Flames in Kokrajhar symbolize hidden volcanoes in the North-East
By Prof. Bhim Singh
The latest disturbances that shook entire North-East is a reminder to the power that be in the Centre and in the rest of the country. The conflict-torn Bodo territorial areas of Kokrajhar, Dhubri, Chirang etc. have sent a clear message that the hidden volcanoes in the North-East need to be defused with wisdom and courage by the Central leadership while taking the local leadership of the region in confidence. My suggestion to Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India from Guwahati last week to hold an urgent meeting of the National Integration Council to review the present situation that has erupted in Kokrajhar and areas around in active cooperation of the local political outfits as well as the civil society is essential to work out lasting solution to the situation that has remained boiling for six decades.
Within a week nearly four lacs residents in Kokrajhar, Dhubri and Chirang turned homeless migrants. Half of them were aboriginal Bodos. 276 government schools, government buildings and public places were converted into so-called relief camps out of which half of the relief camps were filled with Bodo tribals. Each camper I visited with my team demanded security. The Bodos felt insecure in the presence of Muslim neighbourers. The same was the cry of the Muslim migrants in the Muslim relief camps. True four Bodos were brutally massacred in a village in Kokrajhar in the midnight of 19th July, 2012. Absence of the police and administration added to the insecurity and terror. The Bodo migrated asked for safety. The rumours created panic among the Muslim inhabitants in their respective areas. The Muslims rushed for safety in Dhubri. It is important to note that neither the Bodo nor Muslim migrants carried any ill-will or hatred for other community. Each delegation we met complained that the administration did not care for their complaints and failed to provide reasonable security. No one in the camp favoured illegal migration from Bangladesh. The Bangladeshis’ hard stricken with poverty and rags have been crossing over from Bangladesh via Dhubri District (Assam) in boats under the cover of dark skies of the Brahmaputra river. There could be no fencing nor a boundary wall could be erected as was assured in the Assam Accord, 1985 for the reason that Brahmaputra, perhaps, the only male river in the sub-continent, was too vast and fast for setting up any obstacle or wall to check illegal migration from Bangladesh. Kokrajhar has no land connection with Bangladesh. Migrants flood to this area from Dhubri. Kokrajhar is the only geographical surface connection of the North-East with the rest of the country. The students of political science and the politicians, perhaps, have yet to understand that creation of Bangladesh had literally dissected entire North-East from the rest of the country. India as such has only a single surface connection with the North-East through Kokrajhar District in Assam via Cooch Bihar in West Bengal. Any mishap may damage the neck connection endanger the roads of National Integration with North-East having 4500 kms. long borders with foreign countries including Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh. This region deserves an exclusive attention of the Central government to ensure that the sensitive borders along the North-Eastern States are kept cool and friction free. India has 4097 kms. long borders with Bangladesh only. On the other hand true there is literally no physical threat to the Indian side from Bangladesh but infiltration by the illegal poverty stricken migrants to India in lacs have created an alarming situation in the border districts. Infiltration had started before the creation of Bangladesh and remained unchecked even after the signing of 1985 Assam Accord by Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi with the leaders of Assam Movement. Since the division of Assam into seven sisters’ states as described by a noted journalist Jyoti Prasad Sakiya, the predominant tribals in Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya have got a reasonable opportunity to share responsibility of administration in their respective states. The tribals in Assam have not been satisfied. Particularly the bigger tribes like Bodos have not got their due. Creation of Bodo Territorial Council in four districts of Assam has earned the displeasure of Muslim Minorities for several reasons. The Bodo Council has been established in the districts of Kokrajhar, Baska, Chirang and Vidulguri. This situation deserves a careful handling too.
