Kishor Kumar Kalita
If the ministry did not form any such expert committee till now or not make any comment even after its formation, then, on what account Dr Sarma said that the committee’s suggestions cannot be implemented?
The recent comments of Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, one of the senior most and influential ministers of Assam Government, regarding the report on the Clause 6 of the Assam Accord presented by the high-level committee led by former Justice Biplab Kumar Sharma and the uncertainty over its implementation, have initiated a new controversy across the State. Dr Sarma often by commenting on sensitive matters intends to maintain the political attention and the intention behind highlighting such an issue has got deep meanings certainly associated with vote bank politics.
The question is, why did Dr Sarma make such comments on this particular issue all of a sudden even though the Assam Government is not authorized to do so? When the entire Assam was in turmoil demanding the scrapping of the CAB 2016, then to extinguish the people’s anger, a high-level committee was formed. On January 6, 2019, the Union Cabinet formed a high-level committee under the chairmanship of retired IAS officer, Madan Prasad Bezbaruah, to make the Clause 6 of the Assam accord functional under which the Assamese people will enjoy constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards. The members of this committee were Subhash Chandra Das, former president of the Asam Sahitya Sabha Dr Nagen Saikia, former editor of The Sentinel Dhirendranath Bezboruah, educationist Dr Mukunda Rajbangshi, the then Advocate General of Assam Ramesh Borpatragohain, renowned writer Rongbong Terang, a delegate member of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and a Joint Secretary of the Union Home Ministry. This committee which proposed to submit a report within seven months had promised to extend suggestions to make necessary laws to secure the languages of Assamese and other indigenous communities, Assamese identity, culture and heritage. Coining the formation of this committee as a historic incident, Finance Minister of Assam Government Dr Sarma, in a press meet, commented that Assam is gradually in the process of becoming an indigenous State. After extending the appropriate suggestions by the committee to the Central Government, Assam’s Legislative Assembly, panchayats and municipalities would become the base for the indigenous people. It is because, based on the suggestions of the committee, the Central Government would reserve seats for the indigenous communities. On January 6, 2019, Dr Sarma while addressing a press meet stated that “We will do everything for the interest of the indigenous people. If required we shall amend the Constitution.” Mentioning the matter of constitutional safeguards to the Assamese community, he brought Article 371 of the Indian Constitution to everyone’s notice and said: “…once it is included in Article 371 of the Constitution, the decision cannot be challenged in the court of law.”
After this, the AASU alleged that the Central Government has already violated Clause 5 of the Assam Accord by enforcing the mentioned Act. That is why, there lies no point in implementing Clause 6. Instead of reforming the previous committee which was formed under the chairmanship of Home Secretary GK Pillai along with the Assam Government, Central Government and the representatives of the AASU, the formation of a new committee was considered a deception to the Assamese people and the AASU refused to be a part of this new committee. Subsequently, one after another the members started to resign from the committee. And at last, the committee became invalid after the resignation of the chairman himself. The immediate collapse of this Clause 6 implementation committee in its initial stage did not bother Dr Sarma and the Assam Government did not pay any heed at all. The BJP-led State Government did not even form another committee instantly. Rather, after completing the process of implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), Dr Sarma in January 2020 showed utter disrespect to the Assam Accord by stating, “Despite the huge protests by the Assamese people, the Hindu Bangladeshis will be settled in Assam. According to the CAA, 2019, providing citizenship to the Hindu Bangladeshis who entered India till December 31, 2014 will not be a violation of the Assam Accord. The Assam Accord is not a foolproof document.”
Even though the next committee formed by the Central Government in July 2019 submitted a new report on February 25, 2020, it was both amusing and significant to see Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma commenting on it after the question of what the Assam Government had done with the report in the entire year was raised. Significantly, on September 20, 2020, Union Home Minister Amit Shah expressed that this report produced by the high-level committee would be examined by the constitutional experts. Following the Home Ministry’s decision, Dr Sarma said: “If any legal flaw arises in the report, it will be sent back to the State and the Home Minister doesn’t want this to happen. Therefore, in order to avoid legal problems in future, he wants it to be examined by constitutional experts. If the report gets rejected due to legal flaws, it will send a wrong message to the people of Assam.”
Now the questions are: 1) Is there any committee formed by the Home Ministry in order to check the constitutional validity of the report produced by the high-level committee chaired by a former high court judge? If so, then who are the expert members of this committee? 2) If the Central Government has formed such a committee, did they provide any opinion regarding this report? Did this committee opine on the possibilities, or otherwise, of implementing the recommendations of the Clause 6 panel? If the ministry did not form any such expert committee till now or not make any comment even after its formation, then, on what account Dr Sarma said that the committee’s suggestions cannot be implemented?
It can be understood that such comments are made with some purpose. The Hindu Bangladeshis have realized that although they can acquire citizenship through the CAA, they wouldn’t enjoy any rights even after being India’s citizens if Clause 6 of the Assam Accord gets implemented. So, such comments claiming that the recommendations made by the high-level committee are non-implementable, that too prior to the State Assembly election, will only benefit the BJP in its vote bank politics. It is with this intention, in all probability, such politically-motivated comments were made.