Assam Accord: A 34-year-old thorn that sting parties

Assam Accord: A 34-year-old thorn that sting parties

The Assam accord was signed in 1985.

Prafulla Kumar Mahanta (black coat) and other AGP leaders in a demonstration against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, in Guwahati recently. (DH file photo by Sumir Karmakar)

"Illegal migrants" figure prominently in campaigns before every elections in Assam. So does the Assam Accord signed nearly 34-years ago with a promise to detect and deport them to Bangladesh.

In the ensuing Lok Sabha elections, the accord continue to be a weapon for both the ruling BJP and Opposition Congress to blame each other for failing to implement its two core clauses-- detect and deport the illegal migrants and give constitutional safeguards to the ethnically sensitive state's "indigenous Assamese" people.

Assam Accord was signed in 1985 between Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre and All Assam Students Union (AASU)-led groups after the six-year-long violent anti-foreigners movement or the Assam Agitation.

"They (Congress) had signed the accord and forgot it. It is our government, which is updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) now to detect the infiltrators. We have also set up a committee recently to offer safeguards to the indigenous people," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while addressing an election rally in Jorhat Lok Sabha constituency in eastern Assam. Topon Kumar Gogoi, a former AASU leader and a minister in the BJP-led Assam government is contesting as the BJP candidate to retain the seat. Assam has 14 Lok Sabha seats.

Clause V of the accord promised to detect, delete and deport the illegal migrants and based on which the cut-off date of March 24, 1971, was decided to update the NRC. The process to update the NRC remained pending for years till a PIL in 2009 prompted the Supreme Court to order the Centre to do so. Over 3.29 crore applicants had submitted for NRC, of which 40.07 lakh found their names missing. 

Former Assam chief minister and veteran Congress leader Tarun Gogoi countered Modi's claim saying the process to update the NRC began during his tenure in 2013. "BJP is trying to nullify the Assam Accord by bringing the Citizenship Amendment Bill. The accord decided that all foreigners would be identified with March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date. But their bill wants to give citizenship to the non-Muslim migrants till December 2014. It is their communal agenda to build Hindu vote bank. They have also not been able to seal the unfenced stretch of the India-Bangladesh border despite a promise," Gogoi said. 

The Clause VI of the Accord had promised constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the indigenous Assamese but lack of a definition about indigenous Assamese has retarded the process. As the northeast roared in protest against the citizenship bill, Modi government set up a committee to determine the safeguards. This was, however, described by many as its move to calm the agitation by the indigenous people against the bill.

The regional Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), which was born out of the anti-foreigner movement (1979-1985) too have faced the criticism after it renewed its alliance with BJP and is fighting the Lok Sabha elections together. "The voters should refrain from those, who are in favour of the bill. It is against the Assam Accord and carries a serious threat to the language, culture and identity of the indigenous people," former AASU leader and one of the signatories of the accord, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta said recently. Mahanta contested election after signing the accord and became chief minister twice in 1985 and 1996.

IIT-Guwahati, a refinery and two bridges over the Brahmaputra are some of the promises fulfilled but non-implementation of the Clause V and Clause VI continue to remain a thorn for the parties in power.