Regional political parties in india s. Bhatnagar pradeep kumar



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Nearly thirty years passed from the central Act of 1950, but the Government abdicated its constitutional and lawful responsibilities and hence, the people answered through the massive Assam Movement. People felt alarmed as a result of the frightful discovery of a large number of illegal migrants' names in the electoral rolls of the Mangaldoi parliamentary constituency19. There were also widespread popular feelings that certain national political parties having vested interests in the foreigners' vote banks were out to stall the process of detection of foreigners by raising the bogey of 'harassment of Indian citizens'. Anyway, the Mangaldoi proceedings served as a danger signal. It was that if in one consitutency thousand of illegal settlers could infiltrate also into the electoral rolls, there was certain peril about the fate of election in the State as a whole. Therefore, when the mid-term poll to the Seventh Lok Sabha was announced, the Assam Movement gathered momentum with the participation of different sections of people crossing all barriers of race, language or religion.

It was left to the student community to raise the first voice of an organised movement when AASU submitted a 21-point Charter of Demands to the Assam Government on 21 February 1974: stopping the influx was one of the demands. Subsequently, in mid-1979, the Assam Movement

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began and it had its origins in the popular demand that the elections to the Seventh Lok Sabha in the fourteen parliamentary constituencies of Assam should be held only on the basis of a correct electoral roll deleting the names of illegal migrants. A tremendous rally of students, youths and other sections of the people resolved in Guwahati on 6 November 1979 not to allow the holding of elections in the State till the electoral rolls were revised excluding the names of all foreign nationals. AASU and AAGSP drew up a programme of peaceful agitation and during the days of Gana (mass) Satyagraha on 12-17 November 1979, over seven lakhs of persons from the age of eight to eighty courted arrest at Guwahati alone20. It was a mass upsurge of a substantial kind and it succeeded in stalling the elections in twelve out of fourteen parliamentary constituencies in Assam demanding the fulfilment of the three Ds-detection of foreign nationals, deletion of their names from the voters' lists and, their deportation acting within the framework of the country's Constitution and the laws. The elections could not be held in the twelve constituencies due mainly to gherao (encirclement) programme by the AASU-AAGSP volunteers at the residence of prospective candidates to prevent them peacefully from filing nominations. The death of a student leader (Khargeswar Talukdar) following police action on the morning of 10 December 1979, incidentally the 3lst anniversary day of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, made a tremendous change in the situation. But State violence failed to curb the mounting popular upsurge which expressed itself basically through peaceful protest movements. By 10 December 1979 even the all-India political parties, barring the Congress (I) and the CPI(M) which fielded candidates for the two parliamentary constituencies from Cachar district, had to call for postponement of the elections; on that day, again, the lone Chief Minister from the breakaway Janata Party (other Ministers from the breakaway group having resigned) and the Governor of Assam called upon the centre to postpone the elections. This was not done even when nominations could be filed for the two Cachar seats only. If the Centre could persuade itself even by 9 December 1979 to act in good faith, Assam would have been spared of all the suffering it had to undergo.



III

The leadership of the Assam Movement learnt to combine mass actions with negotiations and when the new Government at the Centre was formed, AASU presented a comprehensive memorandum to the Prime

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Minister on 2 February 1980. After this, there followed detailed discussions with the Home Minister on 5-6 February. The Government expressed 'broad agreement in principle' in respect of the following demands:21



(i) Foreign nationals must be detected and deported from our country.

(ii) (a) Names of foreign nationals must be removed from the concerned electoral rolls before holding any election in Assam, (b) Inclusion of foreign nationals' names in the electoral rolls in the future must be made impossible with the help of an adequate and strong election machinery.

(iii) Border of India with neighbouring countries must be fully protected to effectively check infiltration,

(iv) Indian voters residing in Assam must be issued Identity Cards with photographs affixed.

(v) Necessary constitutional safeguards should be provided to the people of North Eastern region for the next 15/20 years by making necessary constitutional provisions for the protection of the identity of the indigenous population of this region.

However, nothing concrete emerged in the years following the 1980 negotiations and several rounds of discussions thereafter involving also the national political parties in the form of tripartite talks. These talks were obviously used to serve as an eye-wash to prepare the ground for an imposed election on the people of Assam. And elections were announced on 6 January 1983 for the 126 Assembly and 12 Lok Sabha seats on the basis of the highly defective 1979 electoral rolls; apart from containing the names of a large number of illegal migrants, these rolls, being unrevised, deprived an estimated eight lakhs of genuine voters who came of voting age in 1993.

