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Hill State Movement

In the North-eastern region of India sits Meghalaya. The State will be celebrating its 50th year of Statehood on 21st January. To commemorate this joyous occasion, we will look at the arduous path towards the formation of this hill state.

The formation of the Khasi National Durbar

In 1917 the Montagu-Chelmsford Report, which proposed the development of self-governing institutions in India, saw the beginning of political development in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills. At this time Meghalaya was a province under Assam and the people felt strongly about the creation of a separate hill state for the tribals. A few Khasi elders within the Khasi community noted the changes of the Report as something fundamental. Accordingly, the Khasi Himas sent a public notice to every village for serious thinking and planning. The report asked the people to gather for discussions on the importance of the report and what should be done about it. This ultimately led to the birth of the Khasi National Durbar on 4th September 1923 to safeguard and protect the unique Khasi culture and identity. Fifty-four representatives from various Hima(s) and about three hundred people from different parts of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills attended the Dorbar. From 1923 to 1928 there were intense discussions held in the Khasi National Dorbar that would prove instrumental to the Hill State Movement.

The creation of the Federation of Khasi States and Garo National Council

Before the arrival of the Simon Committee in 1929, a memorandum was sent to the Committee on 1st May 1928 stating that it would be beneficial for the Khasi Himas if they were brought together under one federation. This memorandum and subsequent speech delivered by a Khasi lawyer, S.G. Nalle, would form the basis of the development of the Federation of Khasi States. So it came to pass that in 1934 the Khasi States Federation (KSF) was established. However, there was not much done, and it went into a state of limbo. In 1945, the tribal people were interested in a more vested involvement in the political activities of the state. During this time the Khasi-Jaintia Political Association was formed under the leadership of Dr. H. Lyngdoh and contested in the general elections of 1946. It was in 1946, a year before Indian Independence, that the KSF was reactivated as the Federation of Khasi States. The Federation would go on to draft an agreement between the hill states and the Government known as the Standstill Agreement that was signed soon after Indian Independence.

Meanwhile, in the Garo Hills there was an ever-growing concern about the fate of the Garo people post Indian Independence. They wanted a way to preserve their culture and prevent assimilation to Assam. To address these concerns, a conference of all Garos was called in 1946. It was the first instance where Garos from all over North East gathered in one place. This was the genesis of the Garo National Council (GNC) which was formed with Modi K Marak as its first President. The formation of this political party in Garo Hills would prove instrumental as the GNC would later go on to become a founding member of All Party Hill Leaders Conference (APHLC) with Capt. Williamson A. Sangma as its inaugural Chairman.

After Indian Independence

After Indian Independence the Khasi States signed the Standstill Agreement on 9th August 1947. This agreement mentioned that all the administrative arrangements then existing between the Province of Assam and the Indian dominion on the one hand and the Khasi States on the other would continue unaltered for a period of two years, until new arrangements were made.

On 1st September 1947 the Jaintia National Conference decided to join the Federation of Khasi States in its meeting in Jowai. As time passed the Khasis, Garos, and Jaintias came to realise the importance of unity in their fight for Statehood.

The Federation advocated for the enforcement of the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India, which provided for the set up of the Autonomous District Councils.

The Government of India found a problem when it came to getting the Khasi States to sign the Instrument of Accession so that the hill states accede to the Dominion of India. On 2nd December 1947 Governor Akbar Hydari informed the Khasi Chiefs that he had brought with him from Delhi the Instrument of Accession and that they should sign it. Twenty-five chiefs assembled at the Governor’s residence and twenty of them signed the Instrument on 15th December 1947. The five remaining signed it in March the following year.

After the appointment of Sardar Vallabhai Patel as head of the Ministry of States, he began his plan to merge the native states with the provinces. Now, while the Khasi states had agreed to the Instrument of Accession (IOA) and Annexed Agreement (AA) they were not happy with this merger and refused to fully merge on the ground that the chiefs were elected heads of their respective states. Their refusal caused Sardar Patel to visit Shillong on 1st-2nd January 1948. The Khasi states reasserted their position over the merger. The Khasis wanted a Dorbar of the States to decide on the merger. The Government agreed leading to the inauguration of the Dorbar on 29 April 1949 in Dinam Hall, Shillong which was constituted by all Chiefs and elected representatives from various Hima(s) chosen by the people.

On 26th November 1949, the Constituent Assembly agreed on the Constitution of India. Interestingly, neither the IOA nor the AA found its place there. Instead, the Khasi States were inserted as an appendage within Assam under a United Khasi and Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council that now subsumes the Hima(s).

The fight for Statehood begins

The seed for a separate Hill State was planted in the 1920s but became a much more pronounced movement from 1947 to the 1960s. Right after Independence, Assam expressed its desire to fully assimilate the hill states. Assam at this time wanted to make Assamese their state language which would have resulted in the hill states adopting it as well. This caused the Khasis, Garos, and Jaintias to unitedly protest the inclusion of the Assamese Language Bill. These issues were sent to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, but no significant changes were made.

