Will Clause 6 finally land up in corridors of judiciary?

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By: Talmizur  Rahman

During the last few years of Congress rule in Assam with Tarun Gogoi as the Chief Minister, several bodies or individuals posing as experts informally forwarded definitions of the highly vexed term “Assamese people” as envisaged in Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. The woe of Assam, particularly of the people who genuinely deserve to be termed Assamese people and accordingly are entitled to constitutional safeguards under the Assam Accord lies in the contemptuous disregard that the AGP and the Congress governments displayed towards Clause 6 of the Accord since 1986. In the fitness of things, a relatively acceptable definition of the term “Assamese people” should have been ironed out in the first decade or so since the signing of the Assam Accord. Unfortunately, for three long decades both the AGP and the Congress refused to accord any importance to the said Clause. The result being that today the said definition has to be evolved in the backdrop of a political and cultural scenario apparently laced with much more complication, confusion and steeped in lot more controversies than ever before. Even a common sense approach may lead to the assertion that evolving a fair and just definition of the term “Assamese people” today may prove to be as cumbersome and superincumbent a task as the mythological churning of the ocean.

It would indeed be interesting to note as to how the high-level committee constituted by the state government and approved by the Centre to deal with Clause 6 would work out a definition of “Assamese people”. A common sense feeling is that such a Herculean exercise, plagued with confusion, contradiction and possible political diktat from the ruling dispensation, should be open to public debate and hearing for a proper grasp of the public pulse if a reasonably acceptable definition of the term is to be arrived at. It is not quite clear if the committee has adopted any such approach in its exercise towards deriving a definition of the term “Assamese people”.  However, as per some media reports the committee is taking into consideration the suggestions received from prominent persons and different organisations while formulating its recommendations.”

Be that as it may, the recommendations to be made by the committee may broadly be classified into two categories. In the first category should be the all important definition of “Assamese people” and the second category should include the constitutional safeguards to be awarded to the “Assamese people”.

However, one may be of the view that the high-level committee on Clause 6 may not be totally free of the Centre’s control in its functioning. In normal practice a committee assigned with the task of submitting a report on a particular issue does the same independently on its own with the government preferring to keep aloof. However, it is indeed strange that a 4-member delegation of the Committee recently met the Union Home Minister when the latter “made a few suggestions to the committee, which have been duly recorded.” The general practice is for the government to accept a report submitted by a committee or to accept the same partially while making some changes or to reject the same fully. Interestingly that does not appear to be the case in the instant case as the committee and the Centre are engaged in close contact and discussion over the issue so much so that the Union Home Minister even makes ‘suggestions’ to the Clause 6 panel on the recommendations to be made to the Centre. May one ask if the Union Home Minister is also the decision making factor of the Committee. Further, the committee is “likely to hold discussions with the Attorney General of India before finalising its report.” Such developments and approach as have appeared in the media certainly raises the question as to how independently could the committee be exercising its role and if the Centre’s grip over the committee is absolute. For legal opinion, the committee with three legal experts in it could have obtained advice from a battery of legal luminaries to be independently selected and engaged by it if politically untempered opinions are to be sought.

Meanwhile, the quality and acceptability of the definition of “Assamese people” that the high level committee may finally forward may perchance be conceived from the manner in which the Centre, seemingly displaying contemptuous disregard towards the roar of the people of Assam against CAA, laid down a red carpet for making Hindu Bangladeshis Indian citizens and accommodating them with ‘mati & bheti’ in Assam. This view may be further strengthened when considered against the seemingly apparent grip that the Centre may be exercising over the Committee.

With the state government being virtually a ‘Yes Sir’ organ of the Centre as is clearly evident in the case of CAA, one may be of the opinion that in the final analysis the viewpoint /directive of the BJP heavyweights in the Central government may play a pivotal role in the formulation of the definition of “Assamese people” officially by the high-level committee.

Again, while the definition of “Assamese people” constitute the most vital component of Clause 6 with every possibility of running into extremely rough weather, it is strange that the chief of the committee has stated, “Finalisation of the definition of Assamese people is not a problem and it can be resolved.” May one ask if the said definition only needs to come out of the Centre’s cupboard?

Meanwhile, a section of the media is rife with the report of some recommendations likely to be made by the committee in its report to the government by way of constitutional safeguards to the indigenous people. Such recommendations pertain to reservation of seats in the Assembly, Parliament and local bodies, protection of language and culture and the like. The committee may also recommend introduction of Inner Line Permit system in the state, a media report states.

Significantly, protection of language and culture is directly dependent of the numerical strength of a community (or communities). With the CAA threatening to reduce the “Assamese people” to a minority, it is not quite understood as to how local culture and language(s) would be protected under Clause 6. Paper tiger law and ground reality are two different aspects.

Unfortunately, on the economic front the committee seems to be silent if media reports are any indication. The committee may focus on reservation of jobs for “Assamese people” in Central government departments and undertakings located in Assam, 100% reservation in the state government sector, formation of a separate board for the North-east for recruitment in the Railway with 100% reservation for NE candidates in Grade III and IV jobs, no ‘mati & bheti’ offer in Assam to any foreigner-turned-Indian for all times to come, special loan and subsidy scheme on permanent basis for the indigenous farmers of Assam, extension of age limit in the Central sector, including the UPSC, upto 38 years for candidates from Assam and the like.

However, one aspect may be as clear as daylight. The Centre is likely to play the all important and decisive role in the finalisation of the Clause 6 committee report. In such an eventuality elements of BJP’s Hindutva roadmap may find prominent expression in the report. Hence, no sooner the same is officially announced, it may find itself embroiled in countless litigations. Accordingly it may be years, nay, decades before a final picture emerges. After all upholding CAA on one hand and providing constitutional safeguards to indigenous people on the other hand may be like mixing oil with water.

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