Why We Need Statehood!

By Zubair Ahmed

The private question of the MP in the Parliament and the resolution of Congress party in its 7th Political Conference have set to mood for a Legislative setup for the Islands which needs backing from all political parties and civil society organisations. As statehood is a common demand, all parties should come together on common platform and demand it vociferously. Statehood with any kind of political and democratic setup will only make our Islands detectable and visible on national radar.

Most of the reports and studies on various social, educational, cultural and economic sectors done in India do not feature this Union Territory as if there are no lives or there are no issues in all these sectors here. Whether it is the CAG Report, Human Development Index Report or Inequality Adjusted HDI, or even studies on quality of education or healthcare delivery, we are out of focus in all the national level surveys and studies.

Recently in an interaction with college students, the Chief Secretary did say that there are representative democratic institutions like PRI in the Islands. However, their role in policy making is diminutive in nature.

Comparing the present bureaucratic setup with the current breed of politicians of the Islands is also not a very impressive argument. We should be aware of our strengths and weaknesses. And, also about the settler society in these Islands that they do not have a long and illustrious history compared to other states in the mainland. That does not mean we cannot start now. The time to start anything new is now. The experiment will face many hiccups. Politicians will learn, people and bureaucrats too.

Till 2008 people were wary of the demand for assembly for the Islands. They thought it to be a ploy of the politicians in general and Manoranjan Bhakta in particular for self aggrandizement and a craving for more power and pelf. The public thought the bureaucratic system could still deliver with a little tinkering here and there. But slowly the public opinion is veering around assembly and power-to-the-people as the feeling that, the present system is beyond redemption, has been gaining ground fast.

Maybe, the first two terms would be utter chaos after the UT gets assembly. But since the system has hit the nadir, there is not much to lose. Former CS Chering Targey in an interview had once said that there is no substitute to a democratic set up. People’s aspirations grow with the rise in prosperity. The present system has proved incapable of meeting those aspirations. Some kind of a democratic set up would shift the decision making process from Delhi to Port Blair. The PRI, Zilla Parishad or the Municipality do not have the mandate to discharge those duties. An alternate is inevitable.

Another argument that the population is too small and the strategic importance of the islands will be compromised does not stand any ground. The size of the population should be no constraint. When statehood was given to North-Eastern states, they did not have very large population. Indian Armed Forces are in a different league altogether. The type of administration would be no impediment in their activities, it isn’t anywhere in the country.

Foremost, we can’t question the wisdom of the people in a democracy. It’s for all of us; to create awareness; educate the common people to elect the right persons to lead them. And the chaos and the mayhem, yes, initially, there might be a churning, a little turbulence but things can’t go downhill.

One should not give up hope. That would be blasphemy. We all live on hope; hope for a better tomorrow. Instead of indulging in self-pity, let us work for a better tomorrow, take things in our own hands; work for achieving our democratic rights enshrined in the Constitution of India, have our own government, our own people at the helm of affairs to shape our destiny.