An Appeal from the CPI(ML) Central Committee to the Activists and Supporters of the Autonomous State Movement in Karbi Anglong and NC Hills

[The defeat of ASDC(P) candidates in all the five Assembly seats of Assam hills and the return of the Congress after a decade to three of those five seats marked a particularly disturbing aspect of the latest electoral outcome of Assam. Activists of CPI(ML) and ASDC(P) are however determined to reverse the situation and revive the Autonomous State movement. To draw necessary lessons from the debacle and prepare the organisation for the next battle ahead, ASDC(P) held a training camp in Diphu on May 25. On 30th May, the first day of the new Assembly, a dharna was held in Dispur outside the Assembly to reinitiate the campaign for Autonomous State. Meanwhile, in a blatantly undemocratic move, the Assam Government has dissolved the Autonomous Councils of both Karbi Anglong and North Cachhar Hills. The responsibility for holding elections to these councils, it should be noted, lies with the state government, but the Assam government made no preparations for holding the elections on time. Since the task of updating the voters’ list for the two councils is being taken up only in July, the government should have extended the terms of the outgoing councils till the elections are held. Instead, the Congress government of Assam has imposed its rule through the backdoor by dissolving the councils and bringing them under the Governor’s rule. Against this backdrop, a special cadre convention was held in Diphu on 14 June under the banner of the Party following a joint session of the Party Committees of Karbi Anglong and NC Hills on 12-13 June. Here we carry excerpts from an appeal presented in this convention on behalf of the Party Central Committee.]

We all know that the autonomous state movement in Karbi Anglong and NC Hills is facing a major challenge. Since its inception fifteen years ago, the movement had succeeded in establishing itself as the predominant political force in the region. With the twin slogans of “No Autonomous State, No Rest” and “A New and Better Society”, the movement went on to capture the imagination of all sections of the oppressed people of this backward and neglected region. The oldest party of the Indian ruling classes, the Congress, was consigned to the political periphery while the sectarian AGP and its ally, the communal BJP, failed to make its presence felt in the hills of Assam. All through the 1990s, the hill districts remained the most powerful and consistent anti-Congress anti-BJP citadel in Assam.

The recent Assembly elections have changed the picture. The Congress has succeeded in regaining as many as three of the five Assembly seats in the region while the BJP and AGP have also managed to stake their claim through the backdoor with the help of their new-found ally which calls itself the ASDC(U). The voice of the autonomous state movement has been prevented from reaching the Assembly. The will and aspiration of the people fighting for their constitutional right of an autonomous state has been suppressed and overshadowed by opportunist political manipulations and unprecedented terror.

We in CPI(ML) fully share the concern of all of you who are fighters for an autonomous state over this latest turn of events. We also share your urge to transform this situation and revive the movement with full vigour. The ties between CPI(ML) and ASDC have been forged through years of shared struggle and sacrifice. It is a relationship rooted in ideological conviction and not one of those marriages of convenience we see in alliances like NDA. It is unity for advancing the movement and not for sharing the spoils of power. As in the past, we are naturally determined to unitedly overcome the present juncture and chart a new course of advance for the democratic movement in the region and the autonomous state movement in particular. 

When we look back at the history of the autonomous state movement, we can clearly identify different phases. It was only after a formative phase of heroic struggles that the movement could establish its claim in the electoral arena. Both the Congress and AGP governments of Assam tried their best to nip the movement in the bud and scuttle the emergence of a revolutionary democratic force in the hills. The movement however displayed exemplary courage and determination to foil this conspiracy and emerge as a vibrant democratic force with a distinct anti-Congress identity. The ruling classes of course did not give up the battle and confrontation between the state government and the ASDC-led council intensified. The restoration of the council after its illegal dissolution by the state government marked a powerful victory for the movement in the early 1990s. The ruling classes lost another battle, but the war continued.

The war assumed newer forms in the wake of the ASDC’s consolidation in Karbi Anglong and expansion to NC Hills. Embroiling the movement in protracted negotiations over MoU and the offer of greater powers short of an autonomous state marked a new strategy on the part of the ruling classes. It was clearly intended to buy time and tire out the movement. The strategy also sowed the first seeds of tactical dilution and deviation in the movement. Engineering splits, promoting armed counter-insurgency groups and pitting various outfits against one another is another common tactic of the ruling classes which has been employed again and again in relation to almost all nationality movements. We have now seen all these strategies at work in Karbi Anglong and NC Hills and our defeat in the latest elections marks a temporary victory for the ruling classes’ strategic gameplan. The ruling classes have won one battle; but the war is still on and we have to reposition our forces for winning the next battle and eventually, the war itself. 

