Twenty-five years after the signing of the Assam Accord, most people of Assam are asking, “What has been achieved in the past 25 years?’ The roster of achievements will read: one IIT, three bridges over the Brahmaputra, two central universities, the relaxation of age limit for students from the North-east applying for the Public Service Commission, the cultural institution of the Shankardava Kalakshetra, the development of the religious bodies of satras, and the meeting of the long outstanding demands for the overall development of the region.
But since the nodal agency for the implementation of the Assam Accord was the Union Home Ministry, nothing substantial could be achieved in tackling the core demand of detecting and deporting illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Also, nothing much has been done to remove the legal hurdles to stop this illegal migration.
Some are passing the entire blame of these failures on to the erstwhile leaders of the All Assam Students Union (Aasu). Being the Aasu president at that time, I had discussed the issues in the executive body and with the leaders of Asom Gana Sangram Parishad thereby bringing them to the notice of the people through public meetings and the media.
The abnormal increase in the number of voters in the voters’ list during the bypolls for the Lok Sabha constituency of Mangaldoi (then Darrange district) created upheavals in the minds of people. We had started working hard to strengthen the Aasu and work on the issue of this abnormal increase in population in many areas, especially those dominated by minority communities. The process of inclusion of names of illegal migrants in the voters’ list of Assam had started much earlier, but it gained momentum after the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.
Unfortunately, when the problem of Assam and some other states of the North-east started spreading to other parts of India, some sections of the media tried to misrepresent the facts and published news items to prove that the entire movement was nothing but an attempt to lead people astray. The supporters of the six-year-long movement cut across religious lines despite efforts by the Congress to turn a peaceful and democratic movement into a violent one and create a divide among the agitation’s supporters. The armed forces were used against women and bullets against peaceful agitators.
We had a series of meetings first with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and then her successor Rajiv Gandhi along with officials nominated by them and the PMO besides the state chief secretary. The point was to find a solution to the problem of illegal migrants and their inclusion in the voters’ list of Assam. After a draft of the Assam Accord was prepared, many people advised us on the terms and conditions in it. But many of those pointing fingers at us today were among our advisors at that time.
We did not sign an accord with an enemy nation. It was signed in the presence of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, Assam Chief Secretary P.P. Trivedi, Union Home Secretary R.D. Pradhan, Biraj Sarma of the Asom Gana Sangram Parishad, Aasu General Secretary Bhrigu Phukan, and myself, then Aasu president. During our meetings and discussions with Rajiv Gandhi, we had believed that the young and dynamic prime minister, while keeping the interest of the country in mind, would not do any injustice to the people of Assam.
After the death of Rajiv Gandhi, the indifferent attitude of the central government and lack of sincerity in fulfilling the Assam Accord started becoming more evident. The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was formed on October 15, 1985. Two months later, the state went to polls and the AGP was voted to power with a massive mandate. A separate department was set up in the state for the implementation of the Assam Accord. The AGP government did not get any help from the Centre in dealing with illegal migration. The biggest hurdle in dealing with illegal migrants was removed with the removal of the Illegal Migrant (Determination by Tribunal) Act by the Supreme Court. Since then, as a former Assam chief minister, I have made several requests to the PM and Home Minister for an early implementation of important clauses of the Assam Accord. It was only due to our sustained efforts that the Centre heeded our pleas and had to do the fencing of the international border and also change the design of the fence to make it more effective.
Prafulla Kumar Mahanta is Former Chief Minister of Assam. The views expressed by the author are personal