The BJP was seen to be a vital as well as the winning player in Assam in the elections last year. The election this year was an election fought on the basis “identity”. Who is an Assamese, who is an illegal immigrant – are questions that have always roiled Assam, a state that has seen successive streams of migrants. The British got workers from the Chotanagpur plateau and adjoining areas to work as tea plantation workers. This was followed by a massive flow of what C S Mullan, a British Superintendent of the 1931 Census, had described as “land-hungry Bengali immigrants, mostly Muslims” from Bangladesh into West Bengal, in the hope of a better life. It’s also a state that has a large number of indigenous communities, with at least 69 of them under the Scheduled Tribes category and 16 under the Scheduled Castes.
However, this is not the first election to be fought on “identity”. Way back in 1946, the Congress had asked people to vote for them ensuring security for the Assamese people. That election, the Congress was contesting along with the Muslim League, which, headed by Maulavi Saiyid Sir Muhammad Saadullah, had formed the government thrice after 1937 in Assam.
Now the question that’s in the air of Assam is, whether the BJP government deliver its promises? Will the people get what they were promised? The Assamese people awaiting the answers.
Now, the reason why BJP played its “identity card” is because of the Assam Accord. Assam Accord was not an act but it was a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) signed by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) in 1985 in order to put an end to the six year long Assam Movement or Assam Agitation against the illegal immigrants in Assam.
According to the accord, all Assam residents who had entered the state until January 1, 1966, would be deemed citizens. Those who came between 1966 and March 25, 1971, would be disenfranchised for 10 years. But foreigners who came to Assam on or after March 25, 1971, would be detected and deported, their names deleted from the voters’ list. This special exception-granting citizenship to those who entered Assam between 1947 and 1971-was made only for Assam as Article 6 of the Constitution states that anybody from East or West Pakistan who enters India after July 19, 1948, must apply for citizenship. The Assam Accord also says that people whose names have appeared in the electoral lists from 1952 to 1971 are Indian citizens.
The second exception was made in the process of detection. In other Indian states, it is governed by the Foreigners’ Act, 1946, the Passport Act, 1952 and the Citizenship Act, 1955. For Assam, however, the Indira Gandhi government enacted the Illegal Migrants’ (Determination by Tribunal) (IMDT) Act, 1983, which provided special protections against undue harassment to “minorities” in Assam. IMDT put the onus of proving the illegality of a migrant on the complainant, while the Foreigners’ Act requires the accused to prove their right to Indian citizenship. But, following a challenge by Sarbananda Sonowal, then a leader of AASU, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court struck down the IMDT Act in 2005, saying it “has created the biggest hurdle and is the main impediment…in the identification and deportation of illegal migrants.”
So, summing up, Clause Six of the Assam Accord clearly states that, the people entering in Assam from Bangladesh irrespective of religion after March 24, 1971 will not be granted citizenship and will have to leave the state. .
Now the conflict that arises here is that Clause Six of the Assam Accord is not implemented properly i.e this clause has some obstacles or contradicting bodies.
From the beginning of the agitation, the Left and some democratic parties, as well as some intellectuals, urged the agitation leaders to accept the cut-off date of March 25, 1971, for the detection and expulsion of foreigners. But the AASU-AAGSP leadership insisted on 1951 as the cut-off year and, later, 1961. So the agitation was prolonged, and those who reasoned in favour of the 1971 cut-off date were attacked as “stooges of foreigners”; the agitation leaders called for socially boycotting them. About 70 workers of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), or the CPI(ML), the Revolutionary Communist Party of India (RCPI), the Students Federation of India (SFI), the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) were brutally murdered; many were maimed for life.
The left-wing political parties, student-youth bodies, trade unions and peasant bodies did not want the Bangladeshis to be expelled from Assam, the movement leaders alleged. Divisive and communal forces that crept into the movement at times and turned it into one for “driving out Muslim minorities”; in the infamous massacre at Nellie in the undivided Nagaon district in 1983, over 1,800 immigrant Muslim settlers were butchered in a single day.
But, in the end, the AASU-AAGSP combine did accept March 25, 1971, as the cut-off date. Even after these conflicts or disagreement or so called obstacles were diminished, another row of conflicts came up after the Narendra Modi government came to power on May 26, 2014. The BJP- led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government decided to amend the Citizenship Act. The Centre’s September 2015 decision to exempt, on humanitarian grounds, those persons who entered India on or before December 31, 2014 from the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Foreigners Act, 1946. For the past six months, the All Assam Students Union (AASU), the state’s most powerful student body, has been spearheading an agitation against this amendment.
Since the BJP and its allies came to power in the state in May 19, in the assembly elections year, it has been fighting hard to keep up its primary promise and the agenda by which it grabbed 86 seats in the state assembly. The promise of protection of jati, mati & bheti (land, home, community) of the indigenous people of Assam.
But now it seems that this promise is yet to be fulfilled by the government. Prima facie it looks like there’s a difference of opinion between the state and the Central government. The state is trying its best to implement all the provisions of the Assam Accord including the widely debated clause six. Whereas, the Central government is busy in the amendment of the Citizenship Act, 1955.
“Who are the Assamese people?” The question has been asked for many years by many people of Assam. There is no answer even now, and nobody knows how long the search for a definition of “Assamese people” will continue. This definition is required to ensure the constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards of the Assamese people.