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Sarbananda Sonowal’s Two Headaches- Contentious CAA, And Clause 6 Of The Assam Accord

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Recently, four members of the High level committee constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs for Implementation of clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord which ended the 6 year long “Assam movement , released to the press at Guwahati the main contents of the Report the Committee submitted to the Govt of India about five months ago.

This came as a surprise as it is violative of the basic norm that once submitted to the Authority- Union Home Ministry in this case which constituted the Committee, it is up to the latter to decide further course of action. The members who released the report obviously were exasperated due to what they consider inordinate delay in the Centre’s response to the Report contrary to the assurance given to the committee at the time of its Constitution.

Even a cursory reading of clause 6( c) of the Accord as reproduced below shows that its main object was to to provide some basis for the Assam movement leadership to terminate the agitation to join electoral politics which it did ; and for this shelving the “foreign nationals issue” with some assurances made sense even when the signatories of the Accord were certainly aware of the difficulty of implementation of the same.

Clause 6(c). Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards,as may be appropriate shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social and linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”. It may be recalled that even after decades of deliberation it was not possible for the government of Assam to work out an agreed definition of the term Assamese for two reasons: demographic changes caused by introduction of Tea, jute and mining and the fact that there is an East Bengal part of Assam as districts of Barak valley and undivided Goalpara were” transferred” to Assam when it was carved out of Bengal Presidency in 1874. It is also pertinent to note that matters such as protection of cultural and linguistic identity and heritage are not wholly within the domain of state as they require concerted social action by the concerned groups and over a long period. In this background the Center has to give a hard look at the Constitutional validity of the recommendations especially the
definition of Assamese with 1951 as the cut off point and the elaborate scheme of reservation of at least 80% of seats in the State Legislature and jobs under the state for “the indigenous” communities as per the criteria suggested by the Committee .

Beyond doubt, this is the beginning of a new problem other than the Citizenship Amendment Act between the ruling BJP and a All Assam Students Union (AASU) whose tacit support enabled BJP to win 2016 elections in Assam and form the Government in coalition with AGP- Asom Gana Parishad which emerged as the political wing of the AASU led anti foreigners movement. No wonder in a statement issued on 11th Aug Sarbananda Sonowal, Chief Minister Assam described the disclosure of the report ” very unfortunate”. He was President of AASU from 1992 to 1999.

It will be interesting to see how the Centre acts on this Report as its recommendations such as the introduction of the Inner Line Permit system, residency criteria, 80%plus reservation in the Legislature ,if accepted fully would accord Assam a status more ” special” than what was allowed to Jammu and Kashmir under the Articles 370 and 35 A of the Constitution.

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