Anti-Foreigners Movement in Assam
As many as 855 young boys and girls, all members of the All Assam Students Union (AASU), lost their lives in the actions by security forces to quell the peaceful and democratic movement of the people to protest the unabated and illegal immigration from Bangladesh during the AASU led Anti-Foreigners movement from 1979-1985. As a homage to their supreme sacrifice every year the AASU observes December 10th,the day in 1979 when 16-year-old Khogeswor Talukdar from Barpeta District became the first martyr of the Assam movement, as martyr’s day. But it is tragic that while so many young lives were callously extinguished while seeking resolution to a genuine problem,even today the problem itself remains a burning issue unresolved and unabated.
Politicisation of the issue is mainly responsible for the problem remaining unresolved. Politically over 32 per cent or 40 seats out of the 126 Assembly constituencies in Assam are dominated by Bangladeshi immigrants. Alienating this powerful vote bank is akin to committing political suicide at the hustings.Therefore, all political parties and the governments led by them both at the Centre and the State, whether of the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) or the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), despite being fully aware of the gravity of the problem have chosen to follow a policy of political expediency.
Significantly in the aftermath of the six-year-long Assam movement to overcome this lack of political will to solve the problem among the established national political parties, the AGP, a regional political party, formed with overwhelming public support. The AGP provided a political platform to the then young student leaders to get elected, formed the government and directly tackle the aliens issue by implementing the provisions of the Assam Accord signed on 15th August 1985 by them with the Union Government led by then Prime Minister late Rajiv Gandhi. However, what is distressing is the fact that even though the AGP formed the government twice, it did little to solve the problem and to ensure that their erstwhile young companions martyrdom did not go in vain. That’s why India is recognised as the world’s largest thriving democracy, for a majority of Indians democracy exists only on paper.
The six-year-long Assam agitation to detect, delete and deport illegal immigrants was conducted in the best of democratic traditions according to Gandhian principles. It concluded with the signing of The Assam Accord that laid down the basic principles and provisions to resolve the vexed problem. However, in over a quarter of a century since then, except for some of the provisions, the Accord has remained unimplemented. Pertinently three vital clauses of the Accord; clause 5 regarding detecting, deleting and deporting the post March 25th 1971 stream of illegal immigrants, clause 6 providing constitutional safeguards to the indigenous people of Assam and clause 9 concerning the sealing and securing of the international border to stop further influx, have remained on paper. Had the Assam Accord been implemented in letter and spirit then in the interim period Assam would not have been plagued by unrest, insurgency would not have taken root and sprouted new ones across the State and in some of its neighbours.
The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the population census reports of Assam. In 1901, the population of undivided Assam was 33 lakh. In 2001, it stood at 266.38 lakh. Interestingly during the period 1981-2001 the population increased from 162 lakh to 266.38 lakh. An explosion of more than 100 lakh despite the decadal growth rate declining from 23.50 per cent in 1981-1991 to 18.85 per cent in 1991-2001 due to the success of family planning programmes in the state. What is even more revealing is the population census report published by the Bangladesh Government in 1996 which found eight million (eighty lakh) people missing or unaccounted for. Now according to the 2011 census Assam’s population is 3.11 crore.
The demographic upheaval in Assam has had ominous implications for the indigenous people politically, socially and economically. Over the decades immigrant groups have consolidated their position and become increasingly assertive. Lakhs have been enrolled as voters. All attempts to correct the electoral rolls have met with stiff resistance. The violent protests that stopped the updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the minority stronghold of Barpeta in 2010 is a manifestation of their growing clout. Socially, increasing pressure on land has brought them in direct conflict with the local and ethnic communities resulting in bloody clashes. Economically the alarming growth in population is putting stress on the limited resources of the state and also nullifying the benefits accruing from development projects. The fear of being swamped by the aliens is also responsible for the increasing belligerence of the ethnic tribes often leading to militancy. Security concerns are also increasing as it has come to be known that fundamentalist groups are active in the immigrant areas and at the behest of outside forces are encouraging jehadi elements.With Islamic terrorism a global reality it is dangerous to continue ignoring the threat posed by such elements.
Realising the threat and to expedite the process of detection, deletion and deportation, in 2005, the Supreme Court repealed the controversial Illegal Migrants Determination by Tribunals Act (IMDT) 1983 and directed the government to detect and deport illegal immigrants under the Foreigners Act 1946. However under the plea of harassment of minorities under the Foreigners Act, the government has taken recourse to articles 3.1(a) and 3.1(b) of the Citizenship Act which provides citizenship rights to illegal migrants and their descendants who have entered the country till 2004.
What was once considered as the parochialism and paranoia of the Assamese people has today become a threat in some other states of the Indian Union like West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and even Delhi. Moreover according to intelligence sources there is no trace of approximately 12 lakh Bangladeshis who entered various parts of the country with valid documents. What kind of secularism is this that compels a democratically elected government to renege on its commitments to its citizens to protect illegal immigrants just because they are from the minority community? Kudos are due to those young citizens who gave up their lives over 25 years ago to save the nation from this looming threat.Will the government now wake up to this inherent danger and instead of obstructing the Assam Accord implement it in letter and spirit so that the supreme sacrifice made by so many of its young citizens does not go in vain.