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Explained: What is the Assam Accord that is fueling protests in the state?

There is deep anxiety among people that with the CAB paving the road to easy citizenship for illegal immigrants from Bangladesh as long as they were not Muslim, Assam will be overrun by aliens.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 13, 2019 7:36:02 am
Explained: What is the Assam Accord that is fueling the ongoing protests in the state? The Memorandum of Settlement on the Assam problem was signed by the central government and the leaders of the Assam movement at the residence of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on August 15, 1985. (Archive)

The debate on the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) passed by Parliament on Wednesday (December 11) has repeatedly flagged the alleged violation of the Assam Accord by the new law. The Assam Accord was a Memorandum of Settlement signed by the Governments of India and Assam, and the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) in New Delhi on August 15, 1985.

The signing of the Accord led to the conclusion of a six-year agitation that was launched by AASU in 1979, demanding the identification and deportation of illegal immigrants.

Explained: Background in which Assam Accord was signed

The Memorandum of Settlement began with a summary of the context of its signing.

It said all signatories have been “most anxious to find a satisfactory solution to the problem of foreigners in Assam”, and that AASU had, through a memorandum dated February 2, 1980, conveyed to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi its “profound sense of apprehensions regarding the continuing influx of foreign nationals into Assam and the fear about adverse effects upon the political, social, culture and economic life of the State”.

Indira began a dialogue with the AASU/AAGSP, and talks were held at the levels of the PM and Home Minister during 1980-83. Formal discussions resumed in March 1985, when Rajiv Gandhi was PM. Earlier, several rounds of informal talks had been held in 1984.

The Accord was finally signed later in 1985, “keeping all aspects of the problem including constitutional and legal provisions, international agreements, national commitments and humanitarian considerations”.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Home Minister S.B. Chavan with a delegation of Assam Gan Parishad leader headed by Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Bhrigu Kumar Phukan (Archive)

What was agreed upon in the Assam Accord?

At the heart of the Accord was the “Foreigners Issue” (Clause 5), and “Safeguards and Economic Development” (Clauses 6 and 7). There were some “Other Issues” (Clauses 8-12), and a section on “Restoration of Normalcy” (Clauses 13 and 14).

The Home Ministry was the nodal Ministry for the implementation of the Accord. In 1986, a new Department was set up in the Government of Assam, called “Implementation of Assam Accord Department”, to implement the various clauses of the Memorandum of Settlement.

On its website, the Assam government says the Implementation of Assam Accord Department monitors “the works implementing under various clauses of the Assam Accord which is executed by different Department(s)/Organization(s) as entrusted by the Government of India as well as the Govt. of Assam”, and “liaises with All Assam Students’ Union and the different Department(s)/Organization(s) of the Government of India and Government of Assam involved in the process of implementation of the clauses of Assam Accord”.

What was agreed upon with regard to the “foreigners’ issue”?

It was agreed that “for purposes of detection and deletion of foreigners, 1.1.1966 shall be the base data and year”, and that “all persons who came to Assam prior to 1.1.1966, including those amongst them whose names appeared on the electoral rolls used in 1967 elections shall be regularised”.

Foreigners who “came to Assam after 1.1.1966 (inclusive) and upto 24th March, 1971 shall be detected in accordance with the provisions of The Foreigners Act, 1946, and The Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964”, and their names “will be deleted from the electoral rolls in force”.

“Such persons”, it was agreed, “will be required to register themselves before the Registration Officers of the respective districts in accordance with the provisions of The Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939, and The Registration of Foreigners Rules, 1939”.

While, “On the expiry of a period of ten years following the date of detection, the names of all such persons which have been deleted from the electoral rolls shall be restored”, “all persons who were expelled earlier, but have since reentered illegally into Assam shall be expelled”.

Under Clause 5.8, “Foreigners who came to Assam on or after March 25, 1971 shall continue to be detected, deleted and practical steps shall be taken to expel such foreigners.”

What does the much discussed Clause 6 of the Accord say?

Clause 6 deals with safeguards for the Assamese people.

It reads: “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the culture, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”

The government has been citing this clause to allay protests in the state. There is deep anxiety among people that with the CAB paving the road to easy citizenship for illegal immigrants from Bangladesh as long as they were not Muslim, Assam will be overrun by aliens.

On Thursday (December 12), Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted on Twitter: “I want to assure my brothers and sisters of Assam that they have nothing to worry after the passing of #CAB. I want to assure them — no one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow… The Central Government and I are totally committed to constitutionally safeguard the political, linguistic, cultural and land rights of the Assamese people as per the spirit of Clause 6.”

Protestors participate in a torch light procession to protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Guwahati Thursday, Dec.5, 2019.  (AP Photo)

The Accord also underlined the government’s “commitment for the speedy all-round economic development of Assam, so as to improve the standard of living of the people”, with special emphasis on “education and science and technology through establishment of national institutions”.

Why is the Assam Accord so important to the state and its people?

The Assam Accord brought closure to a phase of great violence and anxiety in the modern history of Assam. The agitation was led by the youth, who saw a direct threat to their future from the illegal influx of foreigners into the state.

One of the top leaders of the agitation and a signatory to the Accord, Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, went on to become Chief Minister, and the other, Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, a Minister in the state government. The current Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal is, like Mahanta, a former president of AASU.

The government of Assam describes the Assam movement as “historic”, and “one of the famous movements in post-colonial India mainly led by students of Assam”.

It says that during the “six long years of the historic movement… 855 (later on 860, as submitted by AASU) people sacrificed their lives in the hope of an ‘Infiltration Free Assam'”.

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