The Assamese feel threatened that their size and status might be further reduced. Their central objective is the territorial protection of Assam and their culture as well as the economic opportunities that exist within the State
From minority status in all the 23 districts of Assam after the Partition, as per 2011 census there are 9 districts with Muslim majority. Locals feel threatened on their soil. The ethnic Assamese feel alienated from the rest of the country
Arnab Goswami, ethnic Assamese Brahmin, born in Gawahati to a former Army Colonel, with high profile political family lineage, was at his best in waging war against illegal Bangladeshi migrations in Assam – both Muslims and Hindus – after 1971, that is, the cut-off date agreed upon by Rajiv Gandhi, former Prime Minister in the Assam Accord 1985.
Arnab’s war cries “Bangladeshis Go Back; India for Indians” must be appreciated by all Indians if they are genuine nationalists and patriots. Having entered Assam in 1961 followed by participating in 1971 war in Bangladesh, Sikkim, Nagaland in 1985-1988 and as a civilian in 1994-1995, I had been an eyewitness to the flow of illegal migrants into Assam.
Assam is on the front line of India’s battle over illegal immigration, with politicians grandstanding over the threat of “infiltrators” from neighbouring Bangladesh since after Partition in 1947. Over the decades, the State has experienced bouts of bloody inter-ethnic strife.
Racial-cum-communal bad politics may trigger terrible violence if Opposition political leadership does not realise its follies indulging in appeasement politics to retain its minority vote banks.
After the Sylhet referendum in 1947, the Muslim-majority Sylhet region went to East Pakistan while some Muslim-majority areas such as Karimganj went to India. Assam, which faced an influx of immigrants from Bangladesh since the early 20th century, is the only State that has an NRC that was first prepared in 1951. At that time, the State had 80 lakh citizens forming over 17.2 per cent of its population. As per data in 2018, Assam’s population is 34,845,255.
From minority status in all the 23 districts of Assam after the Partition, as per 2011 census there are 9 districts with Muslim majority to include: Barpeta (0.74 per cent); Bongaigaon (50.22 per cent); Darrang (64.34 per cent), Dhubri (79.67 per cent); Goalpara (57.52 per cent); Hailakandi (60.81 per cent); Karimganj (56.36 per cent); Morigaon (52.66 per cent) and Nagaon (55.36 per cent) comprising 10,679,345 Muslims forming over 34.22 per cent as per 2011 census. There are 30 MLAs in the 126-Assembly with the majority of them belonging to the Congress Party.
Importantly, there are 15 Muslim fundamentalist organisations in Assam to include: 1) Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA); 2)Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB); 3) Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HuM-Assam unit); 4) Islamic Sevak Sangh (ISS); 5) Muslim Volunteer Force (MVF); 6) Islamic Swadhinatha Kami Taliban Army (IS KATA); 7) United Muslim Liberation Front of Assam (UMLFA); 8) Islamic Liberation Army of Assam (ILAA); 9) Harkat-ul-Jehad; 10) Islamic United Reformation Protest of India (IURPI); 11) Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam (MULFA); 12) Muslim Liberation Army (MLA); 13) Muslim Security Council of Assam (MSCA); 14) Muslim Security Force (MSF); and 15) Muslim Tiger Force (MTF). Out of them three are active and others lying doggo.
In 1947, Partition riots triggered mass Bengali Hindu human migrations. After the Nehru-Liaqat Ali Pact of 1951 in the wake of riots, there was a continual influx of Bengali Muslims into Assam. Even in 1971, there were mass human migrations. Subsequently, also, there has been an unending illegal flow of immigrants, from Bangladesh. In sum, the demographic transformation was total - over 3 per cent growth rate continues.
Hostility between migrants and the natives of the State — nearly half of whom speak the regional language of Assamese — has deepened. The ranks of illegal migrants, who negotiate soft/porous borders with relative ease — have grown, as have fears that they are bringing Islamist radicals sponsored by the ISI and non-state actors.
The Supreme Court is directly supervising the NRC, which extended the deadline to July 31, 2018. And, the NRC received 3.19 crore applications. The first draft named 1.9 crore of the 3.29 crore applicants who had applied. Of the 3.29 crore applications, there was confusion over the inclusion of 29 lakh people who submitted certificates issued by Gram Panchayat as proof of identity. The High Court of Gauwhati in February 2018 deemed Panchayat certificates invalid. As per the latest NRC report, the figure of over 40 million people did not figure in the list.
Residents left off the list still have time to appeal against the government's decision. There are no mass-deportation plans in place. Bangladesh’s Government does not acknowledge them as citizens.
Bangladesh denies that its citizens have crossed illegally into India, does not recognise the Muslims in Assam as Bangladeshis and refuses to accept their deportation. Meanwhile, there are horrendous acts of violence committed on the Hindus in Bangladesh.
