Assamese fear losing their identity: Deka
Guwahati: Former director-general of Assam police Hare Krishna Deka, who had to "deal" with the Assam Agitation of 1979-1985 as superintendent of police, deputy inspector-general and inspector-general of police and is now a part of Citizens' Forum against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, told The Telegraph on Monday that the Assamese people want to live as a secular, linguistic, cultural community and not as Hindus as "intended" in the bill. Excerpts:
• TT: Assam, perhaps, is witnessing the strongest protest since the anti-foreigners movement. What is the difference you see with the protests then and now?
HKD: It was a widespread and organised sort of movement triggered by inclusion of names of suspected foreigners in the voter list. The demand was to have 1951 as the cut-off date to detect foreigners. Later on, insurgency took over. The present protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, has gradually grown. It makes religion the basis for citizenship, which is against the Constitution. When the draft was published, people protested thinking the government would relent but when the Centre became serious, people again started agitating.
• TT: Do you see the possibility of militancy again?
HKD: In 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised that foreigners won't be allowed in Assam and people voted for the BJP. But when this bill was introduced, a sense of betrayal crept in. A strong emotion of losing their identity has built up again. The Paresh Barua group of Ulfa can exploit this.
• TT: Some BJP politicians have openly suggested that Assamese community has to live with Hindu migrants from Bangladesh as Hindus, not as Assamese.
HKD: They may say so but the Assamese have their own existence. Assamese identity is a linguistic, cultural people. Assamese nationalism is a strong nationalism. The Assamese want to live with their linguistic identity, not as Hindus. Again where will the Assamese Muslims go? Hindu and Muslim Assamese people have been living together from the days of Xankardeb and Azan Peer as secular people. This is an RSS thinking but we reject this.
• TT: If a majority of the people do not believe in the RSS-BJP line, why did the people vote for the BJP in such large numbers?
HKD: People were disgruntled with the Congress after its three terms and there was no alternative. The AGP became a non-factor and joined the BJP bandwagon. So people voted for the BJP thinking there will be development. But after two years, people wonder where is development and employment? Again BJP promised to protect jati, mati and bheti. But the indigenous and landless people still don't have land and live like refugees on embankments and in forests. Now they are taking the guardianship of the Hindus on their own. Nepal is also a Hindu country, will they take the burden of persecuted Hindus from Bangladesh?
• TT: The NRC is being updated with March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date. But some organisations still demand 1951 as cut-off.
HKD: This is going to open a Pandora's box again. A consensus was reached on 1971 after the Assam Agitation.I think demand for 1951 is politically not pragmatic. The 1971 date may not be a perfect solution but it is a solution which almost everybody agreed to.
TT: The joint parliamentary committee asked many organisations during its hearing if they would allow the bill to be passed if Assam is exempted from its purview. What is the forum's stand on this?
HKD: We opposed it because the Constitution says any citizen living anywhere in the country can visit and settle in any part of the country. So they can settle here (in Assam) too. At the same time, we want a constitutional safeguard for indigenous people as agreed in Assam Accord.
• TT: Does that mean the safeguards will not be applicable to those who settled between 1951 and March 24, 1971?
HKD: No. The safeguard is required for those whose forefathers were domiciles of India before Partition, be it Hindus or Muslims, and who feel the threat of losing their identity for migration from East Pakistan and now Bangladesh. Some special safeguards must be worked out to ensure that they don't lose their land and become politically a minority.
• TT. What will happen to the post-1971 migrants, if Bangladesh doesn't agree to accept them?
HKD: That will be a humanitarian crisis. The Centre has to deal with it with a human approach. I think the only solution is to give them all facilities expect political rights (right to vote). They should be treated as resident foreigners. A special identity card can be a solution so that they don't enjoy political rights and become a vote bank. But people of Assam should not take the matter in their own hands. Otherwise, India will face the wrath of the international community like Myanmar is facing over the Rohingya.