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Clause-VI quandary

The Central government as well as the Assam government are stuck in a quagmire over the issue of implementation of the Clause-VI of the Assam Accord

Assam Accord

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  20 Feb 2021 6:09 AM GMT

The Central government as well as the Assam government are stuck in a quagmire over the issue of implementation of the Clause-VI of the Assam Accord. Even as one year has elapsed, the Central government is yet to accept the report of the High Level Committee on this core clause of the Assam Accord. The Central government dithering on even receiving the report of its own committee has only lent credence to the allegation that it is going back on its own commitments on ensuring Constitutional safeguards to the Assamese and other indigenous people in the State to protect their linguistic, cultural identities and heritage from becoming extinct due to the unabated influx of illegal Bangladeshi migrants. The Ministry of Home Affairs is the nodal Ministry for implementation of the Assam Accord; and therefore, any statement by the State government on the committee's report holds no merit. Two key recommendations of the committee — reservation of 80 per cent of the seats from the State in the Parliament and in the Assam Assembly for the "Assamese People" as defined in it; and bringing the State under the ambit of the 'Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation-1873' for introduction of the 'Inner Line Permit' (ILP) system in the State — are believed to have made the Central government drag its feet on the report. Even though a senior Minister of the State sought to give the impression that any Constitutional provision for more than 50 per cent of seats for the "Assamese people" may not stand legal scrutiny in the Supreme Court if and when it is challenged, it is the cut-off year of 1951 recommended by the committee for defining the "Assamese people" which appears to be more problematic politically for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). If this definition is to be accepted, then it will exclude the migrant settlers from the erstwhile East Pakistan — including the Bengali Hindus who fled persecution in the present-day Bangladesh — from the definition of "Assamese people" for the purpose of reservation of Assembly and Parliamentary seats. The Bengali Hindu migrants in Assam and West Bengal is a strong support base of the ruling party at the Centre and in the State. Besides, the recommendation for ILP introduction is also problematic for the ruling party as its acceptance will keep the State away from the purview of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act-2019. The Central and the State governments have adopted the delaying tactic on the issue of implementing Clause-VI as rejection of these key recommendations of the committee will not go down well with the Assamese and the other indigenous people of the State. Acceptance of the recommendations will make it unpopular among the Bengali Hindu voters in poll-bound Assam and West Bengal. The Central government adopting the delaying tactic in receiving the committee's report has only strengthened the campaign that it is not sincere in implementing the core clauses of the Assam Accord despite the assurance in the Parliament that committee's recommendations will be implemented in toto. The explanations for the delay as given by the Central and the State governments that legal and constitutional experts will have to be engaged to study the legal and Constitutional aspects of the recommendations, is flawed as the committee included three legal luminaries including its chairperson Justice (retired) B.K. Sarma, widely acclaimed for their expertise on Constitutional matters. The report also includes draft Constitutional amendments which will be required to give effect to the recommendations. The All Assam Students' Union (AASU), a signatory of the accord, argues that Clause VI was inserted to provide Constitutional safeguards to the Assamese people for taking the burden of illegal migrants from 1951 to 1971. This argument is irrefutable for the Central and the State governments and is poised to gain ground if they keep on dilly dallying on the committee's report.

The pressure to accept the report will mount on the ruling party as it came to power in 2016 harping on the promise of implementing the Assam Accord in its letter and spirit to protect the ''jati'', ''mati'' and ''bheti''. Enactment of the CAA was the first instance of the ruling party going back on its poll promise while adopting the delaying tactic in receiving the report on Clause-VI has been seen as the second instance of betrayal. The Central and the State governments, however, are maintaining that they stand committed to implementing the Clause-VI but has been unable to spell out how. The Opposition Congress has jumped on the Clause-VI bandwagon, but its action is seen as a political opportunism because of the lack of sincerity of the successive Congress governments at the Centre and in the State to take any concrete step to implement it as well as other core clauses of the Accord. The issue of implementing the core clause of the historic Accord will keep the political pot boiling in the poll-bound State.

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