The Congress-UPDS ‘Peace’ Deal in Karbi Anglong

On November 25, the Union Government and the Government of Assam signed a tripartite accord with the UPDS (United People’s Democratic Solidarity), an insurgent organization operating since 1999 in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam. It may be recalled that since 1986, the people of Karbi Anglong have been calling upon the Union Government to implement Article 244A, the unique provision inserted in the Constitution of India through the Twenty-second Amendment Act, 1969. Article 244A provides for the formation of an autonomous State “within the State of Assam … comprising (whether wholly or in part) all or any of the tribal areas”. Parliament is empowered to fulfill this promise by adopting a simple resolution to this effect, yet successive governments till date have refused to honour this constitutional commitment made to the people of hill districts of Assam.

Twenty-five years ago in 1986 Karbi Anglong had witnessed the beginning of the Autonomous State movement led by the CPI(ML)-backed Autonomous State Demand Committee. In no time the movement had become so popular and powerful that by the early 1990s the ASDC had staked its claim to all elected representation from Karbi Anglong including the local council, MLAs and MP. In 1995 the Union Government signed an interim agreement with the ASDC transferring some more departments to the District Council. The UPDS emerged in 1999 blaming the ASDC for its failure to achieve Autonomous State through constitutional democratic means and advocating armed struggle for the creation of a separate state under Article 3 of the Indian Constitution. In the name of this armed struggle, it unleashed a reign of violence, terror and extortion in the region, killing and intimidating activists and supporters of other political organizations and members of various linguistic and ethnic minority communities in the region.

The rise of the UPDS signalled the first division in the Autonomous State movement and paved the way for the Congress to gradually regain initiative and power in Karbi Anglong. Once the Congress came back to power in 2002, negotiations started between the UPDS and the Union government. Instead of separate state, the whole focus gradually shifted to a ‘peace agreement’, with the UPDS eventually promoting a new platform called PAPA (People’s Alliance for Peace Agreement). ‘Peace’ is the focal theme of the current accord, and it clearly stipulates that the UPDS will not only “abjure violence in any manner” but even “dissolve itself as an organization within a reasonable time (six months) upon the signing of this … MoS as a precursor to the Government initiating further process to implement the agreed decisions of this agreement.” On its part, the Government has also promised to facilitate rehabilitation of UPDS cadres and consider withdrawal of cases “according to the existing policy of the State of Assam.”

The UPDS is of course free and welcome to decide its own future and seek peace instead of waging war. But what are the implications of this Congress-UPDS peace deal for the people of Karbi Anglong and their aspiration for an Autonomous State? The MoS has changed the name of the existing Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council to Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council. One has no idea how this ‘territorial’ tag helps meet the popular aspiration for greater autonomy. The accord has also promised to divide the district of Karbi Anglong into four districts and increase the number of seats in the KAATC from the existing size of 30 to 50, including 6 members to be nominated by the Governor of Assam (this increase in seats shall however be applicable from subsequent elections due in the year 2016-17 and not the forthcoming elections due in 2011-12). A special economic package of Rs 350 crore (Rs 70 crore per annum) has also been promised to the KAATC over and above Plan funds over the next five years. Some additional departments have also been promised to be transferred to the KAATC.

Ironically enough, while the accord is conspicuously silent about Article 244A or the very notion of an Autonomous State, it stipulates the formation of a special committee of Assam Assembly under Article 371A to which the KAATC will submit its annual report and audited annual accounts of the preceding year. Interestingly, both Article 244A and 371A owe their origin to the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution of India. While Article 244A provides for the formation of an Autonomous State – the highest measure of autonomy within a state, Article 371A is meant to ensure accountability of the Autonomous Council and institutional coordination between the State Assembly and the Autonomous Council. By insisting on the Council’s accountability to the State Assembly without granting the reciprocal autonomy to the Sixth Schedule areas, the MoS has in fact violated the spirit and upset the balance of the Sixth Schedule.

It is surprising that the UPDS/PAPA which had begun with the demand for a separate state under Article 3 is now celebrating the MoS as “a step closer to the Autonomous State.” Here it may be recalled that on the eve of the tripartite accord, the Karbi Students’ Association had convened a Karbi National Convention at Diphu on 3 November to discuss the question of Autonomous State and peace in Karbi Anglong. The resolutions adopted at the convention had highlighted the following five key parameters to determine the degree of autonomy for Karbi Anglong: (i) the power of the elected representative body of Karbi Anglong to frame its own constitution (as opposed to the current practice of the Governor framing rules as advised by the Assam Cabinet), (ii) the power of the elected body to advise the Governor on subjects administered by it, equivalent to the power enjoyed by state governments under Article 163 of the Constitution of India, (iii) the power to make and pass its own budget and draw contingency fund and overdraft, (iv) formation of a separate election commission to conduct elections, (v) formation of a separate Karbi Anglong public service commission to ensure that departments transferred to the council are administered by officers of Karbi Anglong cadre and not Assam cadre. The MoS does not fulfill any of these five parameters.

The MoS signed with the UPDS compares quite poorly with even the tripartite accord signed recently by the Union Government and the Government of West Bengal with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. According to that accord, the newly named Gorkhaland Territorial Administration will get a special economic package of Rs 200 crore per year (600 crore over the next three years) apart from some other specific projects which will raise the effective value of the package to Rs. 1000 crore whereas KAATC has been promised only Rs 70 crore per year (Rs 350 crore over the next five years).

Instead of solving the pending core issues of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao districts and thus paving the way for enduring peace in the hills of Assam, the Congress has chosen to play its characteristic game of ‘divide, dither, deceive and rule’. Negotiations and accords with selective organizations on selective issues without addressing the core agenda and including all sections of the people and the broad spectrum of organisations can never bring guarantee peace and development. The whole of North-East has been a collective victim of this cynical Congress politics which has led to a relentless proliferation of armed outfits punctuated by periodic ‘cease-fire’ negotiations and empty peace deals.

Looking at the way the Congress is dealing with statehood and autonomy struggles whether in Telengana or in the hills of West Bengal and Assam or for that matter with the long-standing demand for revocation of AFSPA from Manipur or Kashmir, one is reminded of Gandhi’s famous response to the 1942 Cripps Mission offer of Dominion Status to India at the end of the Second World War. Describing the Dominion Status offer as a “post-dated cheque on a crashing bank”, Gandhi had gone on to launch the Quit India agitation for complete independence. What the Congress is offering today is nothing but post-dated ‘compensation’ for paltry amounts, and such post-dated cheques can only evoke a similar reaction among people who have been fighting for justice, dignity and democracy for years and decades together. The aggrieved and disillusioned people must now move on to a decisive popular battle for a resolution of their pending demands and secure peace with justice and development with dignity.

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