“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you must see the world.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Following serious debates building around the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the Centre with an aim to appease the indigenous people of Assam has approved the setting up of a High Level Committee for supervising the implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord till date. The Cabinet will also discuss the measures that are to be taken to protect Assamese and other indigenous linguistic groups of Assam and other measures which are needed to protect, preserve and promote the cultural and linguistic heritage of Assamese people. The Union Minister also announced that the Cabinet has approved the establishment of Bodo Museum-cum-language and cultural study centre as well as the modernisation of the existing All India Radio Centre and Doordarshan Kendra at Kokrajhar. The Union cabinet’s decision to suggest constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards as envisaged in Clause 6 of the Assam Accord is definitely a very welcome move. The Centre decision assumes significance especially because of its timing – just one day before the Joint Parliamentary Committee submitted its report recommending passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a step towards making an amendment to a Himalayan blunder committed during the Partition. The move, which was announced ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to Silchar, comes at a time when the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is being updated and the Centre is trying to introduce a contentious Bill on citizenship.
The moot question is – why is Clause 6 significant, especially in the context of the NRC and the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016? Groups in Assam demanding constitutional safeguards for the ‘Assamese people’ are wary of the intentions behind the Centre’s move to form a high-level committee to implement the Assam Accord signed in 1985. Assam Accord is a tripartite agreement (between Assam government, Centre and AASU). They cannot take a unilateral decision without discussing it with AASU. There is no denying that the Centre’s proposed move is aimed at countering the protest against the Centre’s move regarding tabling and passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. The Home Ministry said the committee would examine the effectiveness of actions since 1985 to implement Clause 6. It would hold discussions with all the stakeholders and assess the quantum of reservation of seats in the Assembly and local bodies for Assamese people. It will also assess the steps required to protect Assamese and other indigenous languages of Assam, reservation in state government jobs, and other measures. It has been nearly 34 years that the Assam Accord for detection and deportation of illegal migrants was signed, and it is only after so many years the Centre felt that Clauses 6 of the Accord remained unimplemented.
What worked behind the BJP-led government at the Centre to suddenly take such a decision is very clear before the people of Assam. It remains to be seen what the committee does. There has been demand for implementation of the Assam Accord in toto. But so far not a single foreigner has been identified and constitutional safeguards have not been provided to the indigenous people. Is the BJP government at the Centre trying to hoodwink the people of Assam by constituting the high-level committee on Clause 6? Only time will tell.