Image courtesy: PTI
The All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), an organisation that was at the forefront of the Assam movement that led to the signing of the Assam Accord in 1985, is now strongly opposed to the incumbent BJP coming to power in the state again.
AASU held protests in Dhemaji and waved black flags as Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the district and held a rally in Silapathar, reported The Sentinel. Sit-in protests were also reported from the other parts of the state such as Guwahati, Morigaon, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Tezpur and Bongaigaon. AASU accused the PM of playing with the emotions of the people of the state and ignoring burning questions.
AASU president Dipanka Kumar Nath said, “When the Centre formed the High Level Committee (HLC) on Clause 6, the government had promised to implement it in letter and spirit within one week of receipt of the report. However, no action has been taken yet.”
It is noteworthy that, on February 2, 2021, in response to a series of questions raised by Members of Parliament (MPs) Abdul Khaleque and Pradyut Bordoloi from Assam, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) gave a series of boiler-plate responses and non-answers. Khaleque and Bordoloi had raised questions about details of the Clause 6 Committee, its functioning, its recommendations and steps that had been taken to implement said recommendations.
BJP’s flip-flop on Clause 6 Committee
In February 2020, the Clause 6 Committee constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had submitted a slew of recommendations pertaining to Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards for the interests and culture of Assamese people. The 14-member high-powered Committee had been constituted in July 2019 and had been given six months to submit its report, which it did just days before the deadline. SabrangIndia had previously reported on how it appeared that the MHA was distancing itself from the Clause 6 Committee report and recommendations.
This Report of the Committee on Implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord was however not made public at that time. Then, six months later, some members of the panel including Arunachal Pradesh Advocate General Nilay Dutta and three members of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) released the report independently.
As per the report, what is key to the Committee’s recommendations is a series of amendments to Article 371 B. The report says, “The Committee is of the opinion that to give full effect to its Recommendations, as stated hereinbelow, several Constitutional and legislative amendments will be necessitated. The existing Article 371-B in the Constitution of India will need to be amended.”
SabrangIndia had reported on a meeting that was held at the residence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on September 20, 2020, in which one of the key topics of discussion was the next steps to be taken with respect to the Clause 6 committee report. It was attended by Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, State minister and North Eastern Democratic Alliance (NEDA) convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma, Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla, Joint Secretary (North-east) Satyendra Garg, and Assam Chief Secretary Kumar Sanjay Krishna, among others. They discussed the future course of action on implementation of the Clause 6 report, grant of Scheduled Tribe status to six communities, implementation of the Bodo Accord and the vital NRC issue, among others.
Speaking to media persons after the meeting, Himanta Biswa Sarma said that since the Clause 6 Committee Report has contents that may require legal amendments, the Union Home Minister has instructed the Chief Minister that the State government should have the report examined by legal experts and determine if there is any need for amendments, and then advise the Centre accordingly.
Bevy of sops and ‘developmental projects’ announced, but radio silence on CAA
State Assembly elections are due in Assam in April-May this year, and the central and state governments have left no stone unturned in wooing voters. PM Modi has visited the state thrice over the last 30 days already, this time on the pretext of inaugurating oil and gas projects. On his Jan 23 visit, he announced land allotment certificates for over 1 lakh families while addressing a rally in Sivasagar. On February 7, he visited the state to launch a road development scheme and held a rally in Dhekiajuli. He has also launched educational institutes in the state.
During all his rallies, Modi has artfully dodged the prospect of making any binding commitment to either the implementation of the recommendations of the Clause 6 committee, or the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that has been protested tooth and nail by various Assam organisations.
Instead, he has relied on his old strategy of focusing on ‘developmental’ projects and blaming previous governments for the lack thereof. At the Silapathar rally, Modi said, “Despite immense potential, previous governments treated the North Bank of Brahmaputra (in Assam) in a step-motherly manner. Connectivity, hospitals, educational institutions or industry was not a concern of these earlier governments.” Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal was also present at this rally along with Assam governor Jagdish Mukhi and Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
This is in complete contrast to an unambiguous promise by Rahul Gandhi that CAA will never be allowed in Assam. Speaking at a pre-poll rally in Shiv Sagar, Gandhi had said, “Whatever happens, the CAA will not happen. Hum do, hamare do, acchi tarah se sun lo, (CAA) nahi hoga, kabhi nahi hoga, (Us two, our’s two, listen carefully, it will not happen, it will never happen).”
The state of Assam that has its own violent history when it comes to the citizenship issue. The Assam Accord was signed in 1985 by Gandhi’s father and former Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi, after a six-year long agitation in the state that saw the killings of many student leaders who had been protesting the alleged influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrants into the state.
Assamese people have raised concerns about a change to the demography of the state due to this alleged influx. This is why they fully supported the update of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the final NRC was published on August 31, 2019. However, they see the CAA as a threat because this allows the granting of citizenship to refugees from Bangladesh. The Assam Movement was never communal, the opposition was to all “outsiders” including Bengali Hindus from Bangladesh. This is why Assam saw some of the most vehement anti-CAA protests.