Garos demand statehood too

Rail blockade today as protests rear head in BTAD; ripples in Meghalaya with bifurcation call
Shillong/Tura, Aug. 1: Telangana may be miles away but ripples of the decision to grant the region statehood are being felt in Meghalaya with Garo, Khasi and Jaintia organisations reinforcing their demands to bifurcate the 41-year-old state.
The Garo National Council (GNC) and the Garo Students’ Union (GSU) have been demanding a separate state for the Garos while the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) has been demanding a Khasi-Jaintia state.
GNC president Clifford R. Marak, who has been with the party for more than 40 years, has been advocating the bifurcation of Meghalaya on linguistic lines. The HSPDP, the oldest regional political outfit in the state, has been demanding the creation of a Khasi-Jaintia state on similar lines.
The militant Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) also claims that it is fighting for the creation of Garoland state. Although the GNC and the HSPDP have been making statehood a major plank during elections, the latter managed to win only four seats in the Assembly polls this year while the GNC won only one.
While no major movement has taken place to give meat to the demands, the GNC and the HSPDP have, over the years, been sending memoranda to the Centre. Nothing concrete has, however, emerged from it.
“I feel a Garo state should be created on linguistic lines. We have Mizoram for the Mizos, Nagaland for the Nagas and Assam for the Assamese. So why not a Garo state for the Garos?” Marak, who has been spearheading the Garo state demand since 1992, told The Telegraph. He said the size of the state does not really matter as his demand is based on linguistic lines. The legislator from Chokpot had met former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the demand and plans to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, too.
The Garo Hills State Movement Committee, formed in the last few years, has been organising public meetings across Garo hills to take the demand to the people.
HSPDP general secretary Enbin K. Raswai said unlike in Telangana, where the movement has been on for over 40 years, Meghalaya is yet to see a full-fledged movement for the creation of a Khasi-Jaintia or Garo state.“We have been going to the elections with Khasi-Jaintia state as one of the issues. But there is a lot of more work to be done.”
Former chief minister and veteran Congress leader Salseng C. Marak was sceptical about such demands. “Telangana is a different issue altogether. I do know how much the Centre will accept these demands because ours is a small state,” the sitting Resubelpara legislator said.
On whether the state Congress would take up the issue of bifurcating Meghalaya, he said it would be discussed, if required. “One voice will not help,” he added.
Khasi Students’ Union president Daniel Khyriem said, “There has been a strong demand for a Garo state. We feel if a separate state is granted it would be beneficial.”
Garo Students’ Union (GSU) president Tengsak G. Momin said, “They say the fight for Telangana state was 40 years long but what about us? Since 1974 the Garos have wanted a state of their own. Why were we left out?” He said if the fight is for separate ethnic identity, then why should the Garos not have Garoland?
“Over the years the struggle for statehood has witnessed many ups and downs but the fight has never died. It remains in the hearts and minds of each Garo,” Momin said.
The union plans to approach the Centre on the demand for Garoland and a meeting of all GSU units is scheduled for early this month.
There is a sizeable population of Garos in Khasi hills, Assam and Bangladesh. The GSU, which had earlier sought the inclusion of Garos from Assam and Khasi hills in “Garoland”, now appears to be content if given the existing five districts in Meghalaya.
The students union, however, made it clear that it would not work with the GNC. “We will not join hands with them (GNC) because their agenda is politics,” Momin said.