The immediate cause behind the ASDC’s recent defeat in the Assembly elections, at least in Karbi Anglong, has of course been the split. And the split was thrust on the organisation by the renegades who were very much part and parcel of not only ASDC but the CPI(ML) as well. It is therefore wrong to see the problem as one between ASDC and CPI(ML), viewed any way it was a problem internal to both ASDC and CPI(ML). The relationship between the CPI(ML) and ASDC has evolved through various phases and forms, but there has been nothing secret and conspiratorial about it. The mass participation of comrades from Karbi Anglong in various national rallies and campaigns of IPF and CPI(ML), the successful holding of the CPI(ML) plenum in Diphu in July 1995 and finally, the victory of Com. Jayanta Rongpi as the CPI(ML) nominee supported by the entire ASDC in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections marked various milestones of this evolution. The intensity of mass support and sanction behind the ASDC-CPI(ML) relationship has been clearly demonstrated in the unbroken record of electoral victories between 1989 and 1999. Just as one swallow does not make a summer, this one electoral defeat does by no means negate the chain of victories won over the last ten years and more. 

Yet what we have suffered is nothing short of a debacle and we will have to analyse the causes and draw our lessons. And if we want to derive political lessons from the defeat, we have to go back to the main orientation of the movement which is best summed up by the two simple slogans: “No Autonomous State, No Rest” and “A New and Better Society”. In other words, the council or any other position secured in the course of the movement are not meant to be used as resting places but as means for advancing the movement. And the goal of the Autonomous State in turn is linked to the goal of a new and better society which means there can be no compromise with the forces of status quo or the emerging neo-rich who are concerned with protecting their own positions and are hence resistant to the very notion of social change and transformation. 

We have to examine our performance in the council and in the movement as a whole on this touchstone. And we should accept the present defeat as a price for our shortcomings and lapses on this score. 

The election results also indicate that the renegades have managed to mislead sizeable sections of activists and supporters of the autonomous state movement. We must not underestimate this aspect, for underestimating it will mean neglecting the crucial task of reuniting the forces of autonomous state movement around its original orientation. The political-ideological content of renegacy has been further exposed by recent developments and we have to educate all sections of the movement about the real meaning and implications of renegacy in the light of the experience of the last elections. The quest for a ‘pure’ ASDC has once again been exposed to be nothing but a camouflage for betrayal of the masses and the movement and hobnobbing with the ruling classes for narrow personal and short-term gains. But we must remember that how effectively we are able to expose, isolate and defeat the renegades also depends on how effectively we are able to demarcate ourselves from the renegades and revive the movement for autonomous state. In other words, the task of exposing and isolating the renegades must go hand in hand with the task of reviving the movement and sharpening the struggle against the original enemies of the autonomous state. 

The offer of an Autonomous Council short of creation of an Autonomous State as promised in Article 244A was justified by the central government on the plea that the Centre wanted to discourage the creation of any new state. That premise has now been rendered completely invalid with the creation of Jharkhand, Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh. Meanwhile, even as the BJP government at the Centre has clearly rejected the demand for implementation of article 244 A, major negotiations are going on between the Centre and the NSCN and the Bodo organisations all of which will have implications for the Hill region. Incidentally, the renegades have chosen precisely this juncture to split the organisation and the movement and ally with the BJP and hobnob with armed extremist outfits like the Bodo Liberation Tigers and the UPDS. 

The autonomous state movement has always derived a lot of strength and much of its appeal from the fact that it enjoys the active support of the overwhelming majority of people living in the hill districts cutting across the boundary of language, religion, and national origin and culture. Of late, this character of the movement has been facing severe attack from the ultra outfits. Their acts of selective killings of both non-Karbi people and Karbi activists are vitiating the entire atmosphere and strengthening the hands of the state machinery while dividing and weakening the people. In the recent elections the extremist organisations succeeded in terrorising and effectively disenfranchising the masses in many booths. And they are now trying to tighten their grip and overshadow the entire political process with their constant threats and acts of terrorism. We will have to defeat this disruptive design and for this we must get prepared to wage mass resistance wherever and whenever necessary. 

Finally, revival of the movement calls for a thoroughgoing rectification and organisational consolidation. There are no organisations in the hill districts which are more democratic than CPI(ML) and ASDC. High standards of internal democracy and a consistent culture of criticism and self-criticism are essential for a revolutionary movement. But as revolutionaries, the criticism we value most is criticism not in words, but in deeds. After this defeat, we are now much better aware of our own deficiencies and the strong points of our rivals and enemies. But this awareness will mean nothing if it leads to either frustration or complacency. The situation can change only if we can prove that we are capable of criticising and rectifying our mistakes through improved deeds. We have lost a battle, but if we can properly draw our lessons and implement them in practice, we can surely convert this defeat into victory. We have lost a battle, but we have the strength to win the war. Let us unite and fight. Let us fight to win.