In 1954, Capt. Williamson. A. Sangma, the Chief Executive Member (CEM) of Garo Hills District Council, chaired a meeting in Tura regarding the fight for statehood and where he discussed matters relating to the protection of tribal welfare. In the same year, the Eastern Indian Tribal Union (EITU) was formed in Aizawl which pushed into action the members of the representative areas. The Tura Conference was also held, with the decision to submit the memorandum to the State Reorganisation Commission to demand for a separate state from Assam.

Captain W. A. Sangma convened a meeting at Shillong in June 1954 in which he emphasized the importance for immediate action regarding the formation of a unified hill state and his dissatisfaction with the limited protection afforded by the Sixth Schedule. He roused the members and encouraged them to preserve their racial identity, language and culture.” His speech served as the impetus for the Hill State Movement.

Without the push given by the Garo National Council (GNC) and Capt. Sangma, the fight for Statehood would have been a much more drawn-out process. The unified front displayed by the hill leaders of the Khasi, Garo, and Jaintia Communities allowed the movement to flow seamlessly.

The formation of the All Party Hill Leaders Conference

The years 1955, 1956 and 1957 saw an emergence of hill leaders educating and informing their people on the importance of a separate hill state. It was also during this time that the notable slogan “No Hill State, No Rest” started among the local people.

The friction between the Assam and the hill states came to a head in 1960. This led to the EITU and several other parties in the hill areas banding together to form the All Party Hill Leaders Conference (APHLC).

The first meeting of the All Party Hill Leaders Conference was held on 6th July 1960 with the ever looming presence of the Assamese State Language Bill. The Khasi National Dorbar and students protested the inclusion of the bill. The apathy of the State of Assam to the feelings of the hills state further incentivised them to push for the immediate creation of a separate state.

“No Hill State, No Rest”

On 24th November 1960 the APHLC met Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and presented him with a memorandum for the creation of the Eastern Frontier State. Nehru countered with the proposal of a Scottish Pattern of administration where the hill states would still fall under Assam but would have a bit more autonomy. The APHLC members rejected the Scottish Plan.

In 1962 the APHLC contested in the general elections where they won a majority of the seats. As their demands were not met the APHLC asked its members to resign from their seats in the Assam Legislative Assembly. It also directed the formation of Non Violent Direct Action (NVDA) on March 31st, 1963. Concurrently Mizoram and Nagaland were also demanding full autonomy which had an impounding effect on the Government.

This led to Nehru revisiting his stance on the hill state issue and proposed the Nehru Plan which would give the hill states full autonomy, but they would still have to remain within Assam state. This plan was heavily criticized by Assam, and they delayed developments that were to come out from it. The Pataskar Commission was formed which was intended to recommend the constitutional and legislative measures to give effect to the Nehru Plan.

In 1966 Indira Gandhi succeeded as the Prime Minister, it was in this year that she visited Shillong and APHLC rejected the Pataskar Commission. The arrival of Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister came with the reorganisation of Assam.

The Government of India decided to revisit the proposed reorganisation of Assam yet again with the mindset that the hill state should not separate from Assam. This led to the birth of the Ashok Mehta Committee which the APHLC vehemently opposed by not participating in the committee. The gist of the report submitted to the Government repeated its stance to not allow the hill state to separate which again the APHLC rejected. The constant rejection of report after report coming from Assam caused the then Government to relook its decision on the hill state issue.

In June 1968 the APHLC expressed its dissatisfaction at the government for its continued delay to reorganise the state of Assam. The ever-growing apathy from the Government led to the Non Violent Direct Action (NVDA) protesting 9th and 10th of September 1968. Hartals, Satyagraha, and other forms of non-violent protests took place outside the Assam Secretariat in Shillong. People gathered all over Mawkhar to Iewduh, drums were played, and speeches given. The people were roused to fight for their right of a separate hill state.

The morning of 11th September 1968 was a memorable one. The Government announced the creation of an Autonomous State for the hill areas; however, the state would be within Assam and not a full-fledged State. Still, the APHLC agreed to consider it although several sections of the public were wary of this. In October 1969, more agitations were held in front of the Assam Secretariat in Shillong. As time passed, the ever-growing burden from the hill leaders ultimately led to the Government finally agreeing on 15th December 1969 on the Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Bill that would give the hill state full autonomy.

The Creation of Meghalaya

The Parliament Session was to adjourn on 24th December 1969. So, it came to pass that on Christmas Eve before the clock struck 12, the Bill was passed in both houses of Parliament thereafter known as the Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act of 1969, a beautiful Christmas gift to the people of the hill state. On 29th December 1969 the Bill received the assent of the President.

Elections to the Meghalaya provisional Legislative Assembly were held on 20th March 1970. The Prime Minister Indira Gandhi arrived at Garrison Ground on 2nd April 1970 to inaugurate the Meghalaya Autonomous State. In November 1970 a declaration was made in the Lok Sabha raising Meghalaya to full statehood.

In 1971 the North-East Reorganisation Act came into fruition whereby Meghalaya became a full-fledged State. It received the assent of the President on the 30th December 1971.

After much struggle and endless months of disappointment the fateful day arrived where Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came down to Shillong and on 21st January 1972 inaugurated Meghalaya as a full-fledged State to much joy and celebration. From the 1920s to present day, the State of Meghalaya is reaping the benefits of this Statehood which came about from the tireless work of the Statehood Hill Leaders.

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