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No consensus yet on definition of 'Assamese people', says Centre

No real effort was made by any government in the past to come out with the definition of the term “Assamese”. Blame it on vote-bank politics.

Published: 19th November 2019 07:57 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th November 2019 07:57 PM   |  A+A-

Assamese groups are against granting citizenship to immigrants who came after 1971

Express News Service

GUWAHATI: The Centre on Tuesday said it had constituted a high-level committee for the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord but “as on date, there is no consensus on the definition of the term Assamese people.”

Responding to a query from Assam Congress MP Abdul Khaleque, Minister of State in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy said, “The government of India has constituted a high-level committee to examine the effectiveness of action taken since 1985 to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord and suggest measures as may be appropriate to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people. As on date, there is no consensus on the definition of the term Assamese people.”

The definition of “Assamese” is imperative as Clause 6 of the Assam Accord states, “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.”

The accord was signed in 1985 between the All Assam Students’ Union and the then Rajiv Gandhi government at the end of a six-year-long bloody anti-immigrant agitation of the early 1980s.

No real effort was made by any government in the past to come out with the definition of the term “Assamese”. Blame it on vote-bank politics.

The previous Congress government had created the Assam Accord Implementation Department, which is headed by a minister. It meets periodically but what transpires there never enters the public domain.

In 2015, following consultations with 53 organisations, former Assam Assembly Speaker Pranab Gogoi had suggested in the Assembly that the year 1951 be taken as the basis for the definition of “Assamese”. What he essentially meant was that people who settled in the state before 1951 will be viewed as Assamese.

The then ruling Congress and minority-based All India United Democratic Front had raised objections stating that the Speaker had not consulted the legislators and political parties to firm up the definition. However, parties such as the Asom Gana Parishad, BJP and Bodoland People’s Front had backed the Speaker’s suggestion. They insisted it be treated as a recommendation of the House.

The Narendra Modi government had constituted the high-level committee for the implementation of Clause 6 ostensibly to douse the flames of anger in Assam vis-à-vis the protests against Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 which seeks to grant Indian citizenship to immigrants belonging to six “persecuted” non-Muslim communities from Bangladesh besides Pakistan and Afghanistan who migrated till December 31, 2014.

A few months ago, the Clause 6 committee had put up ads in newspapers seeking people’s suggestions on the terms Assamese, indigenous Assamese and indigenous tribals. However, some organisations expressed protests. They said the term in Clause 6 of the Assam Accord is “Assamese” and it should not be tweaked.

A member of the committee told Express they were seeking the views of all and sundry.

“We are meeting various stakeholders to seek their suggestions. Currently, the centre of our discussions is on constitutional safeguards which the Assamese should get,” said All Assam Students’ Union general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi, who is also a member of the committee.

“We will come out with the definition of the term Assamese in due course. It won’t take much time,” he felt.



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