Assam Assembly: A long journey
The Assam Legislative Assembly on Monday completed 83 years of its existence. It was the Government of India Act,1935 which had pro-vided for the constitution of bicameral Legislative Assemblies in the provinces of India. Altogether five provinces went for elections in 1937 – United Provinces, Bombay, Madras, Bihar, Bengal and Assam. Among them, however, the Assam Legislative Assembly is probably the second to have been constituted, with the historic distinction of being the first going to the United Provinces Legislative Assembly, constituted on April 1 -- six days ahead of Assam. The Assam Legislative Assembly at that time was bicameral – with an Upper House with not more than 22 nominated members and a Lower House with 108 elected members. It is interesting to look at Assam’s history since its annexation to British India on February 24, 1826. While Assam was initially part of Bengal Presidency, it became a Chief Commissioner’s Province on February 6, 1874; the same year, administrative headquarters or capital was shifted from Guwahati to Shillong. In 1905, Assam was clubbed with the newly-created Eastern Bengal; the new province was called ‘Eastern Bengal & Assam.’ Shillong lost its status as capital to Dhaka. The Legislative Council of Eastern Bengal & Assam started functioning in Dhaka from December 18, 1906, with 40 members. Assam was allotted five seats. One was a European tea planter, the others were Manik Chandra Barooah, Bhubanram Das, Prabhat Chandra Barua and Syed Majid Ali. It was from then that large-scale migration of Bengali peasants, both Hindus and Muslims, started to the Brahmaputra Valley. This Council did not last long, as Assam was separated from Eastern Bengal and reverted to a Chief Commissioner’s Province on December 12, 1911. This time, however, the Sylhet district of Eastern Bengal was attached to Assam. The Government of India Act, 1909, provided for an Assam Legislative Council, a House constituted on April 1, 1912. Of the 25 members, 11 were elected from local boards, municipalities, Muslim community, zamindars and tea planters, and the Chief Commissioner nominated 14. This Council first met on January 6, 1913. The opening day was marked by a historic one-hour speech by Padmanath Gohain Barua, a nominated member. Next, Assam was constituted into a Governor’s Province on January 3, 1921, and the Council strength was increased to 53. Of them, 39 were elected, 2 were Executive Councillors, 5 nominated officials and 7 nominated non-officials. The Assam Legislative Assembly came into being on April 7, 1937 in accordance with the Government of India Act, 1935. After the partition of India, as Sylhet district was transferred to East Pakistan by a referendum, the strength of the Assembly was reduced to 71. The Upper House was also immediately abolished. However, after Independence, the strength of House was again raised to 108 by creating new constituencies. With the changing geographical boundaries together with the shifts in the population graph of Assam, the strength of the Assam Legislative Assembly kept fluctuating during the last 50-odd years. In 1952-57 it was 108, went down to 105 in 1957-62, then up to 114 in 1967-72, until it reached 126 members in 1972-78. This has continued to maintain that figure till today.