The government-appointed high-level committee for implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord suffered a setback after at least three chosen individuals walked out of it, days after the powerful All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) said it would not send a representative.
Nagen Saikia and Rongbong Terang, both former presidents of Assam Sahitya Sabha, and educationist Mukunda Rajbangshi told The Indian Express Friday that they have decided to stay out of the committee.
The high-level committee was notified by the MHA on January 5 to work towards implementation of Clause 6, and pitched as a step towards protecting the interests of the Assamese community in terms of reservation of Assembly seats, protection of Assamese and other indigenous languages, and job reservations.
Clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord says, “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”
Resignations part of trend
Opposition to the Citizenship Bill is growing in the North East and the resignations are the latest manifestation.Political opposition from its own allies in four N-E state is slowly snowballing into a public movement, a phenomenon the BJP is observing but not heeding to.
The notification of the nine-member committee, however, came days before the BJP-led central government passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in Lok Sabha, leading to a series of protests and demonstrations across Assam. The Bill is seen as a violation of the Assam Accord by large sections of the Assamese society.
When contacted, Saikia said, “I have written to the joint secretary of the MHA expressing my decision to stay out of the committee. I have written that I oppose the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and that it is against the Constitution of India and poses a threat to Assamese culture and identity. When the Bill violates Clause 5 of the Assam Accord, how can we work towards implementation of Clause 6.”
Clause 5 of the Assam Accord primarily says that any person who came into Assam after midnight of March 24, 1971, would be identified as a foreigner and deported.
The Citizenship Bill essentially proposes to make minority (non-Muslim) immigrants from three neighbouring countries — Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan — eligible for Indian citizenship with a cut-off date of December 31, 2014, via comparatively relaxed norms.
Rajbangshi told The Indian Express it was “meaningless” to implement Clause 6 when the Assam Accord was violated by the Bill. “When you are violating Clause 5 through the Bill, what good does it do to implement Clause 6. Moreover, there is the election to be held in a few months. If they (the BJP) do not return to power, then what happens to the committee, we do not know.”
Terang, however, said he decided to opt out because he felt the “representation of tribals in the committee was not adequate”. “I am the only tribal representative in the Committee and may not be able to succinctly voice the concerns of so many different ethnic communities of the state. So I have walked out as of now,” Terang said. Asked about the Bill, Terang declined to comment.
The committee was to be headed by retired IAS officer M P Bezbarauah and included retired IAS officer Subhash Das, Nagen Saikia and Rongbong Terang, former editor of The Sentinel Dhiren Bezbaruah, Mukunda Rajbangshi and Advocate General of Assam Ramesh Borpatragohain. It also includes an MHA joint secretary and has one position for an AASU representative.
Earlier, stating that AASU would not nominate a representative to the committee, AASU advisor Samujjal Bhattacharya had said it was “meaningless” to send a representative because the BJP government “is violating Clause 5 of the Assam Accord” by bringing the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.