Dividing Assam {Public Policy}

Context

This article talks about citizenship amendment bill

Why in news?

Protests have been held across the region for and against the Bill, which proposes that “persons belonging to minority communities, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan… shall not be treated as illegal migrants”.

Highlights of the bill

This Bill seeks to change a fundamental character of the country’s citizenship act, which does not discriminate or privillege any person seeking Indian citizenship on the basis of her religion.

The repercussions will not be limited to Assam, which seems most tense about the Bill, but extend even to neighbouring countries.

The Bill has raised the prospect of old faultlines reappearing in Assam.

The privileging of non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan is, of course, expected to feed into the existing debate over citizenship claims in Assam.

Assam Movement

The Axom Andolan or Assam Agitation was a mass movement that started primarily in 1979 even though the stage was set much earlier. It was revolution of the indigenous people of the state to protect their rights, their homeland against the illegal migrants who were penetrating into the state for years.

Early Stages – It all started when the then Lok Sabha MP from Mangaldai constituency, Hiralal Patwari passed away and which in turn necessitated by-elections in the state. During the preparation of the
electoral rolls it was noticed that there was sudden massive increase of electorate. Subsequently, articles in newspapers like the Dainik Asom published news and statistical data over the massive influx of illegal settlers. According to government estimates the population of Assam increased from 14.6 million in 1971 to 19.9 million in 1981, or 5.3 million (36.3 percent). India’s Chief Election Officer S. L. Shakdher in 1978 observed.

End of the Movement and Assam Accord The new Central Governmnet under Rajiv Gandhi decided to call the leaders AAGSP (Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, Biraj Sarma, Bhrigu Phukan) for negotiations. After a lot of deliberation the historic Assam Accord was signed in 15th August 1985. 1 January 1966 became the base year for detecting foreigners and 24th March 1971 was decided as the cut-off date for detecting illegal foreigners and removing them from the electoral rolls. Several other clauses were also included which are still issues of intense debate even today.

Political Impact and aftermath of Assam Agitation –

  1. Asom Gana Parishad was formed out of AAGSP. Following signing of the Assam Accord the Hiteswar Saikia government was dismissed and fresh elections were held in December 1985 where AGP won handsomely and Prafulla Kumar Mahanta became the Chief Minister of Assam (the youngest in India at that time).
  2. The Assam Agitation slit open the diverse state of Assam into a battleground of community and identity politics. Oppression of the native Bodo community during the movement years proved to be disastrous and gave rise to the demand for Bodoland in the later years. Post the agitation there were demands for autonomous councils among most of the tribal communities of the state.
  3. The United Liberation Front of Assam was also created in the backdrop of the Assam Agitation. The objective of the outfit was to “secede from India” and establish a “socialist and sovereign state” and to drive away all non-Assamese people from the state. The ensuing years and the rise of ULFA as a terrorist organization as well the damage done to the region is for everyone to see.
  4. The Assam Accord till date has not been fully implemented. Each successive government has made it a part of their campaign narrative but actual work done is not substantial. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) remains the last hope for the people of the state so that the objectives of the Assam Agitation are fulfilled in true sense.

 

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