disregarded while deciding the assembly constituencies reserved for the BL community in Sikkim.

The GAC was the first organisation in Sikkim to oppose Siblac’s demands publicly. It made its first official representation to former prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and has also submitted a memorandum to the delimitation commission. As per media reports then, the GAC’s stand had angered chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling as Rai was a senior member of the SDF.