Heart of the matter: Assam lived thru strife, signs of another fight
(Photo by Biju BORO / AFP)

Illegal immigration has been a long-standing issue in Assam. It had started during the intervening period of the British era and Independence. Mostly, the immigrants, few in numbers then, were used as labourers in tea plantations and for other menial work.

Having said this, it needs to be mentioned that these workers were welcomed by none other than a part of the then political dispensation which had a cut out idea of including Assam with Pakistan (present Bangladesh) — Lebensraum.

However, due to the efforts of the state's first Chief Minister, Bharat Ratna Gopinath Bordoloi, and with the support of some prominent national leaders, Assam stayed with India.

• But immigration continued unabated — one, for want of food and shelter but more truly for creation of a vote bank buoyed by unscrupulous politicians. Their language being Bangla, which is an offshoot of Magadhi Prakrit like Odiya and Assamese, was an advantage for them.

• As time would have it revealed, such influx became a norm and gradually took an ominous turn. The creation of Bangladesh after the 1971 war opened the floodgates. The ubiquitous presence of the migrants was felt by all and sundry.

• In the late seventies, an IPS officer noticed certain anomalies in the list of voters of a constituency and took up the matter with the authorities. He saw that the number of voters registered in the area was unusually higher than what it should have been. But the power corridors pooh-poohed it and punished the officer instead.

• By this time the demography of the state was already showing a heavy tilt. This is when certain social and students forums came forward to highlight the cause of illegal immigration through proper channels. As there was no positive sign of the political class looking into it, the All Assam Students Union started a peaceful agitation.

• After a six-year-long agitation, which was at times marred by mindless violence, and after over 850 Assamese laid down their lives for the cause, the Assam Accord was signed between the Centre and AASU.

Besides other demands that were accepted and detailed in this accord, the cut-off date for identifying (and later deporting) illegal immigrants from Bangladesh was stated as March 24, 1971.

It must be noted that the people of Assam wanted the illegal immigrants, irrespective of their religion, to be taken care of by the Centre.

•As no other political dispensation could do anything (or did not want to do anything) in all these years about illegal immigration, the BJP found a convenient plank to come to power in the state by cashing in on this sensitive issue.

* Much water had flown in the Brahmaputra after that. Everyone in the country is aware about the NRC and its outcome. Then came Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) that talks of giving citizenship to Hindu immigrants.

It has to be understood that these immigrants came in very large numbers from East Pakistan in 1971.

Although that was the cut-off year according to the Assam Accord, the CAB nullifies that part now with its 2014 diktat and the religious rider. And the bone of contention of the Assamese is primarily that.

The people of the state have again realised that they have yet another battle to fight to keep their identity intact.

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