To seek permanent resolution of the situation in Assam or for that matter in the North-East, we have to understand the genesis of the problem. The first blunder committed in dissecting entire North-East region, mostly Assam in 1947, by the acceptance of partition of Bengal. Already neglected people of the area started facing alienation rather entire population was segregated from the mainstream. Secondly, the Central leadership failed to realize the effects of illegal migration from the areas, now designated as Bangladesh. The Central leadership, the Congress-run government in the Centre, gave laxity to the illegal migrants. The Congress leadership remained interested to raise their vote bank rather than caring for the national security. When Bangladesh attained her sovereign status in 1972, there were unaccounted number of illegal migrants who have already created space in different Districts of Assam. The Assam Accord signed on 15th August, 1985 in the presence of Shri Rajiv Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, could not be implemented at all. The Central government established a Tribunal in Assam to detect the foreigners was quashed by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of India on 5th December, 2006 declared the so-called Illegal Migrants Detection Tribunal (IMDT) as violative of the Constitution of India. This IMDT provided protection to illegal migrants and was not in accordance with the spirit of the Assam Accord. The Supreme Court had directed the Govt. of India to constitute adequate tribunals to detect illegal migration in accordance with the Foreigners Act, 1946. This is unfortunate that Govt. of India failed to follow the direction of the Supreme Court. This was one of the principal reasons that the foreign agencies like ISI managed some frustrated, unemployed and educated groups of Assamese to float United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) with a manifesto to establish a sovereign state of Assam. Prominent functionaries of ULFA belong to the majority community, the Hindus. This is the outfit which have directly threatened sovereignty of India. ULFA has been financed, armed and provided all kinds of help and assistance by the ISI. The CIA has not admitted it openly sufficient but there is evidence that CIA have been providing all kinds of data to the ISI. The ULFA activists have become overactive with the ensuing unrest in Kokrajhar, Chirang and other sensitive bordering Districts of Assam. Had the governments at Centre and the State been sincere to implement the Assam Accord situation would have been different. This was the strong note which my team was served by the Bodoland Lok Sabha Member, Mr. Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary and the local MLA of Kokrajhar, Mrs. Pramila during my one hour discussion with them in Kokrajhar last week. The Bodoland Students Union as well as All Assam Students Union (AASU) which have strong mass appeal in the region shared this feeling. Naturally, blamed the Central government for its failure to give attention to the Assam Accord.
Assam Accord has to be understood in substance for the removal of all doubts spread by the vested political interests about its bonafides.
i). Clause 9 of the Agreement made bold and unambiguous assurances to stop infiltration from Bangladesh by erecting physical barriers like walls, wire-fencing and other obstacles.
ii). It was also assured to construct a road along Bangladesh borders in Assam.
iii). Encroachment of tribal line was strictly taken into consideration with assurance that the land of the tribal shall be protected.
iv). It was also assured that detection of the foreigners, illegal migrants into Assam shall be done in accordance with the Foreigners Act, 1946.
Dr. Alka Sharma, a former MLA, AGP and widow of slain AGP Minister who had been actively involved in the activities of the civil society for the implementation of Assam Accord maintained that the national political parties have not been able to understand the genesis of the Assam problem. Naturally, they would not be in a position to appreciate the scientific solutions. The President of Assam High Court Bar Association, Mr. Ram Sakiya, doubted the sincerity of the Central leadership to implement Assam Accord. That was obvious from the fact, he observed, that the Central government has not constituted a necessary tribunal for the detection and expulsion of the illegal migrants as was the direction given by the Supreme Court of India while quashing the so-called Tribunal.
The Governor of Assam, a seasoned political figure in India, Mr. J.B. Patanaik, while appreciating the efforts of my team to visit Kokrajhar and other affected areas in Assam, admitted that the government has to restore confidence of the people and provide them reasonable security so that they may return to their homes without fear. He also agreed that the so-called relief camps were not adequate at all to provide shelter to nearly 400,000 migrants, both Bodos and the members of the Minorities. About half of them have returned back to their homes yet the government cannot be exempted from its responsibility to ensure urgent return and rehabilitation of the people in their homes. The Governor may himself lead peace march in the area to extend solidarity with the suffering people.
Situation in Assam is more threatening than in any other parts of the country. The people in the entire North-Eastern region deserve urgent attention of Central leadership. Urgent measures have to be taken to work viable solution with Bangladesh so that illegal migration from Bangladesh shall be checked at the source. The Assamese Districts bordering with Bangladesh have to be cordoned properly and effectively as was assured in the Assam Accord. The Central government should constitute Tribunal in Assam to detect and deport the illegal migrants as were to be determined in accordance with the Assam Accord and the Supreme Court’s direction. The separatist groups like ULFA have to be disciplined without any delay and with a clear message that Assam and the rest of the North-Eastern States are unshakable and integral part of the Union. An urgent attention of the Union must be drawn towards the Indo-Burmese border which may be opened for trade between Manipur and Myanmar, very soon. The problem of Chakmas in Tripura hills is also a matter of grave concern for the security of the country.
Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, shall be doing a great service to the national security vis-à-vis North-East by convening an urgent meeting of the National Integration Council as he has done in the past on the issues relating to J&K. It shall be exemplary message for the people of North-East if such a meeting of the NIC is held in Assam with special invitations to the representatives of all legitimate representatives of all the political parties of Assam and the North-East. The Prime Minister himself represents the people of Assam in the Parliament and the people have great expectation from Dr. Manmohan Singh that he shall show the light to the new generations in Assam and in the North-East to strengthen the bonds of National Integration from Imphal to Delhi.
(Chairman, National Panthers Party,
Sr. Advocate, Supreme Court of India &
Member, National Integration Council)