Millennium Post

Assam burns, govt fiddles

As the 66th Independence Day was celebrated, parts of Assam reeled under the consequences of a demographic shift that challenges that very independence.

Decades of illegal migration from erstwhile East Pakistan, later Bangladesh, into Assam eventually led to the bloody anti-foreigner agitation in 1983 in which at least 2,000 people were hacked to death in a place called Nellie, a few hours from Guwahati. Those killed were Muslims, accused of being illegal migrants and occupants of land that belonged to Lalung tribals. The agitation culminated in the Assam Accord signed by the central government and representatives of All Assam Students Union (AASU), which was largely an economic package. The Illegal Migration Determination by Tribunal (IMDT) Act,  enacted by the ruling Congress in 1983, replacing the Foreigner’s Act of 1946, was clearly driven by the political agenda of vote banks. It virtually regularised illegal migrants from Bangladesh who migrated into India up to March 1971 and even beyond. Peace was bought through a financial package on the one hand, and ensuring that the status-quo prevailed in terms of accepting Bangladeshis who migrated before March 1971 as Indian citizens on the other. The vote bank was saved. The constitutionality of an accord between a students union and the central government was never questioned.

This act made it almost impossible for a Bangladeshi migrant to be deported from Assam. Under the act, the onus of establishing nationality rested not on the illegal migrant, not on the government,but on an individual who had to pay a fee to lodge a complaint to a stipulated jurisdiction. It took 22 years for the Supreme Court to repeal IMDT act as un-constitutional in 2005. Initiated by AASU, the agitation produced a political party called Asom Gana Pratishad (AGP), and an armed wing called United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which, by late 1980s had penetrated all departments of the state government and had developed into a deadly menace, extorting money and killing with impunity. In late November 1990, when president’s rule was promulgated and the army launched against it, its boss, Paresh Barua and close cohorts fled to Bangladesh, thereby betraying that very cause. Barua and gang soon came under the strong grip of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) detachment in Bangladesh. The ULFA escapees not only became conduits for the ISI to enter India ’s northeast region to establish contacts with other violent groups there, but also became its great assets for anti-India activities. ULFA became an effective tool of ISI for pursuing its aim of inducting and settling illegal Bangladeshi migrants in various parts into Assam, raising new
and controlling old ones and trying to convert ethnic Assamese Muslims to fundamentalism, creating communal tension, circulating fake Indian currency, trafficking arms and narcotics, sabotaging installations. Bodoland comprises the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous Districts (BTAD), which includes parts of Kokrajhar, Baksa, Chirang and Udalguri districts. Administered by the autonomous Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), this territory came into existence since 10 February 2003, when the BTC Accord was signed between the Assam government, the Union government and the Bodo Liberation Tigers on. Recognised as a plains tribe in the 6th schedule of the Indian Constitution. Udalguri and Kokrajhar are considered the centre of Bodoland with Kokrajhar selected as its capital.

According to news reports, the recent July-August 2012 riots between Bodos and non-Bodos/non-Assamese in Kokrajhar, being referred to as ‘Bagladeshis/Mians from Bangladesh’ and its neighbouring districts have left 77 killed and about 3,78,045 people rendered homeless. This being an official figure, no one knows how many more people have taken shelter in the safe zones. Out of the displaced, 2,66,700 are Muslims and 111,345 are Bodos. They are in 235 relief camps spread across four districts of the state. According to news reports and visuals from networks, many of these camps are a living hell.  

It is also reported that the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) youth have made it clear that they do not want the Bengali Muslims/ ‘miyans’/‘Bangladeshis’ back in their districts. The Bodo movement and the demand for Bodoland was all because of dispossession of tribal land by non-Bodos, mostly Bengali and Assamese settlers.

The demand also included recognition of their language and culture. In 1988 that the National Democratic Front of Bodoland was formed for the purpose of launching a guerilla war against New Delhi. Pramod Boro, President of All Bodo Students Union, quoted in media said: ‘It is very clear. A genuine Indian citizen has every right to stay where they want to. But out of the people in the camps are also illegal migrants. They have taken advantage of the situation, of the weakness in law.’

Anil Bhat is a defence and stratergic analyst.
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