Sunday, February 13, 2005

INDIA: Sovereignty or special status for Assam?

+ If ever Assam becomes independent, what would be its geographical area? Would it not considerably contract from the present size and be confined to a few districts of the Brahmaputra Valley? Vivisection of Assam may not even end there. Because, it will not be surprising if the same arguments which are advanced for secession of Assam from India, are used by some other ethnic groups of Assam for independence of the territories of Assam in which these groups are predominant. It is also obvious that as more countries come into existence as a result of the division of Assam, boundary disputes will also considerably increase. It is known to everyone that boundary disputes which have plagued Assam as a result of the creation of Nagaland, Arunachal and Meghalaya, even though within the same Indian union, are still defying solution. Not to speak of recovering more than 50,000 +

Sovereignty or special status for Assam?
N Changkakoti

13/02/2005

It is heartening to learn from recent newspaper reports that M K Narayanan, national security adviser had conveyed to noted litterateur and Jnanpith award winner Mamoni Roisom Goswami, central government’s willingness to hold discussions with ULFA leaders even at a place outside India and ULFA Chairman also, for the first time, has written a letter to the Prime Minister for paving the way for discussions for “an agreement with honour and dignity”. It is hoped that, in the interest of restoration of peace in the state, both the parties will now agree to sit in the negotiating table as early as possible without any precondition as in such a case, there will be no bar to raising the issue of sovereignty for Assam or making any other demand by ULFA in course of discussion and Govt. of India will also get the opportunity to try to rebut the arguments of ULFA in justification of their demands.

At this time, it appears to be highly desirable on the part of the people of Assam to deeply ponder over the issue and express their considered views whether secession of Assam from the Indian union is indispensable for peace and prosperity of Assam or granting a special status to the State of Assam like Jammu and Kashmir state with much more political and financial authority through required amendment of the Indian Constitution will suffice. It may be noted in this connection that no section of the people of Barak Valley and the two Hill Districts of Assam have so far demanded sovereignty for Assam. Not to speak of all India level political parties like Congress, BJP, CPI (M), CPI etc, having their units in Assam, none of the regional political parties of Assam like Asom Gana Parishad is also agitating for making Assam an independent country. Similarly, sovereignty for Assam is not the demand of All Assam Students’ Union and Asom Jatiatabadi Yuba-Chatra Parishad, which have significant influence among the Assamese speaking younger generation of the Brahmaputra valley. In the same way, various students and other organisations of different ethnic or religious groups inhabiting the state have also not voiced any demand for grant of independence to present day Assam as a whole. It is, therefore, doubtful whether there is any significant section of the people of the State which consider sovereignty for Assam to be essential.

There is a saying in English that “Politics is the art of the possible”. Comprehending the significance of this statement Mizo insurgents, long ago, gave up the demand for the sovereignty of Mizoram and abjured violence and concentrated on developing Mizoram by acquiring power through the ballot box. Similarly, National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM group) has come to the negotiating table by, no longer, insisting on Independence of Nagaland. National Democratic Force of Bodoland has also suspended armed struggle for independent Bodoland and is about to start discussions with Govt. of India without any preconditions. More armed struggle for attaining independence for Assam continues, more innocent people of Assam will suffer and development and progress of Assam will get retarded. Already because of the insecurity of the lives and properties of the people in our State, industrialists from outside Assam are reluctant to invest in Assam and capital outflow from our state is increasing. Compared to the need, revenue earnings of the state has, never, been enough. In view of the fact that Govt. of Assam has to spend a high percentage of these earnings for maintenance of law and order which has been compounded by insurgency, sufficient funds donot become available for developmental activities. On the other hand, because of the preoccupation of the state police force in trying to frustrate the plans and programmes of the insurgents, the force has been unable to give required high priority to the task of prevention of infiltration and detection of illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

Then, if ever Assam becomes independent, what would be its geographical area? Would it not considerably contract from the present size and be confined to a few districts of the Brahmaputra Valley? Vivisection of Assam may not even end there. Because, it will not be surprising if the same arguments which are advanced for secession of Assam from India, are used by some other ethnic groups of Assam for independence of the territories of Assam in which these groups are predominant. It is also obvious that as more countries come into existence as a result of the division of Assam, boundary disputes will also considerably increase. It is known to everyone that boundary disputes which have plagued Assam as a result of the creation of Nagaland, Arunachal and Meghalaya, even though within the same Indian union, are still defying solution. Not to speak of recovering more than 50,000 hectres of Assam’s fertile land encroached from Nagaland side, it will be an extremely difficult and expensive task for a small independent country of Assam, if it materialises, to prevent fresh encroachment by such neighbouring states of the Indian union. The demand made by NSCN (IM) for greater Nagaland (Nagalim) including Naga inhabited areas of neighbouring states have, already, compounded the problem. It is also highly probable that to such an independent Assam, the pace of infiltration from Bangladesh will also accelerate and it will be extremely difficult to stop such a flow as there will also not be the Border Security Force of Govt. of India to shoulder the responsibility, even if partially. Therefore, the day may not be far when such illegal migrants will become the majority section of the people of Assam, feeling tempted to constitute an united Islamic country with Bangladesh.

In view of the above daunting factors and in order that the present size of Assam does not get further reduced, it will, in my humble view, be beneficial to make a concerted demand by all sections of the people of the State for required constitutional amendments granting a special status to Assam like Jammu and Kashmir state which should, atleast, provide the following safeguards.

**Parliament must not have the authority to change the geographical area and the name of the state of Assam without a resolution to this effect passed by Assam Assembly with two-third majority vote.

** Under clause 6 of the Assam Accord, Govt. of India is already under obligation to provide some constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, to the Assamese people. The expression “Assamese people” here should mean all those indigenous communities of Assam who are likely to become minorities in their own areas and the development and status of whose language and culture are likely to suffer as a result of the continuous inflow of the illegal migrants to the state. Now, in order that the political power of the state does not get shifted from the hands of the indigenous people to the people coming from outside the state under any circumstance, the seats in the Assam Assembly and the Lok Sabha, which, as on March 25, 1971, were under occupation of Assamese people as per above broad definition, should be reserved for these communities for all time to come. This will, obviously, include all those seats which have already been reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of the Hills and the plains of Assam as per existing provisions of the constitution.

** As in the case of Jammu and Kashmir state, only some classes of people and not all Indian citizens residing in Assam, should be treated as permanent residents of the state and others, even though Indian citizens, should not be eligible to become candidates and caste votes in any election in the state and there should also be some restrictions on such persons regarding purchase of land, doing business etc. in Assam. In addition to all the communities coming within the broad definition of “Assamese people” mentioned above, only those Indian citizens who have made Assam their home and have been staying in Assam continuously for at least thirty years, should be considered as permanent residents of the State.

** Assam and other states also should have equal number of seats in the Rajya Sabha, irrespective of the population of the states. This principle is followed in the constitution of the Senate in the United States of America.

** Adequate devolution of financial authority to Assam and for that matter other states also, should be brought about to enable the states to stand on their own feet except for very major developmental activities. As for example, the subject of exploration of oilfields and all mineral resources within a state territory mentioned against serial No. 53 of the union list can be transferred to the state list as given in the seventh schedule of the constitution of India. Our financial wizards should air their views in this regard.