“Assamese People” definition rocks Assembly

The issue of determining the definition of the “Assamese People” triggered an uproarious scene in the Assam Assembly on the last day of the ongoing budget session with the ruling Congress and the Opposition All-India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) members raising objection to Speaker Pranab Kumar Gogoi recording his recommendation to the State government on the definition in the records of the House proceedings. They raised objection on the ground that the Speaker had not consulted the legislators and political parties to firm up the definition of the “Assamese People”.

The Speaker recommended, after consultations with 53 different organisations, that the year 1951 be taken as the cut off period and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), 1951, be taken as the basis for the definition of the “Assamese People” for the purpose of reservation of seats and constitutional safeguards as required by the Assam Accord.

This definition is required to implement the Clause six of the Assam Accord which promises that “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social and linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese People.”

The members of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF), however, backed the Speaker’s definition of “Assamese People” and insisted that the Speaker’s recommendation be treated as a recommendation of the House.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Rockybul Hussain, while making a statement on behalf of the State government, said that any hasty conclusion at this stage might jeopardise the work of updating the NRC, 1951, which has already begun. He expressed apprehension that those opposed to updating might use it as a weapon to sabotage the work.

The Speaker in his two-page report, which he read out, stated that 1951 Census Report defined indigenous people of Assam thus: “Indigenous person of Assam means a person belonging to the State of Assam and speaking the Assamese language or any tribal dialect of Assam, or in the case of Cachar the language of the region.”

He also pointed out that late Chief Minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha in his official message to enumerators stated that the NRC would be compiled on the basis of 1951 Census report.