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The current phase of Shillong’s perennial ‘troubled days’, kicked off allegedly KSU activists last night, had its genesis almost a year ago. The violence-ridden four-month-long agitation by nationalistic groups demanding Inner Line Permit (ILP) subsided by the end of 2013. But the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order on April 17 last year banning coal mining in Meghalaya caused the anti-establishment sentiment to grow again. The order was viewed as an onslaught on the rights of tribals, which always had been the root cause of all unrests in Meghalaya, particularly in Shillong. Many lives, most of them non-tribals who are viewed as ‘outsiders’, were lost and their property attacked during such agitations in the past nearly four decades. The NGT order triggered several mass protests including one where two protesters were killed in alleged police firing in Jaintia Hills last year.

After the NGT order, there comes another ruling from the Meghalaya High Court passed by Justice SR Sen debarring traditional chiefs from issuing certificates of birth, residence and no objection certificates. The judge based his verdict on the fact that there is no existing law that empowers the chiefs to issue such certificates. However, this has been the practice for decades and government offices, banks, educational institutions used to recognize such certificates. This order too was viewed by local groups as an attempt to curtail the special rights of ‘backward’ tribals granted in the Constitution as per the Sixth Schedule. The huge public sentiment against the HC order was palpable in a recent public rally attended by thousands in Shillong. It may not be a coincidence that activists of the Khasi Students’ Union (KSU), which always had been at the forefront of violent agitations in the history of Meghalaya, allegedly resorted to the old method just a day after the headmen’s rally. The rally led by HSPDP MLA and a former ‘student’ activist Ardent Basaiawmoit warned government of office picketing, which the state has not witnessed since the 2013 ILP agitation.

With all the multiple issues of NGT order, HC order and perennial ‘concern’ over influx of ‘outsiders’, this time it is an acid test for the Mukul Sangma-led Meghalaya United Alliance government. Sangma, already facing a battle from within his Congress party, will have to be utmost cautious in tackling the current phase of unrest. It will be viewed as his failure if the current agitation blows up and reminds gory days of Shillong.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on May 8, 2015)