The Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) has raised a very sensitive, although not new, question. The MHA’s letter in response to the village administration bill (VAB) of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) is likely to storm the political space of Meghalaya for another few months. The traditional bodies, besides the ADCs, are going to raise serious objection to the letter. It is not surprising why the state government allegedly did not provide the copy of the letter to traditional heads. The government, perhaps, wants the ongoing budge session, which was already adjourned for two days due to sudden demise of PA Sangma, to be a smooth affair.
Not many, but a few prominent voices already raised questions about relevance of ADCs in Meghalaya. Paul Lyngdoh, the current working president of United Democratic Party (UDP), ‘openly’ said several years ago that district councils should be wound up. However, considering the current scenario of politics, he is likely to differ his own words. Standing on another pole, activist Michael Syiem, whose issues hardly get support even by Opposition, has been questioning the ADCs’ relevance in Meghalaya. The MHA’s contention is that ADCs’ existence was justified till Meghalaya attained statehood in 1972. While raising the question, the MHA referred to a PIL filed in the Meghalaya High Court by Michael Syiem demanding dissolution of the ADCs. The PIL contended that the whole state is tribal dominated and the Sixth Schedule has relevance only when it was part of the state of Assam to maintain their socio-cultural identity. Assam still has such autonomous regions while the Bodoland Territorial Council in the state has greater autonomy.
Meghalaya has 55 reserved seats for indigenous tribals in the House of 60. Even a couple of the rest five seats, which are open for all to contest, are won by tribal candidates. There is no question of any threat to tribals losing the political space in the state. In fact, the government and the ADCs often come into collision course due to different point of views. Whenever the government tries to enforce any democratic system, the ADCs raise their voice terming it an attack on indigenous rights. The ADCs do not allow non-tribal residents, even though they settled for hundred years, to vote in their elections. They oppose the panchayati raj system, favouring the traditional Dorbars where elections are held as per voice vote, lacking transparency. There has been a constant clash between democracy and indigenous rights. Amid this fight, important issues related to social welfare and development often take a backseat. Thanks to political leaders singing tunes as per ‘public sentiment’, the perennial tussle is very unlikely to end in coming years.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on March 9, 2016)