As Meghalaya and Nagaland head for polls, there's unrest in the air

Assembly elections to Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Tripura are expected to be held in February 2023 even though political parties and the EC already started their activities
As Meghalaya and Nagaland head for polls, there's unrest in the air

SHILLONG/KOHIMA: When political pundits are sceptical about the Naga peace talks while all parties and organizations are united in seeking a resolution of the issue before the Assembly polls, ethnic troubles, along with the resumption of agitations in support of old demands, including introductions of Inner Line Permit (ILP) system, causing the situations hot up in neighbouring Meghalaya.

Assembly elections to Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Tripura are expected to be held in February 2023 even though political parties and the Election Commission already started their activities in the three northeastern states. Ethnic tension and troubles have been prevailing in Shillong and its outskirts after the October 28 rally organized by the Federation of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo People (FKJGP) highlighting unemployment problems in Meghalaya.

As per eyewitnesses accounts and official reports, some FKJGP members, many of them masked, punched, kicked, and pushed passers-by indiscriminately, injuring a large number of people, mostly non-tribals, and causing panic and huge traffic jams in the area. Two days after the violence, the administration of the East Khasi Hills District - under which the Meghalaya capital falls, promulgated prohibitory orders 144 Cr PC in the city and adjoining areas, banning all kinds of gatherings and rallies, except religious processions.

However, on November 1, violating the prohibitory orders, the Save Hynniewtrep Mission (SHM), a conglomerate of NGOs, organized a rally in Shilling, attended by hundreds of people, and met Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong in support of their nine-point demand, including the imposition of Inner Line Permit in the state.

The Confederation of Meghalaya Social Organizations (CoMSO), an apex body of over 17 organizations, has been spearheading the agitation since 2019 for the introduction of ILP in the entire state, as against three autonomous district council areas at present. The SHM's other demands include the inclusion of the Khasi language in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution, a solution to the long-pending Harijan Colony issue, and a review of the MoU signed between Meghalaya and Assam in phase one of inter-state border talks.

It is also demanding a CBI or judicial probe into the killing of former militant leader Cherristerfield Thangkhiew by the police, filling up of vacant posts in government departments, and immediate repeal of the Gambling Act. SHM leader Roy Kupar System, who is also the General Secretary of CoMSO, said they had informed the Deputy CM that they would further intensify their stir over non-fulfilment.

"Not just in Shillong, whenever the Chief Minister, the Deputy Chief Minister or any minister visits any part of the state, our members and volunteers would go there to ask questions and remind them as to what happened to our nine-point charter of demands," he said. If the ILP is enforced in the entire Meghalaya, like in four other northeastern states – Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Manipur, the state would keep itself out of the purview of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

The ILP, under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, of 1873, is an official travel document that allows an Indian citizen into a protected area for a limited period. To visit the ILP-governed states, foreign nationals and even people from other states of India need to take a permit from the state government.

The main aim of the ILP system is to check the settlement of other Indian nationals in these states to protect the native population. Protection is also extended to the indigenous people with regard to land, jobs and other facilities. Political experts said that ahead of the election to the 60-seat Meghalaya Assembly, agitations on old issues, including ILP, are expected to intensify in the mountainous state, which also often witnessed ethnic violence during the agitations of various organizations, including the anti-CAA movement.

In neighbouring Nagaland, amidst the unrest over the non-settlement of the Naga political issue, Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said that unresolved issues are behind the backwardness of the state.

If the final solution is reached to the Naga political issue, Assembly elections may be deferred to enable interim arrangements. In the proposed political settlement, an increase in the number of Assembly constituencies, an increase of seats in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha in the state and economic packages are likely to be considered, the CM had said. Rio, the top leader of the ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), said that though Nagaland was created in 1963, it was lagging behind in all areas of development while many states that came into existence much later had progressed faster. (IANS)

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