A regional constituent of the ruling alliance has taken the lead in pushing for the bifurcation of poll-bound Meghalaya.
Meghalaya is one of three north-eastern States where Assembly elections are scheduled to be held in February and March 2023. The other two are Nagaland and Tripura.
In its central executive committee meeting on November 15, the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) adopted a resolution for including the bifurcation of Meghalaya in its election manifesto.
The HSPDP, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the government, wants Meghalaya to be divided between the Garo community and the Khasi-Jaintia communities. The Khasis and Jaintias are ethnically closer.
“The party unanimously resolved to be a permanent member of the National Federation of New States (NFNS) toward the bifurcation of Meghalaya. We decided to include the statehood issue in our election manifesto,” HSPDP president K.P. Pangniang told journalists.
The NFNS is a conglomeration of people demanding new States. It has stakeholders in Assam, Nagaland, Tripura and West Bengal in the eastern part of the country.
“Members of the NFNS will hold a meeting in West Khasi Hills district on November 30 to reaffirm their statehood demands and support each other for realising the goal,” he said, adding that other issues to be taken up by the HSPDP include the recognition of the Khasi language, the implementation of the Inner-Line Permit system and the final settlement of boundary disputes with Assam.
The HSPDP has two legislators – the same as the BJP – in the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government headed by the National People’s Party.
The issue of the bifurcation of Meghalaya, which triggered extremism in the 1990s, was revived in October when the Garoland State Movement Committee and the NFNS organised a congregation to push for the statehood demand.
Alleged discrimination against the people of the Garo Hills and the uneven distribution of resources compared to the eastern half of Meghalaya, which is dominated by the Khasi and Jaintia tribes, led to the Garoland Statehood movement more than two decades ago.
The Garo Hills region is spread across 10,102 sq. km. According to the 2011 Census, this region had 13.94 lakh people. The Khasi-Jaintia Hills region, covering 15,546 sq. km, had 22.44 lakh people.
In March 2014, the Meghalaya Assembly had vetoed the Garoland idea. Meghalaya was itself carved out of Assam as a State in 1972.