AASU’s Whistle Blowing May Sow Seeds of Fresh Unrest
The state government says it has handed over the issue of what constitutes ‘Assamese people’ to the Centre, but AASU says they have never been consulted
Is Assam going to witness a new phase of turmoil over the tardy progress in implementation of some of the crucial provisions of the historic Assam Accord of 1985?
The question appears to be ticking like a time bomb in this northeastern state.
This came in the aftermath of All Assam Students Union (AASU) turning a whistle-blower on the confidential report of the high-level committee regarding the implementation of the accord.
The sudden revelation by AASU has put the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state in a tight spot.
Now the saffron apparatchiks are hunting for an alibi to wriggle themselves out of the awkward scenario.
And a day after the disclosure, Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sharma came up with an excuse that apparently added salt to the injury.
Sharma asserted that the BJP-led state government is almost nearing its tenure and the assembly elections are due in a few months.
Hence, he held, it might be better if the next elected assembly takes up the issue of ratifying the definition of ‘Assamese people’.
Sharma refused to agree with AASU’s contention that there has so far been no clarity on whether the Assam government has handed over the issue to the Centre yet.
On the contrary, AASU, Sharma felt, has created complications by suddenly making public the confidential report.
“We have resolved to implement Clause 6 and are on track. The committee’s report will be tabled in the assembly at a future date and it will define and ratify definition of the Assamese people,” Sharma said.
“It is only after the assembly passes a resolution, that the matter will go to the Centre and implementation process of Clause 6 will begin.”
The main bugbear of AASU is that none of its three members in the committee was present when the report was submitted, and it was not handed over directly to the union home ministry.
As per Clause 6, Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the culture, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.
However, AASU’s chief advisor, Samujjal Bhattacharya contested Sharma’s claim, stating that the report was submitted to the state government more than five months back.
Since the government has chosen to remain quiet on the contents and implementation, AASU had no alternative but to make it public, Bhattacharya said.
The tripartite accord involving AASU, the state government and the Centre was signed in 1985 after a six-year agitation against illegal immigrants.
The Justice (Retd) Biplab Kumar Sarma-led 13-member committee had submitted the report to Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal in February this year.
In fact, the main bugbear of AASU is that none of its three members in the committee was present when the report was submitted.
And secondly, that the report was not handed over directly to the union home ministry, was quite upsetting for the organisation.
Confusion still persists over who can be called an Assamese, as the accord did not clearly define this, and the committee was tasked to identify the parameters.
Slamming AASU for making it public, chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal termed it as unfortunate because the state government has been grappling with such serious issues as flood, erosion, landslides, storm, African swine fever and the catastrophic Baghjan gas well fire, apart from the COVID pandemic.
The confidential report recommends that till deportation of the post-1971 stream of `declared foreigners’ was completed, these people should be settled somewhere outside Assam.
During the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in December last year, Assam was engulfed in turmoil amid concerns that it could encourage a fresh wave of infiltration from Bangladesh and threaten the livelihood of the state’s indigenous people.
The CAA seeks to fast-track citizenship to non-Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The protesters were afraid that the CAA could dilute the 1985 accord, under which the government agreed to identify and deport all refugees and migrants who have entered Assam after March 25, 1971.
The CAA extends the deadline until December 31, 2014, instead of 1971, which could seriously threaten the indigenous people.
Implementation of Clause 6 of the accord remained on the back burner for over three decades till the Centre formed a panel in January last year to suggest how to do it.
All members of the panel resigned in protest against the CAA.
A new 13-member committee constituted in July last year was given a month’s extension after its six-month tenure expired in January 2020.