The latest disturbances shaking the north-east, particularly the conflict-torn Bodo territorial areas of Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Chirang, etc., are a reminder to the powers that be in New Delhi and the rest of the country that the hidden volcanoes in the North-East need to be defused with wisdom and courage by the Central leadership while taking the regional leadership into confidence. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should call an urgent meeting of the National Integration Council to review the present situation in Kokrajhar and work with local political outfits and civil society for a lasting solution to the problem that has remained on the boil for six decades.
In just a week, nearly four lakh residents of Kokrajhar, Dhubri and Chirang turned into homeless migrants. Half of them are aboriginal Bodos; they filled the 276 government schools, government buildings and public places were converted into instant relief camps. Each camp visited by the National Panther’s Party demanded security. The Bodos felt insecure in the presence of Muslim neighbours; Muslim migrants in the Muslim relief camps felt similarly insecure.
Absence of police and administration added to the insecurity and terror. No one in the camps favoured illegal migration from Bangladesh. Poverty-stricken Bangladeshis have been crossing over from Bangladesh via Dhubri district in boats over the Brahmaputra river. There could be no fencing nor boundary wall erected as assured in the Assam Accord 1985 as the Brahmaputra was too vast and fast for setting up any effective obstacle to check illegal immigration from Bangladesh.
Kokrajhar has no land connection with Bangladesh. Migrants flood this area from Dhubri. Kokrajhar is the only geographical surface connection of the North-East with the rest of India, and this too is via Cooch Bihar in West Bengal. Any mishap may damage the narrow connection. The north-east has 4500 km-long borders with Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh. The region deserves exclusive attention from the Centre to ensure that these sensitive borders are kept friction-free. The border with Bangladesh alone is 4097 kms.
The constant infiltration from Bangladesh has created an alarming situation in the border districts. Infiltration began before the creation of Bangladesh and remained unchecked even after the signing of 1985 Assam Accord by Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi with the leaders of Assam Movement.
Since the division of Assam into the seven sisters’ states, the predominant tribals in Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya have got a reasonable opportunity to share the responsibility of administration in their respective states. But the tribals in Assam have not been satisfied; particularly the bigger tribes like Bodos have not got their due. The creation of the Bodo Territorial Council in four districts of Assam (Kokrajhar, Baska, Chirang and Vidulguri) earned the displeasure of Muslims for several reasons. This situation needs careful handling.
For a permanent resolution of the Assam and North-East problems, we have to understand their genesis. The first blunder was in dissecting the entire North-East region, mostly Assam, in 1947 by accepting the Partition of Bengal. The neglected people of the area started facing alienation as the entire population was segregated from the mainstream. Second, the Central leadership failed to realize the effects of illegal migration from areas now designated as Bangladesh. The Congress-run government at the Centre was lax with the illegal migrants, being mainly interested in raising votebanks rather than caring for national security. When Bangladesh attained sovereign status in 1972, there were unaccounted number of illegal migrants who have already created space for themselves in different districts of Assam.
The Assam Accord signed on 15 August 1985 by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi could not be implemented at all. The Central Government-established Tribunal to detect foreigners was quashed by the Supreme Court. On 5 December 2006, the Supreme Court declared the Illegal Migrants Detection Tribunal (IMDT) as violative of the Constitution of India. This IMDT provided protection to illegal migrants and was not in accordance with the spirit of the Assam Accord. The Supreme Court directed the Govt. of India to constitute adequate tribunals to detect illegal migration in accordance with the Foreigners Act, 1946.
Unfortunately, the Govt. of India failed to follow the direction of the Supreme Court. This was one of the principal reasons that foreign agencies like ISI managed to get some frustrated, unemployed and educated groups of Assamese to float the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), with a manifesto to establish a sovereign state of Assam. Prominent functionaries of ULFA belong to the majority Hindu community.
ULFA has been financed, armed and provided all kinds of help and assistance by the ISI. The CIA has not admitted it openly, but there is sufficient evidence that CIA has been providing all kinds of data to the ISI. The ULFA activists have been overactive in the unrest in Kokrajhar, Chirang and other sensitive border districts of Assam. Had the governments in Delhi and Guwahati been sincere to implement the Assam Accord, the situation would have been different, according to Bodoland Lok Sabha MP Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary and Kokrajhar MLA Mrs. Pramila. The Bodoland Students Union and All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) share this view and blame the Centre for the failure.
Assam Accord essentially involves:
i) Clause 9 of the Agreement made bold and unambiguous assurances to stop infiltration from Bangladesh by erecting physical barriers like walls, wire-fencing and other obstacles.
ii) It assured to construct a road along Bangladesh borders in Assam.
iii) Encroachment of tribal line was strictly taken into consideration with assurance that the land of the tribals shall be protected.
iv) It was also assured that detection of foreigners, illegal migrants into Assam shall be done in accordance with the Foreigners Act, 1946.
Dr. Alka Sharma, former MLA, AGP, and widow of a slain AGP Minister who was actively involved in the struggle for implementation of the Assam Accord, opines that the national political parties have not understood the genesis of the Assam problem. Hence, they would not be in a position to appreciate the scientific solutions. The President of Assam High Court Bar Association, Ram Sakiya, doubted the Centre’s sincerity in implementing the Assam Accord as the Union Government has not constituted a single tribunal for detection and expulsion of illegal migrants as directed by the Supreme Court while quashing the so-called Tribunal.
The situation in Assam is more threatening than in any other part of the country. Urgent measures have to be taken to work out a viable solution with Bangladesh so that illegal migration can be checked at source. Assam districts bordering Bangladesh have to be cordoned properly and effectively as assured in the Assam Accord. The Central Government must constitute a Tribunal in Assam to detect and deport the illegal migrants as were to be determined under the Assam Accord and the Supreme Court’s direction. Separatist groups like ULFA must be disciplined without delay and a clear message sent out that Assam and the North-Eastern States are an integral part of the Union.
Urgent attention must also be paid to the Indo-Myanmar border which may soon be opened for trade between Manipur and Myanmar. The problem of Chakmas in the Tripura hills is also a matter of grave concern for national security.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh represents the people of Assam in Parliament and they have great expectations that he shall strengthen the bonds of national integration from Imphal to Delhi.
The author is chairman, National Panthers Party, Sr. Advocate, Supreme Court of India & Member, National Integration Council
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