The two outfits were instrumental in mobilising protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Assam last December
Amid talks of a possible regional political alternative, the influential All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) have formed a 16-member advisory committee to, what they call, suggest steps to secure educational, social, economic and political future of the state.
The two outfits were instrumental in mobilising protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Assam last December, and since then there has been a demand from the civil society that they take the lead in launching an alternative to the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state ahead of the 2021 assembly polls.
The AASU and the AJYCP were among the many indigenous groups in the Northeast that were up in arms against the CAA, fearing it would encourage more migration which could eventually alter the demographic balance of the region.
The CAA grants Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan who entered the country on or before December 31, 2014.
This would be the second instance of the AASU’s brush with politics. In 1985, when the six-year anti-foreigner movement came to an end, a section of student activists led by then AASU president Prafulla Kumar Mahanta formed the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and went on to rule the state for two terms.
The latest move, though long expected, comes at a time when the opposition Congress is batting for a grand alliance to defeat the BJP in the upcoming assembly elections. Prior to this, a political forum of indigenous groups called the Anchalik Gana Morcha was launched in June under the leadership of veteran journalist-turned-Rajya Sabha member Ajit Kumar Bhuyan.
An impressive panel
For the advisory panel, the two student outfits have picked noted litterateur Dr Nagen Saikia, former Meghalaya governor RS Mooshahary, internationally acclaimed filmmaker Jahnu Barua, educationists Basanta Deka, Ali Haider Laskar, Rana Changmai, Abu Shahid Rafikuddin Ahmed, former bureaucrat Dhiren Saikia, writer Sanjay Kumar Tanti, actor Prithviraj Rabha, journalist Surya Thausen, advocate Pranabjyoti Saikia, and eminent citizen Pradip Koch, among others.
The uniqueness of the panel comes from the fact that the members were drawn not only from various fields but also from the different communities of this multiethnic state. The idea seems to be to protect the interests of the indigenous people at a time when the national political parties are turning a blind eye to the problems faced by the state, including the vexed issue of illegal migrants.
Why it is so significant
The advisory committee was formed a week after the AASU released a confidential report on implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord that seeks to protect cultural, social and linguistic identity of the Assamese people. The student body was part of the high-powered committed constituted by the Centre which submitted its recommendations to the Assam government five months ago. For its part, the AASU accused both the Centre and the state government of keeping the people of Assam in dark about the report’s contents and its implementation.
The AASU was one of the signatories of the historic accord that was signed at the end of Assam Agitation in 1985. However, it is “yet to be fully and effectively implemented even after 35 years of its signing”, the committee noted in its report.
The updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, as required under the accord, did not yield desired results. The state government is now exploring legal options for re-verification of names in the final list released in August last year following fears that a large number of “suspected” people made it to the list.
It is expected that the 16-member advisory committee would create a detailed roadmap for the proposed political party, with an emphasis on the full implementation of the Assam Accord in a time-bound manner.
For its part, the AASU maintains that it would retain its apolitical character as a student body. “However, both the AASU and the AJYCP are well aware of the fact that from the beginning of the anti-CAA movement in the state, the people of Assam have openly expressed their support towards formation of a strong regional alternative,” AASU chief advisor Samujjal Bhattachrya told reporters in Guwahati on August 19.
There are reports that the proposed political party would contest as many as 70 out of 126 seats in the upcoming assembly elections. There is also speculation that student leaders such AASU president Dipanka Kumar Nath, general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi and AJYCP leader Palash Changmai would be probable candidates, in which could well turn out to be a high-pitched battle.
An ambitious plan as it is, the AASU would do well to avoid past mistakes of its former leaders who had joined politics but failed to live up to the voters’ expectations. Needless to say that the people would not tolerate a second AGP, a biproduct of Assam Agitation, and in which they had put utmost trust, only to be felt betrayed when it voted in favour of the citizenship bill last year.(Jayanta Kalita is a senior journalist and author based in Delhi. He writes on issues related to India’s Northeast. The views are personal.)