The Central Government descended to the lower depths in imposing the elections on an unwilling people. The stage was prepared by detaining the leaders of the Movement immediately on their return from Delhi after participating in the deceptive negotiations for a settlement. The 1979 electoral rolls were validated for the so-called elections in 1983. The irregularities in holding the so-called elections have been widely commented upon in different quarters inside and outside the country. Never ever such an election farce was enacted anywhere to fulfil a so-called constitutional obligation. It was a strange election in which a majority

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of Indians in Assam stayed away from the imposed elections and in which a majority of non-Indians voted. It was an 'election' which could be conducted only by importing polling and other personnel including drivers for vehicles from outside the State. It was also a fraudulent election in that so-called MLAs could be elected, for instance, on the basis of 266 votes cast in one booth only: the reference is to the Dharampur constituency in Kamrup district with an electorate of 69,308; votes cast 267, invalid 1. Strange new draconian laws were enforced to conduct the so-called election. It was election at gun point with 64 battalions of paramilitary forces besides 11 regular Assam Police Battalions22.

The 1983 election was a double imposition on the people of Assam, imposed election combined with imposed violence at the instance of the contesting political parties and vested interests. The violence took a toll of more than 3,000 men, women and children and the blood-stained elections were designed to do almost irreparable damage to the harmonious fabric of Assamese society. It is on record that the first victims of mass violence were the indigenous people at a place called Chamariya and it was followed by engineered election clashes at Gohpur between tribal Assamese and non-tribal Assamese. The security forces were there just to kill anti-election resisters and to do 'election duty. But if the authority for maintenance of law and order really intended to discharge their lawful duties, the tragedy at Nellie could have been averted. What mattered to the ruling party at the Centre was to somehow instal a Congress (I) ministry in Assam, no matter how many human lives were lost. Small wonder, then, that the overwhelming majority of the people of Assam never regarded the ministry headed by Shri Hiteswar Saikia as a legel one. Under mass pressure, many national political parties also demanded the dissolution of the State Assembly and dismissal of the so-called ministry. Another curious matter regarding the 1983 election was that it could not just be held in 17 Assembly constituencies, in one it was countermanded and, out of the twelve parliamentary constituencies, results of five constituencies only could be declared. Thus, the 'election' was just 'completed' keeping the nation in the dark about how and in what manner it was completed.

The young leadership of the Assam Movement displayed rare maturity in judgement in dealing with the nightmarish situation. It suspended the agitation programme in the supreme interest of restoring peace and harmony shattered so very rudely by the evils of the imposed election, and to restore the academic atmosphere which stood vitiated by the induction of security forces into the educational campuses as part of the nefarious

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game to force an unwanted election. At the same time the Movement gave top priority to organising relief and rehabilitation programmes. These matched the sweep in a very substantial manner of the massive Movement itself. Further, organisational efforts were continued to consolidate the gains of the Movement in terms of popular response.

IV

A natural product of the Assam Movement, AGP's origins are to be traced to a series of conscious steps taken by AASU constituting the Movement Supreme leadership. It was at AASU's instance that the first National Convetion representing different sections of people met on the Campus of the Assam Agricultural University at Jorhat on 10-11 January 1984. Resolution no. 8 of this Convention recommended to the next Convention to take appropriate steps with a view to organising the masses politically in keeping with the needs of the time. A comprehensive programme was necessary to give form and content to the new national need of the people of Assam, harassed as they were by a set of usurpers foisted through the 1983 non-election. Thus, on the eve of Assam's national festival, the Bohag Bihu, a multi-dimensional Workshop was organised by AASU on, the campus of the Gauhati University in April 1984. Its purpose was to draft a Programme covering all aspects, socio-economic, educational, political and cultural, in order that the new regional political force that was due to be launched could be armed with a definitive mission to fulfil.



The Report of the section of the Workshop devoted to a consideration of political, constitutional and legal issues served as a preface to the Draft Programme. It underlined the point that Assam's most massive Movement was on in the interest of preserving the unity and integrity of the country, and that experiences gained through the Movement had convinced the Assamese people in no uncertain terms that preservation of the distinctive identity of the people of Assam served the cause of both maintaining the unity and integrity of the country and making the concept of unity in diversity more meaningful. The people of Assam desired a federal state in which the Centre should have control over such matters as defence, foreign affairs, communications, foreign trade, currency, economic coordination, etc., and that the rest of the subjects should be entrusted to the care of States with autonomous powers; it was desired that the Constitution be subjected to a fundamental overhaul. Assam seeks to have appropriate control and authority over the use of the natural

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resources in the interest of the State and the country, it being noted that healthy regionalism and recognition of the legitimate aspirations of sub-nationalism i.e., the aspirations of India's multi-lingual and multi-cultural people with a number of major and minor nationalities and the tribal people are in perfect accord with the ethos of Indian nationalism as it had emerged through the Freedom Movement. The composite culture of the people of Assam is a unique example of fraternal solidarity among various sections of people with their distinctive status and identity: all sections are to be afforded full opportunities of development in terms of their native genius and needs of modern development. Shining in its own glory, Assam seeks to have its rightful place as an integral part of India.

