From Ashis Biswas
KOLKATA: Stronger employment guarantees for locals, greater control over natural resources and disenfranchisement of Bangladeshi migrants — these are among steps New Delhi may consider implementing in Assam, in a proposed new agreement with the pro-talk Arabindra Rajkhowa faction of the ULFA.
The last meeting between the Union Home Ministry spokesmen and pro-talk ULFA leaders, who do not insist on the discussion of Assam’s sovereignty as a pre-condition for talks, was held in the national capital in April
In the 1985 Assam Accord, there was a provision for the disenfranchisement of Bangladeshi migrants who had come to Assam between 1965 to 1971 for 10 years. Those arriving after March 31, 1971 were not to be treated as Indian citizens. Post 1985, accord, both the Centre and the state did not find it easy to implement the provisions agreed on. Home Ministry circles pointed to the difficulties involved in the process of updating the National Register for Citizens (NRC) especially in the minority-dominated districts.
It may be easier to allow the state government to exercise more control over the use of natural resources like oil. The amount advanced as royalties may be suitably increased, against a backdrop of local demands that oil pricings be aligned with international market rates. The revenues thus generated could be used to drive more dynamic economic development of the state. Similarly, to deal with unemployment guarantees and special provisions for Assamese citizens could be considered.
Delhi-based observers report that the Centre may thus agree more easily to the economic demand, a major feature of the 30-point agenda put forward by the Rajkhowa group. However, they were less certain as to how the main demand, providing a stronger protection for the identity of “the sons of soil (bhumiputras)” could be met. The post 1985 administrative experience in this regards was not very positive in some areas of Assam.
Those days, four of Assam’s districts were close to having a Muslim majority, now seven belong to that category. Denying people citizenship rights or disenfranchising people who have been living in the state for years together but lack proper citizenship documents, may prove more difficult than it appears .
In particular the outcome of any such move may prove disastrous for the ruling Cong(I) party. The Congress (I) has already lost a major part of its minority support with the formation some years ago of the Assam United Democratic Front (Now All India United Democratic Front), under the leadership of Dhubri MP Mr. Badruddin Ajmal.
AIUDF circles have reacted strongly to media reports on the progress of the talks between the Rajkhowa group and the centre, which it monitors closely. Their initial reaction is one of surprise: how can any government propose to disenfranchise the same group of people, who may have arrived in Assam between 1965 to 1971, twice during their lifetime? Also, if the proviso could not be implemented in the past, how was it going to be any different this time?
Minority leader and lawyer H.R.A Choudhury also indicated that any such proposed move would be legally untenable.
It remains to be seen how the developing imbroglio between the Centre and the pro-talk ULFA faction is handled. (IPA)