January Edition, Statewide, Meghalaya, NET Bureau, Saidul Khan
The Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) led by National People’s Party (NPP) is facing a challenge as opposition members of the council have been raising the issue to exclude participation of non-tribals from council elections.
From August to October, 2015, a group of powerful civil organisations from Garo Hills raised the issue of exclusion of non-tribal from the district council election. They wanted that the non-tribals should not be allowed to vote or contest in the election. Despite opposition from several quarters, all political parties including Congress and National People’s Party (NPP) fielded candidate in the minority area, which are dominated by the Bengali speaking Muslim population.
The agitators feel that inclusion of non-tribals in the election process dilutes the purpose of the council. The major tribes, which reside in Garo Hills, apart from the Garos are – Hajong, Koch, Rabha and Mann. The Garos have a population of about 10 lakh as per the 2001 census.
In 2008, the issue to exclude non-tribal was raised by Garo Students Union (GSU), which continues to spearhead the process along with several other civil organisations. They had opposed the 2015 council election, as non-tribal candidates were in the fray.
Post 2015 council election, opposition led by Independent member from Tura Rupert M Sangma has been raising the issue to exclude the non-tribal. In the past one year, he has raised the issue twice in the floor of the council. On November 29 last, Rupert Sangma moved a motion in the council. However, there was not much support from the ruling bench.
Rupert Sangma has been vehemently opposing non-tribal representation in the council on the ground that it defeats the purpose of the council, which is “exclusively” meant for the welfare of tribals.
The Tura MDC along with four other Independent MDCs – Rightious N Sangma, Levastone T Sangma, Devier M Sangma and Kenadik S Marak – is seeking the exclusion of non-tribals from district council elections. They have formed the Garo Hills United Alliance front in the district council.
Non-tribal members call for discussion
Esmatur Mominin of National People’s Party and one of the non-tribal members of the council welcomed the motion and sought a thorough discussion on the issue in the state and in Garo Hills in particular. He said the Sixth Schedule does not prohibit non-tribal from participating— either to vote or contest — in the council election. Mominin represents Shyamnagar constituency, a minority-dominated area of Garo Hills.
Sofiur Rahman, an Independent who represents Balachanda constituency, which is also a minority- dominated area, echoed the view “I am not against non-tribals and I don’t oppose their participation in the assembly or parliamentary elections. But the GHADC was created to safeguard the interests of tribals. Participation of non-tribals in the council must end,” said Rupert Sangma.
Deputy chief executive member of the council Augustine Marak said the issue was sensitive and a similar move to bar participation of non-tribals in Tripura was turned down by the high court. “The council had earlier sought a reply from the state law department in this regard. The department said there was no law against the participation of non-tribals in autonomous councils in the Northeast. Moreover, we cannot support the motion as this involves violation of one’s fundamental right,” Marak said.
Council member from Rochonpara, Dipul Marak, said, “Para 2 of the Sixth Schedule does not specify who is eligible to vote or contest in council elections. It is silent on participation of non-tribals. In 2008, the GHADC had written to the Meghalaya government seeking deletion of all non-tribal voters from the electoral roll and bar them from contesting the polls. The state government had stated that the Constitution does not allow this.”
GSU’s stiff opposition
The Garo Students Union (GSU) is spearheading its opposition and had recently submitted a memorandum to Chief Executive Member (CEM) GHADC Denang T Sangma to amend district council rules to prevent participation of non-tribals. The letter has urged GHADC to amend the articles to prevent the participation of non-tribals in the district council.
Quoting union tribal affairs minister Juel Oram, the letter to CEM said, “The Union Minister informed that directions are there for the state government to pursue the implementation of the provisions of the Sixth Schedule while assuring that the ministry will pursue the matter with the Meghalaya Government and that direction will be given to the state government to ensure the participation of only tribals in the Garo Hills District Council Elections. He reiterated that the Autonomous Council and State Government must make it imperative to follow the provisions of the 6th Schedule without fail only then can the participation of only the tribals in the District Council can be ensured”.
The civil organisation had met Oram in 2015 after the district council election was held. “We would like to appeal to the rulers of the GHADC to formulate legislations and amend laws to bar the non-tribals from participating in the District Council Elections. Rule 128 sub-rule 1(a), sub- rule 2 and 3 can be amended to ensure the participation of only the tribals in the District Council elections”, the letter said.
The ruling Garo Hills Progressive Alliance (GHADC) led by the NPP and the opposition Congress in the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) appears to find themselves in a catch 22 situation following a motion moved by Tura MDC against participation by non-tribals in the council polls.