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Demand for ST status turns thorny for Assam BJP ahead of Assembly elections

Deccan Herald
08 October 2020

The long-pending demand to accord Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to more ethnic communities seems to be turning thorny for the BJP-led Assam government ahead of Assembly elections slated next year.

While six communities seeking inclusion in the list of STs are intensifying their agitation against BJP, those already listed as STs are opposing the proposal saying inclusion of more communities would impact the reservations accorded to them.

In a meeting of a group of ministers in Guwahati on Thursday that was convened to work out ways to address the long pending issue, the Co-ordination Committee for the Tribal Organisations of Assam demanded that the list of ST (Plains) relating to the ethnic communities living on the plains
be frozen for good. “Steps should be taken for protection and providing privilege to the six communities in the manner, which will in no way hamper the rights and interests and quotas of the plain tribes of Assam. At the same time, the reservation currently given to the ST (Plains) should be
enhanced from 10% to 15%,” the committee said.

Six more ethnic communities, Ahom, Moran, Motok, Chutia, Koch Rajbongshi and tea tribes have been agitating for years to include them in the list of STs for protection of their indigenous identity and welfare. Organisations agitating for the same are now angry with BJP as the party was yet to fulfil their promise of ST status made before 2014 Lok Sabha polls and 2016 Assembly elections.

But Indigenous Lawyers Association of India (ILAI), a group opposed to the demand on Wednesday urged Assam government not to go ahead with the move to accord ST status to such communities.

“There are a number of communities among the six communities who have never been considered as Tribes by any government or anthropological study and they do not possess any characteristics of the tribals. Hence, the Assam government’s proposed inclusion of some socioeconomically
advanced and populous communities in the list of STs is malafide and it shall eliminate the very concept of “tribals” in India,” president of the association, Dilip Kanti Chakma said.

“Some of these communities are identified as Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and there is no provision in law to transport from OBC to ST. While the OBC categorisation is based on caste, the STs are totally on different footings,” he said.

Sources said the government was delaying the process as any decision could impact BJP in the elections. “If the demand is met, those opposing the same may vote against us. This may create trouble as the number of voters is equally large, if not more. At the same time, we can not win elections without the votes of those fighting for ST, such as the tea tribes and Koch Rajbongshis,” said source in BJP in Assam.

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