Guwahati, January 3: Groups in Assam demanding constitutional safeguards for the ‘Assamese people’ are wary of the intentions behind the Centre’s move to form a high-level committee to implement the Assam Accord signed in 1985.
On Wednesday, the Union cabinet decided to form the panel to suggest “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards.”
“The setting up of the committee will pave the way for the implementation of the Assam Accord in letter and spirit and will help fulfil longstanding expectations of Assamese people,” the government said in a statement.
However, the question of who constitutes ‘Assamese people’ remains unresolved.
Prafulla Mahanta, former chief minister and a key leader of the Assam agitation against foreigners which ended with the signing of the Assam Accord, dismissed the move as an “eyewash”.
“This is just another tactic to buy time since the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill which is being opposed by the people of Assam is set to be introduced and passed by the joint parliamentary committee,” he said.
“It’s been more than four years since the NDA government was formed. It is the responsibility of the home ministry to implement the Assam Accord. This committee is an eyewash. Earlier also many committees have been formed but we haven’t got any result,” Mahanta said.
Monirul Hussain of Jamia Millia Islamia’s Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research said there was confusion over who constitutes an Assamese.
Hiren Gohain, literary critic and social scientist, said the question could have been resolved by the Centre in 1985.
“Assamese means all the indigenous traditional communities irrespective of whether they speak Assamese or not. It is also known for a long time that Assamese has been a link language for these groups,” Gohain said.
“There is a definite attempt on the part of the Centre to incite discord among various ethnic groups by replacing Assamese as a link language. It must also be added Assamese complacency and chauvinism also played a part in it,” he said.
Meanwhile, chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal called it a New Year’s gift to the people of the state which has secured the interest of indigenous people by resolving the matter, which remained undecided for 35 years due to lack of political will.
“The decision to implement Clause 6 of Assam Accord would pave way for reserving seats for indigenous people in Assam Legislative Assembly, local bodies and Assam Government jobs,” he said in a statement.
AASU said it has not been consulted.
“Assam Accord is a tripartite agreement (between Assam government, Centre and AASU). They cannot take a unilateral decision without discussing it with AASU,” AASU advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya said.
“Finally, after four and a half years Narendra Modi government has found time to discuss Assam Accord and clause 6 of the Accord,” Bhattacharya said.
“It is not a new approach. Earlier, we had a tripartite sub-committee, with the Centre, the state and the AASU representation. It was decided earlier to reserve seats in local bodies, assembly and Parliament,” he said.
Atul Bora, Assam cabinet minister and president of the Asom Gana Parishad, pointed out that a committee has been formed earlier as well. “It remains to be seen what the committee does. Our demand has been to implement the Assam Accord in toto. But so far foreigners have not been identified and constitutional safeguards have not been provided to indigenous people,” Bora said.
The former chief minister and Congress leader Tarun Gogoi called the decision a “farce”.
“In view of the 2019 polls, they have finally woken up. It is nothing but a gimmick,” Gogoi said.
The former chief minister said the decision is full of contradictions. “On one hand they are forming a committee to implement Assam Accord and on the other hand, they are readying to bring in the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. It is a contradiction. How can the two things go together since the Bill violates the Accord? They want to hoodwink the people of Assam,” he said.
The question now is whether the formation of this committee will douse the anger amongst a section of the population of the Brahmaputra valley over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
“I would also like to clarify that Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and implementation of Assam Accord are two different things. You cannot allow people who have come till 2014 and then say we are implementing Assam accord. We will continue to oppose the bill which is in complete violation of the accord,” said Anup Chetia, leader of the pro-talk faction of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).
“Seeing resentment of the people over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill they have adopted this method. People of Assam and AASU will continue to oppose every move which violates Assam Accord,” Bhattacharya said. (Courtesy: HT)