Assam: How an accord for peace raked up discord

Demonstrators shout slogans as police fire tear gas during a protest against the government's Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Guwahati. (AFP Photo)

The accord which anti-foreigner agitators, in Assam, signed with former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi 35 years ago on the night of August 14, 1985, has now become the basis of an ongoing protest against the Narendra Modi government’s Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019.

The six-year-long ‘anti-foreigner movement’ from 1979 to 1985— which saw deaths of 866 agitators and hundreds of suspected ‘illegal migrants’ from neighbouring Bangladesh— came to end after the government promised the influential All Assam Students’ Union (Aasu) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad that it will detect, delete (from electoral rolls) and deport all those who have settled in Assam after March 24, 1971.

But, after the signing of the Accord in the next 30 years, the government— be it at the Centre or in Assam— did nothing significant to implement the Accord’s vital clauses.

This despite protests by Aasu. In 2015, a Supreme Court order forced the government to speed up the work to update the National Register of Citizens with March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date, as agreed in the Accord. But the anti-foreigner organisations were unhappy, saying that the NRC was not free of errors. Just when they were planning to move the Supreme Court for a review of the NRC exercise, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill came as a shocker.

Addressing a large crowd, which had gathered here to oppose the CAB on Friday, Aasu general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi said, “our fight is not against any Bengali Hindu, Muslim or any other community. Our fight is against all post-1971 migrants.” Aasu advisor Samujjal Kumar Bhattacharjya said, “we want full implementation of Assam Accord through the reservation of seats in Parliament, state Assembly, jobs and land rights for the indigenous Assamese, which was promised in the Clause VI of Assam Accord with 1951 as a cut-off...”

BJP leader and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, however, said that they are not committed to the Accord as they did not sign it.

“We want a Pan-India NRC with the same cut-off date. We cannot have a separate cut-off for Assam...” Sarma had said.

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