Truth is always bitter. Critical irrefutable historical facts and realities about Assam include Assam population growth around 20 per cent each decade between 1891 and 1947; 35 per cent during 1951-1971; 53 per cent during 1991 to 2001; and touched the peak of over 70 per cent. In contrast, the national average is around 13.4 to 14.2 per cent. Naturally, People are in a schizophrenic state. They do not countenance secession, but they did not want Army to be deployed against the ULFA. People face cruel dilemmas. There is xenophobia among indigenous groups.
As per Census authorities, Bangladeshi illegal migrants totalled 17, 29,310 in 1961-71 and 11, 59,006 in 1971-81. The figures do not include 10 million refugees who entered India in 1971. The 1991 census confirmed the same trend. As per Border Security Forces 1994-96 report, 57,391 Bangladeshi infiltrators were intercepted and 42,246 were pushed back. Ipso facto, vested political interests have given a fillip to illegal migration by actively colluding with migrants. They have enabled a large number of people to procure ration cards and gain voting rights. Now, illegal immigrants are using them to their nativity claims.
The Assamese concern is genuine. They feel threatened that their size and status might be further reduced. In 1951, Devagiri in North Kamrupa district was ceded to Bhutan. In 1957, the Naga Hills district was administered by the Union Government and granted statehood in 1962. In 1972, Meghalaya was granted full statehood. Subsequently, Mizoram was granted statehood in 1986. Now, the Bodos are demanding a separate state. Similarly, the Bengalis in Barak Valley want separate statehood. Thus, the Assamese central objective is the territorial protection of Assam and Assamese culture, and the economic opportunities that exist within the State.
The past lesson is clear. Population majority determined partition in 1947. After 71 years, locals feel threatened on their soil: the Ahoms, the Bodos, the Kacharis, and the illegal immigrants. The ethnic Assamese feel alienated from the rest of the country. It is a fact that the whole Assamese middle class grew up under Bengali domination.
Illegal migrants’ threat came to the fore due to political reasons - revision of voters’ list in 1978 before the by-election to the Mangaldoi parliamentary constituency, which revealed an alarming increase in numbers. It sparked the agitation.
In 1979, the All Assam Students Union (ASSU) spearheaded the agitation on illegal immigrants’ issue. The Assom Gonatantra Parishad (AGP) became the political front of the AASU and actively took part in various agitations.
The ASSU 3-D objective was 1) DETECTION, 2) DISENFRACHISEMENT and 3) DEPORTMENT. Initially, the ASSU had grouped illegal migrants under three categories. Illegal immigrants who entered between January 1, 1951, and December 31, 1960 fall in the first category. In the second category are placed people who came to Assam between January 1, 1961, and January 1, 1971. Finally, all those who entered after January 1, 1971, are placed under the third category, who will be arrested and deported.
Over 3,000 persons were killed by February 1983. On August 15, 1985, Assam Accord was signed in the presence of Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress Party agreed to disenfranchise those who came into Assam between January 1, 1966, and March 24, 1971. The names of this lot are to be removed from the rolls for 10 years, while those who entered Assam on or after 24 March 1971, are sought to be expelled.
The implementation of Assam Accord's 3-Ds, detection, disenfranchisement and deportation, promised by the Congress Party headed by former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi remains their only hope to find a way out of the current impasse.
Meanwhile, the determination of "foreign nationals" became a controversial and highly sensitive issue. Initially, the AGP/AASU favoured the Tribunals under the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act 1983, which applied to Assam only. But, when they found the process ineffective, the AGP favoured its abrogation. Initially, all the opposition parties favoured the determination of "foreign nationals" by the Election Commission. When the AGP changed its position on Tribunals, the opposition parties favoured the Election Commission.
The AGP discredited itself by its internal rifts and splits, rampant corruption and destroyed the bridges that existed between ethnic groups. Finally, the AGP Government was dismissed in December 1990, and the President’s Rule was imposed.
On November 28, 1990, the Presidents’ Rule was imposed due to the breakdown of law and order. Operation Bajrang (November 28, 1990-April 20, 1991) was conducted by the Army to contain and marginalise ULFA forces. Hiteshwar Saikia, former Chief Minister, Congress Party, allowed "Operation Rhino" to be launched by the Army at midnight 14-15 September 1991 despite the protest of all political parties. The Army destroyed 16 camps and arrested 1000 suspects.
Today, the debates over identity and immigration are world over including the USA, Europe, China and almost all nations in South East Asia. Deepening majoritarianism challenges liberalism and pluralism.
Assam is no exception. It is a test book battle being fought by the valiant ethnic Assamese and tribal groups. How can any nationalist and patriot abandon the ethnic Assamese in their brave fight over the past 71 years for their identity crisis and security?