Call it what you like, doubtful voters’ issue, foreigners issue or registration of voters in the electoral roll, the issue is very sensitive and crucial and it is the same issue that has shrouded the state since the last part of the seventies. Students’ movements have come and gone but the influx issue still remains. Although, depending on where one stands, some would say the issue is about the Bangladeshi and Nepali nationals who illegally settled in the state; others would say that it is the issue of large numbers of non-tribal migrant labourers who also settled in the state, but the truth is that there is a common fear lest the indigenous population get overwhelmed by the non-indigenous people.
It is a very complex issue and nobody wants to take the bull by the horns, because politicians are afraid of losing their vote banks and the support of the mine owners and contractors who depend largely on labourers from outside the state and the country for their operations. There has been a lively debate on this issue in the internet and I must say it helps one realize the frustration of the young people of the State because of the government’s failure to solve this problem. Ironically, this voters’ imbroglio in Meghalaya also coincides with the movement against discrimination of the people of northeast in the rest of the country and I think the issues resonates because it also has to do with one’s attitude towards the outsiders.
In a Facebook debate, reacting to the derogatory remarks of certain people towards non-tribal as “ka ‘khar-iap” I posted; “If they call you chinky in Delhi, they are branded as racist and if we call non-tribals ‘khar-iap, then are we not equally racist?” My point is, can we just call everybody ka ‘khar-iap? No doubt there is a huge floating population of non-tribals and may be even non-Indians in the coal and lime stone mining areas and this is a matter of concern, but there are also cases of genuine non-tribal Meghalayans in the state. And then there are those who are married to Khasi Pnar men and women (I have many of my relatives who are married to non-Khasi Pnar) how can we say that they are not genuine residents of the state? There are also large numbers of inter-marriages in the coal mine areas. This is something that one cannot stop and which has to be taken into consideration or are we trying to say that the children out of wedlock are not true Khasi Pnar blood. In that case isn’t it true that some of the foremost leaders of the KSU were children or grand children of mixed marriages?
It is true illegal immigration is a global issue, even countries dominated by immigrants like the USA and Australia are now very strict with their immigration laws, but the situation here is different and in the process the government must see that genuine citizens are not denied their rights.
Some are of the opinion that the State must have a mechanism in place to check large scale influx. There are also suggestions that perhaps the State can think of the inner-line permit as a way to check the entry of illegal immigrants, but then that would affect the flow of tourists into the state. The Meghalaya Land Transfer Act is one mechanism designed to protect the indigenous people from being alienated from their land, but the act has been abused time and again.
The issue calls for a debate. It cannot be decided under pressure. If the state in more than three decades has not been able to come up with solutions to this vexed problem, how can we expect the same people to solve the problem in few days? Even political parties seem to speaking in one voice on this one issue. The State Congress President has expressed his conformity with the pressure groups. But the Chief Minister had to clarify his statement the very next day and claim that he is being misquoted when he realized that his statement could backfire upon him and that the Election Commission has even sought clarification from the UDP president Dr. Donkupar Roy on his statement at Pynursla on the May 6 on the same subject. So the issue is not as easy as we think it is. The EC directive should be respected, but the issue is larger than what meets the eye.
The pressure groups too must accept the truth that the issue is very complicated; we must take extra precaution that no untoward incidents happen during protests. We must remind ourselves that there are Khasi Pnars in Bangladesh and in Assam and there are also large numbers of Khasi Pnar students who are currently pursuing their studies and also work outside the state. Our protests should not put them in awkward situations or endanger them. UDP fishing in trouble waters With only few months left before the election bugle sounds, it is no surprise that every political party will take undue advantage to outdo the other. Every leader in the party ensures that he/she makes the best use of any available opportunity to canvass for their respective party. The UDP which is an equal partner of the Meghalaya United Alliance (MUA) coalition government make a volte-face and decides to take on its own partner in the MUA.
If the UDP’s allegation against the Congress that the party which leads the coalition government has not consulted its partner in such a major policy as the policy to tackle law and order situation in the state, the question is what prevents the UDP from pulling out of the coalition government? What surprises the commoners is that while the president of the UDP Dr Donkupar Roy is busy castigating the Congress for the failing law and order situation in the state, Deputy Chief Minister Bindo Lanong who is also another working president of the party was busy sharing the dais with Congress Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma along with other congress ministers when the report card of the MUA government – promises kept (the vision endures- the pledge continues) was released at Yojna Bhawan on May 3. It was quite a photo-ops session!
On the law and order situation in the Garo hills, the government has the sympathy of everybody. Even ordinary citizens of the state extended their support to the government in its effort to tackle the militancy problem in area, but the criticism comes from a rather unexpected quarters – the MUA coalition partner- the UDP.
UDP is part and parcel of the current MUA government; it cannot just hope to take credit for the good work and blame the rest on the Congress. The party is an equal partner in the coalition. So as much as it expects bouquets from the public, brickbats too will be hurled on both the partners. So anti-incumbency (if there is any) will affect both the parties. In fact if there is any party that has to be blamed for the mess in Meghalaya, it is the UDP because it is the only party which was on the treasury bench for a full term of five years (hopefully) beginning with the MPA and different versions of the MUA in the last five years.
(The writer is a Jowai-based researcher and an environmental activist)