Further, based on a just recognition of the legitimate rights of the Assamese nationality,-political, economic and cultural, Assam seeks to have its rightful place as a strong and equal partner in the Republic of India based on the principles of democracy, socialism and secularism. With this end in view, the Draft Programme listed a number of long-term and short-term objectives to be pursued by the upcoming regional political organisation23.

The second National Convention held in November 1984 on the campus of the Assam Agricultural University discussed in plenary session the various sectional reports of the Workshop held at the Gauhati University and approved of the Draft Programme with certain minor amendments and additive suggestions in order that the Programme could be one for the overall regeneration of Assamese society. This Programme was to lay the basis for the preparation in course of time the Constitution and Election Manifesto of the AGP.

The Jorhat Convention appointed an eleven-member Preparatory Committee and charged it with the responsibility of organising a National Convention designed to given organisational shape to the regional political force as envisaged at the first Convention. It was aimed at completing the process of political unification of various ethnic groups of the Assamese nationality for achieving its rightful place in an India which should be a real federation of States. In a very real sense the Assam Movement was the product of political organisation at the grassroots; the process of political socialisation was noticeably furthered during the course of the Movement and it produced its own dynamics. Further the case of conflict between a regional party and the goal of national unity has not been proved24. In any case, the AGP was to be regional party with a national outlook.

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V

Meanwhile, the people of Assam were not taken in by the antics of the illegal regime imposed through the 1983 'elections' and the popular movement proceeded apace in various forms of peaceful protest despite the continuance of a whole series of draconian laws and almost near-permanent imposition of the prohibitory order in practically all places. The National Convention proceedings formed part of the Movement and the Central Government felt compelled to resume the negotiations for a settlement of the problem. Thus, formal discussions were resumed in March 1985 and a settlement was reached on the issue in Assam in the early hours of 15 August 1985 in the form of the now famous Assam Accord.



The Memorandum of Settlement (the Assam Accord) recited in the prefatory part as to how the Centre was 'fully alive to the genuine apprehensions of the people of Assam' and having kept in view 'all aspects of the problem including constitutional and legal provisions, international agreements, national commitments and humanitarian considerations', the following provisions were agreed upon on the Foreigners Issue:

1. For purposes of detection and deletion of foreigners, 1.1.1966 shall be the base data and year.

2. All persons who came to Assam prior to 1.1. 1966, including those amongst those whose names appeared on the electoral rolls used in 1967 elections, shall be regularised.

3. Foreigners who came to Assam after 1.1.1966 (inclusive) and up to 24 March 1971 shall be detected in accordance with the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Foreigners (Tribunals) Order, 1964.

4. Names of foreigners so detected will be deleted from the electoral rolls in force. Such persons will be required to register themselves before the Registration Officer of the respective districts in accordance with the provisions of the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939 and the Registration of Foreigners Rules, 1939.

5. For this purpose, Government of India will undertake suitable strengthening of the government machinery.

6. On the expiry of a period of ten years following the date of detection the names of all such persons which have been deleted from the electoral rolls shall be restored.

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7. All persons who were expelled earlier, but have since re-entered illegally into Assam, shall be expelled.

8. Foreigners who came to Assam on or after 25 March 1971 shall continue to be detected, deleted and expelled in accordance with law. Immediate practical steps shall be taken to expel such foreigners.

9. The Government will give due consideration to certain difficulties expressed by AASU/AAGSP regarding the implementation of the illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983. As for Safeguards and Economic Development, the Assam Accord stated that 'constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people'. Having reviewed the Government's commitment for speedy all round economic development of Assam in the interest of improving the standard of living of the people, the Accord stated that special exphasis would be placed on 'education and science and technology through establishment of national institutions'.

