Why Not Rehabilitate the Karbis ?
Reginald Coupland which was known as the “Coupland Plan”. The Indian leaders naturally rejected the idea and instead set up The North-East Frontier (Assam) Tribal and Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas Sub Committee of the Constituent Assembly (popularly known as the Bordoloi Committee) headed by Gopinath Bordoloi to recommend on the political future of the Area. The Area was like an unwanted child, nobody wanted to take charge of its welfare. The leaders and officials of Assam were almost unanimous in their opinion that the Area should not be included in the Province of Assam. Muhammad Saadula, the then Prime Minister of Assam had said that excepting the Khasis, the people of the hill districts were semi-civilized and “rather aborigines” and Assam should not take the burden for their uplift. The Provincial officials were almost unanimous in their observations that — a) the backward areas had nothing in common with the rest of the Province, b) there was no sympathy on either side and the union of the hills and the plains was artificial in nature, resented by both the parties, c) the Legislative Council of Assam resented the burden which the administration of these areas placed on the provincial revenues, and d) the people of the plains feared that their own political growth and material development was being thwarted by their being yoked with the backward tracts. Only a few leaders like Kanak Lal Baruah wanted the inclusion of the hills within Assam so that the valuable forest and mineral wealth of the area could be exploited for the benefit of the people of Assam. Comments like this had prompted the Karbi Adorbar, the first political organization of the Karbis to demand before the Bordoloi Committee in 1947 that “all revenue derived from Mikir Hills district should be reserved for expenditure in the district”. The demand was made because the total income of the district at that time was Rs 2.81 lacs, but the amount spent in the area was only Rs 57,000/-.
It was the political magnanimity of Gopinath Bordoloi, the first Chief Minister of Assam in Independent India, which enabled the inclusion of the hills within Assam. The report of the committee headed by him was incorporated in the Constitution as the Sixth Schedule that became the basis of administration of tribal areas in the North-East. But the later day Assamese leaders did not have the magnanimity of Gopinath Bordoloi and the age-old “distrust” and “resentment” soon began to show up. Simmering disenchantment and resentment started to build up in the 1950s itself, and no sooner had the Assam Official Language issue cropped up in the early Sixties than the flame of revolt was ignited leading to the “Assam Re-organisation Act, 1969” and subsequently the “North-East Re-organisation Act, 1971”. Barring Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills all the areas of the erstwhile Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas departed from Assam which today became Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya. Karbi Anglong and NC Hills had decided to continue to remain in Assam at the last minute in response to frantic requests by the then National Congress leaders and the top leaders of Assam to help Assam maintain its geographical contiguity with the Barak Valley; of course, with the promise that Karbi Anglong and NC Hills would enjoy the same level of development and government attention as the rest of the erstwhile Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas would. As the leaders of that time phased out, the promises became hollow and the Karbis, for being obedient citizens, are today faced with a dangerous and an uncertain future agitating the minds of the people of Karbi Anglong and NC Hills for the past two decades. It is to be noted that the Karbi issue is fundamentally different from issues raised by others — say by the Bodos for example. It is about rescuing a defenseless people, about righting a historical wrong, about rendering equal justice and opportunity to all the tribal groups of common historical background and about giving the final shape to the political rehabilitation of the erstwhile Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas. Statehood demand for the Karbis is not a mere political slogan but the only hope of the Karbis for their survival.
Therefore, this unique history of Karbi Anglong should be taken cognisance and should remain the basis of the talks if lasting solution on the political questions of the Karbis is to be evolved.