Tribals cannot be trusted?
With the UPDS Peace talks nearing a final settlement and a string of hugely successful rallies in the four assembly segments in support of the peace process under the banner of “Peoples’ Alliance for Peace Agreement” recently, there has been a constant media campaign of late in a section of mainstream Assam dailies, which is aimed at derailing the initiative by saying that the tribal communities in Assam are genetically corrupt and therefore should not be granted autonomy. This sort of campaign against tribal autonomy and tribal communities is nothing new and what is not new also is the lack of response from the tribal fraternity. Recently, a Guwahati-based English daily carried an editorial (Autonomous State: A Failed Experiment? The Sentinel, dated 16th December 2010), which must have attracted the attention of readers in Diphu as well. The author of the editorial, Mr. Shibdas Bhattacharjee, a freelancer from Dhubri, while agreeing to the concept of autonomy as a means to resolve the power-sharing debate in a federal set-up and the ‘only alternative to the sovereign statehood demand’ citing the report of ‘State Autonomy Committee’ (SAC) of January 2000, however has unabashedly negated granting of larger autonomy to the tribal people of Assam. Through the editorial column what he wants to convey are basically that — (1) tribal people cannot be trusted, because they are (2) genetically corrupt and that is why (3) autonomy should not be granted to them. Mr. Bhattacharjee’s theory is loud and clear and one can understand his ‘colonial mindset’. According to Mr. Bhattacharjee, tribal leaders appear ‘overnight’, their parties are always ‘so-called’, ‘feudal’ and they have ‘unholy nexus with corrupt businessman and contractors’. Not only these — communal clashes happen only in tribal areas and that price-rise is due to the ‘big shopping malls and show-room of four-wheelers, big hotels and apartments’ in tribal (BTAD) areas. What is Mr. Bhattacharjee’s remedy for this? He advocates that autonomy should be granted only in cases of ‘need-based’ demands, which he calls a ‘strict policy decision’. And his ‘need-based’ theory is based on the perception that tribal people cannot govern themselves, ‘be it the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council, Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council, Tiwa Autonomous Council, Mising Autonomous Council, Sonowal Kachari Autonomous Council or the Deori Autonomous Council.’ He says that ‘corruption is rampant’ only in these tribal areas, as if he has not heard of the 2G scam, the CWG scam, and the Dispur-driven Rs. 1000 crore scam in Dima Hasao to just name a few and to remind him that corruption has no caste. Better late than never, Mr. Chief Minister, was finally forced to hand over the Rs. 1000 crore scam to the CBI. It is true that there are no Fidel Castros or Mao Zedongs or Prachandas among the tribals and therefore Mr. Bhattacharjee truly deserves his heartburn over a few ‘militant-turned politicians’ becoming ‘leaders overnight’ by ‘aligning with existing mainstream political parties’. Mr. Bhattacharjee should rest assured that his worries are needless. The tribals can take care of themselves and they do not need another Bhattacharjee to tell them this. Because tribal communities in Assam also understand that the state can only become united, strong and prosperous by recognizing the rightful dues of the people regardless of caste, creed or region by doing away with the ‘feudal’ and ‘colonial mindset’ from Delhi to Dispur. And one can only hope that, Mr. Bhattacharjee or his ilk, will not again try to show that tribals are corrupt, and therefore they cannot be trusted with greater autonomy. Otherwise, one would be compelled to say simply that — Mr. Bhattacharjee is racist.”