What's Ailing Assam? Part II


The 42nd amendment to the constitution enacted during the emergency in 1976, also amended Preamble and changed the description of India from "sovereign democratic republic" to a "sovereign, socialist secular democratic republic", and also changed the words "unity of the nation" to "unity and integrity of the nation".

Guna Gogoi, State President of regional Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), comments on the above amendment in context of Assam, "In Assam, we don't have a state religion and that is what the people of Assam want. Equality of status was granted to Assam and so there is a conflict of interest with the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016."

To garner a well-rounded opinion, we spoke to Dr. Kaustubh Deka, professor of political science at Dibrugarh University, as well as the state president of the Liberal Democratic Party of Assam to understand the rationale of the amendment to the Citizenship Bill. [Dr. Deka on the video coverage]

What says the other camp?
"The Assamese-speaking people in Assam are only 48% of the total population. If you allow these migrants to come to Assam uninhibited they will outnumber the Assamese-speaking people. The NRC is being updated basis the bill that BJP is trying to pass and that is a gross violation of the Assam Accord and despite rejection by the entire congress representation from Assam in parliament by staging a walk out. On January 31, 2019, during the budget session if the bill is raised again, there will be opposition to it again."

The bill is expected to be taken up for passing in the ongoing Budget Session of Parliament due to end on February 13. Shiv Sena Member of Parliament (MP) Sanjay Raut told the press on February 6, 2019, that his party would vote against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in the Rajya Sabha when it is taken up for passing, that increases the numbers against BJP. The same day there was a demonstration from parliamentarians from the northeastern states outside the Parliament. Rajya Sabha was adjourned till 2 pm as Congress members pressed for the resignation of the Home Minister on the NRC issue.

Around 31,313 immigrants would stand to immediately benefit from the proposed amendment, IB Director Rajiv Jain said during his deposition to the JPC. (Source: MoneyControl.com on 21 Jan 2019).

How would the bill give BJP electoral advantage?
Further in conversation with Mr. Guna Gogoi we learnt that 'BJP's vote bank is the Bengali-dominated Assam area or Bengali-dominated West Bengal belt, which is about 42-MP constituency and in East Bihar which has a 21-MP constituency. Permanency and citizenship to the Bengali-speaking people in Assam is BJP's incentive or election inducement. They are also targeting all of the 65 constituencies in West Bengal and East Bihar.

Do they not risk losing the Assamese-speaking Assam votes?
Mr. Gogoi continues, "they wanted to create a vote bank for the Barak valley. Assamese population fears that they will be outnumbered in their own place if the influx continues.

[There are two valleys in Assam - Brahmaputra valley and Barak valley, while the former is Assamese-speaking dominant the latter has Bengali as the popular language.]

Is conservation of language and ethnicity the major thorn in the side of Assam?
Mr. Gogoi explains, 'even people who are demanding a tribal statehood for Assam are opposing this amendment bill. They want the bill scrapped. If the bill is implemented despite all opposition, it will undoubtedly bring back the militancy situation of 1970s. Assam lost approximately 1000 lives in the insurgency period during 1970s and 80s. Can the country afford another Assam Agitation or another mass turbulence. The ethnic groups of Assam are experiencing a gross betrayal of their sentiments after repeated acknowledgment and assurance of safeguarding their interests.

Does Tribal Statehood mark the end of all troubles?
Though there is a lot of ambiguity around the Tribal statehood for Assam what is more important is whether conferring a tribal statehood would safeguard the ethnicity, identity and cultural interests of the tribes of Assam. What does it do apart from reserving 40 seats in the parliament for the ethnic people? Mr. Gogoi explains, 'BJP has not yet formulated a module. Assam Accord Article 6 talks about assigning ST status to 6 communities of Assam, but they have not made any light of how they will implement the proposal as it has not even been drafted yet.

There are several questions hounding the NE
As it brings back the nightmarish memories of the involuntary genocide of 1980s, Assam is asking if the implementation of the bill will wipe out an entire ethnicity after the long struggle in the last century. If the Rajya Sabha defeats the bill, will BJP oppress further by challenging it in an ordinance.

Ever since the bill was passed in Lok Sabha on January 8, 2019, Assam a witnessed series of bandhs, blockades and protests across the state and in the capital. There have been nude protests and demonstration of black flags to BJP leaders. There has been couple of incidents of scuffles in Tinsukia and Nalbari. Why is the middle ground so hard to achieve?

In our next part of 'What's Ailing Assam?' we focus on the role of Student's Unions in the shaping of Assam.

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