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Home Ministry’s panel to look into Assam Accord gets derailed in four days

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Two members nominated to be on the Home Ministry panel have refused to join while two others have expressed reservations.

New Delhi: Four days after the Union Home Ministry set up an eight-member team to look at the efficacy of the steps taken to implement Clause VI of the 1985 Assam Accord, two members nominated to be on the panel have refused to join while two others have reportedly expressed reservations.

Clause VI of the Assam Accord seeks to “constitutionally and legally” safeguard the cultural, social and linguistic identities of the “Assamese people”.

Rajya Sabha MP Nagen Saikia and the All Assam Students Union (AASU) have refused to join the panel over the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha Tuesday.

Saikia and the AASU have argued that the BJP has violated the spirit of the Assam Accord by passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which will grant citizenship to “Bangladeshi-Hindu” inhabitants living in Assam despite the accord’s cut-off date of 1971.

Former Asom Sahitya Sabha president Rongbong Terang and leading Assamese news daily The Sentinel’s founding editor Dhiren Bezbaruah have expressed reservations, but haven’t cited a reason so far, said a local report.

Terang, however, told ThePrint that he has received no official communication from the government. He will only take a call once he is notified of the same.

A Home Ministry spokesperson said the ministry hasn’t received any such communication so far.

Ever since the 5 January notification, Assam has seen mass protests over the passage of the bill. An AASU-led Assam bandh was organised Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Home Minister Rajnath Singh assured the people of Assam that their “cultural, linguistic, economic and social identities will be fully protected and that the burden of accommodating these refugees will be shared by the whole nation”.

The eight-member team is to be headed by retired civil servant M.P. Bezbarauah. A joint secretary from the Home Ministry will serve as member secretary of the panel.

Also read: NRC process in next 6 months crucial for 32 lakh people in Assam, and for BJP’s poll agenda

‘Meaningless exercise’

Speaking to ThePrint, Saikia said he is planning to write to the home secretary to officially register his protest against the formation of this committee.

“If they (BJP) were serious about the issue at all, they wouldn’t have passed the bill in the Winter Session of the Parliament,” he said.

AASU adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya told ThePrint, “This government has already murdered clause V of the Assam Accord by passing the Citizenship Amendment Bill. Without clause V, what is the point of clause VI?”

Clause V of the Assam Accord sets the cut-off date for citizenship in the state as 25 March 1971.

“There is no point in taking part in this meaningless exercise,” he said. “They are just imposing their will on us.”

“This committee will provide no meaningful contribution, especially coming from a party that has passed the Citizenship Bill,” said Saikia.

‘Attempt to appease Assamese people’

Saikia said the committee is nothing but poll optics considering that there may be a new government at the Centre in the next six months.

The committee has been given six months to submit its report.

“The BJP knows that the Assamese people are unhappy with them. They have only done this to try and please the Assamese people,” he said.

“It is unlikely that any tangible results will come out of this futile exercise,” Saikia added.

Upmanayu Hazarika, senior lawyer and convenor of a forum against infiltration, also supported Saikia’s argument.

“The BJP’s basic voter base includes the indigenous population of Assam, the Biharis, Bengalis and Marwadis,” said Hazarika.

“They have managed to alienate the indigenous people and reignite the linguistic divide between the Assamese and the Bengalis. This will hit them hard, and these are all self-inflicted wounds,” he said.

Bhattacharya sees the BJP’s move as an attempt to “hoodwink” the people of Assam.
“They have already passed a bill which is all but communal in nature.”

The Citizenship Amendment Bill is yet to be passed in the Rajya Sabha.

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