Assam: From Agitation To Accord

Book: Assam: From Agitation To Accord
Author: H.N. Rafiabadi
Publisher: Institute Of Objective Studies, Delhi
Pages: 149
Price: Rs 150

Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander

The Independence of India came in the wake of confusion, chaos, corruption, violence and bloodshed which still continues unabated, though not frequently. Partition – a gift of British legacy and reluctance of some die-hard fanatics not to continue coexistence with each other - sowed the seeds of hatred and malice among the Muslims and Hindus, which still harvests. This suspicion, hatred is reluctant to die down and as a result, at times brewing up in violent communal riots.

The fear of the other legitimizes all the inhuman atrocities and excesses committed on the other. This fear culminates in the one community’s fear and despair of being usurped by the other. In India, Hindus are in majority but still the fear psychosis among the masses has been created by the religious zealots that the minority (Muslims) are surely going to out-number you. This unfounded myth is furthered by equally unfounded fear that Muslims practice polygamy and are against family planning methods plus spreading their religion quickly among masses and, to use the media-coined term “Love Jihad”, marrying Hindu girls by deceit, converting them and making them bear Muslim children. These are all reasons enough to fear that soon India would be a Muslim dominated country demographically.

This fear of being overwhelmed by the minority Muslims was one of the driving causes of Partition but it hasn’t died down with Partition but grown stronger. In the Independent India the problem can be witnessed in the State of Assam and recently now in J&K and Maharashtra. While in Assam and J&K this fear is of religious nature, the one in Maharashtra is regional.

This fear was looming over Assam prior to Partition too as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad captures the scenario in India Wins Freedom as “Both Congress and Muslim League had originally accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan which meant that both had accepted in the Constituent Assembly. So far as Congress was concerned, it was still in favour of the Cabinet Mission Plan. The only objection raised from the Congress side was by certain leaders from Assam. They were possessed by an inexplicable fear of Bengalis. They said that if Bengal and Assam were grouped together, the whole region would be dominated by Muslims. This objection had been raised by leaders of Assam immediately after the Cabinet Mission announced its plan. Gandhiji had initially accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan and declared ‘Cabinet Mission’s proposal contain the seed to convert this land of sorrow into one without sorrow and suffering’. He went on to say in the Harijan ‘After four days of searching examination of the State paper issued by the Cabinet Mission and the Viceroy on behalf of the British Government, my conviction abides that it is the best document that the British Government could have produced in the circumstances’. Gopinath Bardoloi, the Chief Minister of Assam, however persisted in his opposition and submitted a Memorandum to the Congress Working Committee opposing the grouping of Assam and Bengal as proposed in the Cabinet Mission statement.

“In the Working Committee, we felt that we should not reopen the question of grouping. In order partly to meet the objection of our colleagues from Assam but mainly on grounds of principle, we did, however, raise the question of European participation, in the election of the Constituent Assembly. I wrote to the Viceroy that Congress might reject the whole of Cabinet Mission’s proposals if the European Members of the Bengal and Assam Legislature participated in the elections to the Constituent Assembly either by voting or by standing as candidates. This objection was met as the Europeans in the Bengal Assembly made a declaration that they would not seek representation in the proposed Constituent Assembly. In the meantime, however, Gandhiji’s views changed and he gave his support to Bardoloi. Jawaharlal agreed with me that the fears of the Assam leaders were unjustified and tried hard to impress them. Unfortunately they did not listen to either Jawaharlal or me, especially since Gandhiji was now on their side and issued statements supporting their stand. Jawaharlal was however steadfast and gave me his full support” (P-184-185).

This fear of Bengalis was manifest in the Land Of Pure too who didn’t honour the verdict of people to have a Bengali President hence leading to further alienation resulting in creation of Bangladesh. This fear of Bengalis didn’t die down with creation of a separate land for Bengalis but still continues and Assam is still epicenter of this fear. To dispel and put a pace on the teeming ‘usurpation’ by Bengalis an Accord was ratified, whose ramifications, results and revolt are the subject matter of the book under review.

The Bengali threat was present, which bifurcated in Bengali Muslims posing a political threat and Bengali Hindus as economic threat, and this fear was cashed by vested elements making “Bodos and Ahoms fight an alien force(the Bengali speaking community) and thereby to dissipate their energy and to keep their attention away from their own problems” (P-2). This fear even led to one of the worst massacres of Muslims at Nellie by Hindu fanatics of RSS and VHP who instigated and led the tribals to carry out this ethnic cleansing. The hand of these invisible perpetrators is unveiled time and again. Recently, ULFA chairman Arbinda Rajkhowa alleged on 11 November 2008 that “RSS was behind the deadly October 30, 2008 blasts in Assam and ethnic violence in Bodo Territorial Administered Districts(BTAD) which claimed 140 lives(85 in blasts and 55 in ethnic violence). He also claimed that ULFA had enough evidence to prove RSS involvement in the blasts. A few months ago in its mouthpiece, Freedom, ULFA had mentioned the secret directives sent by RSS to carry out blasts in different parts of the country, but the government took no steps in this direction” (DNA online news, 11 November 2008).

These war mongers, communalists, murderers of pluralism and coexistence must understand that their tactics will fail to create a wedge between the two faiths because “We should note at this point that, in Assam as is the case for the whole of India, Islamic teachings concerning social life were not imparted to the people. This is why it is very difficult to find any difference between the Assamese Hindus and Muslims of Assam in cultural matters. The Muslims of Assam are very close to the Assamese Hindus in their culture and traditions. The Muslims have retained many customs and rituals of their pre-Islamic times” (P-20)

The book deals with the impact of the Assam Accord, practical impediments to its implementation, problems which arose due to this accord, political parties which spoke against this accord and the resentment of people against the same. “The Assam Accord has created many more problems than it has solved. There are some difficulties inherent in the Accord itself. For this reason, it is very difficult to implement it. Bangladesh is also a party to the implementation of the Accord. If the so-called “foreigners” are detected, Dhaka should be ready to take these people back. The clauses of the Accord, which will make the proof of citizenship easier have not been amended so far. On the other hand the minority leaders call the Accord a conspiracy against the citizens of India” (P- 89-90).

If every group, ethnicity, cultural or religious minority will start demanding safeguards or niche in a diverse pluralistic country, then something must be wrong with the political culture and democratic setup of the Nation, which must be understood and if fallible, remedied as the author rightly points out. If the Government of India is sincere in its protestations of concern for the minorities, it must say clearly that no part of India is the exclusive homeland of any ethnic, linguistic or cultural or religious group, and that the whole of India is the common homeland of all ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural groups that together form the motherland of India”. (P-34).

Overall the book is welcome addition on a unique subject which can be still labelled as virgin. If the author wishes he can add certain general chapters to make the particular book wider in scope or write a sequel because much water has flown since the Assam Accord. A chapter on the Fear of the Other which is gripping whole India, as well as China’s claim on Assam and rise of ULFA, its ideology and concerns would certainly add to the depth of this subject. The avenue is virgin still for the author to carryout the research work once again. The book is a laudable contribution by a religious scholar-philosopher on a subject entirely political and essential for anyone craving to understand Assam Accord.

The reviewer is a Srinagar-based writer

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 July 2011 on page no. 27

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