Iswar Prasanna Hazarika
The reactions of the Government as expressed by the Minister are manifestly illogical and thus untenable. Insertion of Clause 6 follows logically from the recognition inherent in the Accord that, in the long run, the distinct identity of the indigenous Assamese people was not safe under the existing framework of the laws and the Constitution.
The ongoing campaigns for the elections to the Assam Assembly present a great opportunity to propagate and demand expeditious implementation of the special constitutional measures to safeguard the political rights of the indigenous Assamese people. It is clear that in absence of such measures, the Assamese are faced with the inevitable peril of losing their linguistic and socio-cultural identity in the not too distant future. In this context the recommendations of the high-level committee on Clause 6 of the Assam Accord assume great significance. In timely implementation of them lies the only hope of salvation of the distinct identity of the Assamese. It is a matter of grave concern that this issue, so vital for the survival of the Assamese identity, has not found any resonance in the ongoing election campaigns.
The three Ds under Clause 5 of the Accord, namely, detection, deletion and deportation, can be regarded as a dead chapter beyond resurrection. The NRC process, implemented at an enormous cost and controversy, has been reduced to a pathetic joke. The Government at the Centre has already made it official that the illegal immigrants from Bangladesh would neither be extradited nor rendered stateless citizens. Thus Assam is destined to be saddled with a massive burden of immigrants, a population with abnormally high growth rate. Therein looms large the daunting prospect of the indigenous Assamese being reduced to an insignificant minority in the foreseeable future. Inevitable consequence is loss of political rights – a sine qua non for the survival of the Assamese sub-nationalist identity. It was precisely to avert such a disaster that Clause 6 was introduced in the Accord to provide effective safeguards for protecting the distinct identity of the Assamese.
Although introduced with a clever design to quell the widespread movement against the CAA, the Assamese people saw a light at the end of the tunnel when the Centre appointed a high-level committee on Clause 6 of the Accord. The report of the committee containing recommendations for implementation of Clause 6 was submitted a year ago. It is intriguing that the BJP at the Centre was dilly-dallying and evasive in receiving the report itself and the State Government, after receiving the report, has also been equally reticent and inactive. The Opposition parties, dependent on the immigrant vote banks, are still flagging the issue of CAA, using it as a red herring to divert attention from the report.
It was in this context that there was a sense of shock and awe when, on February 17 last, a Minister of the Government of Assam had dismissed the recommendations of the committee as unfit for implementation. As reported in the press, this was the first official reaction on the report of the committee after a lapse of one year from the date of submission of the report. The Minister stated categorically that the recommendations could not be implemented as they are mere expectations and ‘far from legal reality’. He also denounced the recommendations as repugnant to ‘many judgments and pronouncements of the Supreme Court and provisions of the Constitution’. With regard to the recommendation on reservation of seats in Parliament, Assembly, government jobs, etc., to the extent of 80%, he dismissed them as unacceptable, being contrary to the maximum limit of 50% as laid down by the apex court for all reservations.
The reactions of the Government as expressed by the Minister are manifestly illogical and thus untenable. Insertion of Clause 6 follows logically from the recognition inherent in the Accord that, in the long run, the distinct identity of the indigenous Assamese people was not safe under the existing framework of the laws and the Constitution. It was precisely for the purpose of saving the Assamese from this existential threat that Clause 6 provided for special ‘constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards as considered necessary and appropriate’. There cannot be any doubt whatsoever that the clause made it incumbent on the Central Government to make all necessary amendments of the Constitution and enact laws to safeguard the interest and identity of the Assamese people. The Committee’s recommendations are in pursuance of this directive in the Accord, both in letter and spirit. Therefore, the Minister’s argument that the recommendations are mere expectations and ‘far from legal reality’ and ‘tantamount to infringement of the existing provisions of the Constitution’ cannot be sustained.
Another ground cited for the non-implementation of the recommendations is the judgment of the Supreme Court purportedly limiting reservations to a maximum limit of 50%. This limit has been laid down in the judgment in the case of Indra Sawhney Vs Union of India (1992). It is applicable only to government jobs and admission to educational institutions. Since then this limit has already been exceeded in several States on multiple grounds peculiar to the respective States. Rather than weakening, it strengthens the case of special status and privileges to be bestowed on the Assamese. There is no plausible reason to apprehend that reservation of 80% in government jobs including existing reservation of 49.5% would be struck down by the apex court.
The most important amongst the recommendations is 80% reservation of seats in Parliament, State Assembly, State Council and local bodies for the indigenous Assamese people including existing reservations for Scheduled Castes and Tribes. The Accord makes it obligatory for the Centre to make amendments to the Constitution and introduce new Articles/Clauses in Parts XVI, Part XXI, etc., as has been done in the cases of special provisions for several States and communities. Special provisions to be made for Assam are analogous to those for Scheduled Tribes and Castes and as such, may not be assailed on the ground of inconsistency with the basic structure of the Constitution. Laws pertaining to reservations as a special case for the Assamese may also be placed in Schedule 9 under Article 31B of the Constitution, putting them beyond the scope of challenge before the court. While adjudicating on the validity of these special provisions, courts are bound to keep in view the singularly unique character of Assam’s case, its complex ethnic diversity, aggravated by ceaseless assault on its demographic integrity by unabated large scale influx of immigrants, unlike any other State.
Notwithstanding the critical comments of the State Minister, it is abundantly clear that the recommendations of the committee on Clause 6 of the Accord are eminently implementable, with some give and take. The special political and economic rights as recommended by the committee are the only saviour or the so-called protective shield that is capable of preserving the identity and heritage of the indigenous Assamese people. The spectre of loss of political power to immigrants is staring the Assamese in the face. They can no longer afford to be gullible or complacent. At the time of exercising their franchise in this election, the Assamese must make sure that they cast their votes only for party or parties that unequivocally declare their unequivocal support for implementation of Clause 6 panel recommendations.