New Delhi: After an aborted attempt, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has yet again constituted a ‘high-level’ committee to look into fulfilling Clause 6 of the Assam Accord.
The Accord was signed in 1985 between the Rajiv Gandhi government and the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) to end the six-year-long anti-foreigner movement in the northeastern state bordering Bangladesh. Clause 6 of the Accord says that “Assamese people” would be granted “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate” to “protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage.”
Earlier, on January 4, the home ministry had announced forming a ‘high-level’ committee. This keeping in mind the upcoming general elections and the vociferous agitation against the Modi government’s attempt to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955, in order to award Indian citizenship to undocumented Hindu Bangladeshis residing in Assam – and elsewhere – as it would go against the Accord
The nine-member committee, notified on January 7, was to be headed by retired Union secretary M.P. Bezbaruah.
However, in less than a week’s time, six of the nine members refused to be a part of it, broadly terming it in the local media as an enticement to douse the agitation against the Bill without any sincere intent to implement the Accord.
Aside from Bezbaruah, the committee included noted Guwahati-based journalist Dhiren Bezbaruah, writers Nagen Saikia and Rongbong Terang, educationist Mukunda Rajbongshi, retired bureaucrat Subash Das, advocate general of Assam Ramesh Borpatragohain and a representative of AASU as members. Satyendra Garg, the joint secretary (northeast) at the MHA, was to represent the Central government.
The new committee announced on July 17 comprises 13 members and is to be headed by retired justice of the Gauhati high court, Biplab Kumar Sharma.
The new committee has two members who were a part of the earlier one as well – Ramesh Borpatragohain and Subhash Das. The other new members are Arunachal Pradesh advocate general Niloy Dutta, retired IPS officer Pallav Bhattacharya, retired professor Srishtidhar Dutta, author-columnist Sumanta Chaliha, professor Jaikanta Sharma, journalist Wasbir Hussain, besides Samujjal Bhattacharya, Dipanka Nath and Lurinjyoti Gogoi, the top leadership of AASU.
The committee, to be serviced by the northeast division of the MHA through Garg, is to submit its report within six months of its notification.
According to a report in Assam Tribune, the mandate of the committee is to examine the effectiveness of actions taken since 1985 to implement Clause 6 of the Accord, hold discussions with a slew of stakeholders, “including social organisations, legal and constitutional experts, eminent persons from the fields of art, culture and literature, conservationists, economists, linguists and sociologists” to determine the appropriate level of reservation of seats in the state assembly and local bodies for the “Assamese people”.
The news report said: “The committee will also suggest measures to be taken to protect the Assamese and other indigenous languages of Assam” besides recommending “the appropriate level of reservation in employment under the government of Assam for the Assamese people.”
AASU advisor Samujjal Bhattacharjee, in an interview to The Wire in 2018, defined the “Assamese people” as “Axomiya, Khilonjia (indigenous).” He said, after consultation with 28 organisations representing various communities, the tribal literary bodies felt that “it should be khilonjia axomiya and khilonjia janajati. It is more specific, no harm.”
These bodies were also part of a consultation with a committee led by former assembly speaker Pranab Gogoi to define the term.
AASU has been batting for “constitutional safeguards” to people of the state on the basis of NRC, 1951.