In the late 1970s, an extraordinary student movement had taken root in Assamese soil. The Mangaldoi constituency, which was voting in a bypoll after the death of its MP Hiralal Patwari, was under the spotlight. The seat, with a very high concentration of immigrants from East Bengal, drew national attention due to a sudden rise in the number of voters compared to the previous election two years earlier. Even as reports suggested a large-scale immigration from Bangladesh into the state, on June 8, 1979, the All Assam Students Union went on a 12-hour general strike demanding the ‘detention, disenfranchisement and deportation’ of all foreigners. What followed in the next few months and years was a spree of protest movements, several rounds of negotiations with the government and ultimately the signing of the Assam accord in 1985 that listed down a number of measures to be taken for the state to deal with the issue of immigration.
It has taken 33 years for this crucial piece of the Assam Accord to finally fall into place. On Monday, when the final draft of the National Register of Citizens was released, close to 40 lakh residents of Assam were disappointed to find their names missing from the list. With the Opposition, especially West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee slamming the move, BJP president Amit Shah reminded everyone that the accord was signed in 1985 under the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government.
“Rajiv Gandhi signed the Assam Accord in 1985, which was similar to NRC. They did not have the courage to implement it, we did,” he said in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
What is the Assam Accord?
The Assam Accord of 1985 began with the assurance that the “government has all along been most anxious to find a satisfactory resolution to the problem of foreigners in Assam.” Consequently, it put together a list of resolutions to be implemented in order to solve the immigration issue in Assam.
As per the accord, all people who came to Assam prior to January 1, 1966, would be given citizenship. Those who moved in between January 1, 1966, and March 24, 1971, would be “detected in accordance with the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order 1964”. Their names would be deleted from the electoral rolls and they would remain disenfranchised for a period of 10 years. Lastly, the accord provided a resolution to the case of those who entered Indian borders after March 24, 1971.
“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,” said the accord.
The signing of the accord ensured that the agitation came to an end. However, several clauses mentioned in it are yet to be implemented, and that in turn has kept the issue burning along ethnic, religious and geographical lines for the last three decades.
Source – The Indian Express