Government panel to asses reservation in jobs, House for Assamese
The Centre on Sunday formed a panel to look into reservation in state government jobs and Assam legislative assembly and local bodies for the indigenous Assamese people.
If seats are reserved for indigenous Assamese in the assembly, it would possibly be the first such state-specific move after the national level reservation for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes in legislative bodies.
Former Union tourism secretary, M P Bezbaruah, would head the high-level panel. Its other members include former newspaper editor, Dhiren Bezbaruah, ex-president of Assam Sahitya Sabha, Nagen Saikia, and educationist Mukunda Rajbangshi. A joint secretary of the Union home ministry will be the panel’s member secretary.
According to an official release, the panel has been given a wide mandate to oversee the implementation of clause 6 of the 1985 Assam Accord, which was signed after a six-year agitation against illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The clause 6 calls for “measures to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”. The panel has been formed following protests against the proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act to relax the norms for non-Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to become Indian citizens.
The original citizenship law says that an applicant must have resided in India during the last 12 months, and for 11 of the previous 14 years. The amendment proposes to relax this 11-year requirement to six for people belonging to six religions and three countries, according to PRS Legislative Research, an NGO. Student organisations and indigenous groups across northeast have called for an 11-hour bandh in the region on January 8 in protest against the Centre’s move to amend the citizenship law. The strike call came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a rally in Assam’s Silchar on Friday that his government wants to go ahead with the bill to amend the citizenship law despite opposition from the region.
“In the whole world, if anywhere people, who believe in mother India, face persecution, where would they go? Will you check the colour of their passport? Is there no blood relation?” he asked in Silchar. Many in the region fear the region’s indigenous people will become a minority if the bill, which seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists, and Jains from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, is passed. The other terms of reference for the high level panel include an examination of the effectiveness of actions taken since 1985 to implement the clause 6.
The panel will discuss with various stakeholders measures needed to protect Assamese and the state’s other indigenous languages. The panel will submit its report within six months from the date of the notification for its formation. Guwahati-based political analyst Sushanta Talukdar maintained that the formation of this panel is “going to be a meaningless exercise” if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is passed.
“The new law would violate the clause 5 of the accord... the cut-off date of March 24, 1971, for identification, deletion of names and expulsion of illegal Bangladeshi migrants. As the consensus definition of an Assamese is still eluding as far as the Clause 5 is concerned, any suggestion by the committee on the reservation of assembly seats and other constitutional safeguards for Assamese people will have no meaning,’’ said Talukdar.
“It is a desperate move by the Narendra Modi government to counterbalance the protest snowballing against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill .”
The BJP is trying to consolidate its position in the northeast as it has peaked in its north and western India strongholds like Uttar Pradesh, where it won 71 of 80 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 national polls.