ST status: AAKRS to give a befitting reply to BJP in upcoming polls

GUWAHATI: Angered by the lack of progress over granting Scheduled Tribe status to Koch Rajbongshis, community leaders have promised to “teach the BJP a lesson” in the upcoming elections. 

The All Assam Koch Rajbongshi Sanmilani (AAKRS) on Monday said it would erode the support base of the saffron party in more than 40 assembly constituencies in the upcoming elections.

Sanmilani’s reaction came after Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s comment on granting of Schedule Tribe (ST) status to six ethnic groups of the state, including Koch Rajbongshis.

In an interaction with the media on New Year’s Day, the chief minister had said that there would be a bloodbath in the state in the event of ST status accorded to the six ethnic groups. 

“We Koch Rajbongshis have supported the BJP in 2014, 2016, 2019 and 2021 elections following the promises of the central and state BJP leaders that they would grant ST status to us. But seven years have passed, there is no sign of granting ST status to us,” AAKRS president Pranab Narayan Dev said addressing a press conference at Guwahati Press Club here on Monday.

“There is 80 per cent population of Koch Rajbongshis in Ranjeet Dass’ Patacharkuchi constituency, 40 per cent population in Himanta Biswa Sarma’s Jalukbari and Majuli, Sorbhog, Nalbari, Palashbari and more than 30 assembly constituencies of the state,” Dev said.

“They do not have the political will to grant us ST status. If they grant us the ST status, they have to lose their grounds as these constituencies will be reserved for our community people,” he said. 

“We will decide the next course of action after the Bhogali Bihu,” Dev added.  

The issue of granting the status of ST to six communities has been put on the hold as the Group of Ministers (GoM) formed to study the issue and give recommendations failed to submit its report before the declaration of the dates for the elections to the Assam Legislative Assembly. 

“The BJP has promised our demands would be accepted. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, they assured us to grant ST status within six months of coming to power. In 2016 assembly polls, they echoed a similar view. Again, during the 2019 Lok Sabha poll and 2021 assembly polls, they lied to us,” Dev said.

“The chief minister’s comment has cleared that they have no political will to grant us the ST status,” he further said.

The Koch-Rajbangshi community have been demanding ST status since the 1960s. But it was only before the general election of 1996 that the demand gained momentum. The then Narasimha Rao Government had promulgated the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Ordinance on January 27, 1996, to include the Koch-Rajbangshis in the ST category. A Bill seeking to replace the ordinance was also introduced in the Lok Sabha on February 29, 1996, but it lapsed with the dissolution of the tenth Lok Sabha. 

The ordinance was re-promulgated three times and later was introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 12, 1996, as the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order (Amendment) Bill 1996. The House then authorised the speaker to refer the Bill to a select committee of Lok Sabha with instructions to report back to the House. The committee submitted its final report in August 1997, but the Bill was neither introduced for voting nor enacted in time and thus it lapsed. The Koch-Rajbangshis became OBC again, having been lived a short span of less than a year as Scheduled tribes. 

“Let the government make its stance on ST status to the six ethnic groups clear. We will welcome the government if it accords ST status to any of the six ethnic groups of the state. However, we will continue our fight till the last of the six ethnic groups get the ST status,” Dev also said.

“We will stage serial protests from this month in all districts in support of our demands for granting ST status,” Dev said.

“The chief minister said that the existing STs will create bloodshed if ST status is given to the six new communities. The chief minister has rejected the six communities demand for ST status with this one comment,” he further said.

He also claimed that the community has fulfilled all criteria for getting ST status. The Registrar General of India (RGI) has also given its nod to the Centre for granting the community ST status, he added.

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