Among Other Issues, it was agreed that the Govenment would arrange for the issue of citizenship certificate in future only by the authorities of the Central Government; that specific complaints that might be made by AASU/AAGSP about irregular issuance of Indian Citizenship Certificates (ICC) would be looked into; that the international border would be made secure against future infiltration by erection of appropriate physical barriers at relevant places; that patrolling by security forces on land and riverine routes would be adequately intensified and an adequate number check posts would be set up; that a road all along the international border would be constructed so as to faciltiate patrolling by security forces and land between border and the road would be kept free of human habitation, wherever possible; that 'it will be ensured that relevant laws for prevention of encroachment of government lands and lands in tribal belts and blocks are strictly enforced and unauthorised encroachers evicted as laid down under such laws'; that the relevant law restricting acquisition of immovable property by foreigners in Assam would be strictly enforced and, that Birth and Death Registers would be duly maintained.25

As a part of restoration of normalcy, AASU and AAGSP agreed to call off the agitation. As for their part, the Central and State Governments agreed to review with sympathy and withdraw cases of disciplinary action taken against employees during the period of the Movement,

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frame a scheme for ex-gratia payment to the next of kin of those who were killed in the course of the agitation, give sympathetic consideration to the matter of relaxation of upper age limit for employment in public services in Assam having regard to the exceptional circumstances obtaining during the period of the agitation, undertake a review of detention cases and to consider withdrawal of prohibitory orders/notifications in force. It was agreed that the Ministry of Home Affairs would be the nodal Ministry for the implementation of the above measures.

The Assam Accord was a very comprehensive settlement and if the Centre acted in good faith, it bade fair to bring about peace and normalcy in the State. The Assam Movement was called off following the Accord and as a part of political decision, it was agreed that the Assam Assembly would be dissolved. The leadership of the Movement was, however, very unhappy about the Centre's decision to allow Shri Hiteswar Saikia to remain as caretaker Chief Minister after the Assembly was dissolved. The AASU President of the day, Shri Prafulla Kumar Mahanta frankly stated that they continued to regard the so-called Chief Minister as a political usurper as a result of the 1983 farce of an election, and that henceforth prior to the coming elections following the Assam Accord, all communications between the Movement leaders and the Centre would be made through the Assam Governor and the Chief Secretary26.

In view of the impending elections, AASU and AAGSP demanded appropriate revision of the electoral rolls and the Union Home Minister declared in Parliament on 16 August 1985 that the Election Commission was being requested to ensure preparation of fair electoral rolls, that the time for settlement of claims and objections would be extended by 30 days and that the Election Commission would be requested to send Central Observers. Further, the Home Minister announced that in order to accelerate the industrial and educational development, the Government of India agreed to establish an oil refinery in Assam with provision of assistance in terms of institutional and Bank finance, render full assistance to the State Government to re-open the Ashok Paper Mill and Jute Mills and to the establishment of an I.I.T. in Assam. He expressed the hope that the Assam Accord would usher in an era of harmony, goodwill and prosperity for the people of Assam27.

The post-Accord situation in Assam was a demonstrative spectacle of mass euphoria over the victory of the Assam Movement after six long years of struggle in which hundreds laid down their lives as martyrs. It has long been a tradition with all public functions in Assam to begin the proceedings on every occasion with homage to the martyrs. And hundreds

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of meetings were held in different places of Assam to accord a rousing reception to the leaders returning from Delhi after signing the Accord. Two charismatic leaders stood out most prominently, AASU President Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and Bhrigu Kumar Phukan, AASU General Secretary. They were verily the idols of the masses and other leaders of the Movemement were also lustily cheered whenever they appeared in public platforms. The pre-election mass rallies were evidence enough of the fact that the masses had voted with their feet, as it were, for a party that was yet to be born. The stage was now set for the National Political Convetion at Golaghat on 12-14 October 1985. AASU leaders formally resigned from the student body since as an organisation it could not have any affiliation with any political party. But it goes without saying that student and youth power was to form the bedrock of the new regional political party.



VI

The Asom Gana Parishad was born on 14 October 1985 with the adoption of the draft Constitution for the Party as prepared by the Preparatory Committee formed at the second National convention held at Jorhat It was to be working Constitution till a finalised draft would be adopted at the first general session at the State level to be held later on. The Golaghat Convention appointed a subcommittee with Shri Bhrigu Kumar Phukan as Convener to consider all amendments and suggestions and to prepare a report for consideration of the Central Executive committee and final approval at the proposed general session.

In view of the impending elections, certain interim measures were taken. The Golaghat Convention elected a six member Presidium with Shri Prafulla Kumar Mahanta as the Chief President and with Shri Bhrigu Kumar Phukan as one of the General Secretaries of the newly formed AGP. It may be noted that the AAGSP, and among these were the small regional parties of the day which associated themselves with the Assam Movement, i.e., the Purbanchaliya Lok Parishad (PLP) and the Asom Jatiyatabadi Dal; the Asam Sahitya Sabha, Asam Yuvak Samaj, all Assam Yuvachatra Parishad, Plains Tribal Council (Brahma Group), Karbi Parishad, and All Assam Tribal Association were also component parts of the AAGSP. It was to accommodate all groups and sections that the Golaghat Convention decided to elect a Presidium for the new party and to have several General Secretaries, as an interim measure. It was, however, unanimously agreed at the Convention that in future there would


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