Regional political parties in india s. Bhatnagar pradeep kumar



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be only one President for the AGP. AGP's doors were made open to all Indian citizens who are permanent settlers in Assam, the minimum age for membership being 18 years. The Convention also elected a sizeable Central Executive Committee to launch the career of the new party through the elections and thereafter till such time as a regular conference would elect new office bearers.

The Constitution sub-committee as appointed by the Golaghat Convention held a series of meetings and submitted its report containing several amendments to the draft. The Central Executive committee in its meeting held at Guwahati on 2-3 September 1986 accepted the recommendations, and the revised Constitution was to be placed before the State level general conference of the AGP for approval. It was expected to be a formality only since all points of view had already been considered at the Golaghat Convention and subsequently.

The aims and objectives of the AGP under its revised draft Consti-tution were as under28.

1. Establishment of a progressive society free from exploitation and based on political equality, economic development and social justice.

2. To work for the achievement of secularism, democracy and socialism, to strive for peace, progress and social harmony and integration and to promote these causes among the people.

3. To secure more rights for the State in a real federal Union.

4. Full utilisation of Assam's natural resources in the interest of allround benefit for the people and on that basis to strive for strengthening the State's economic foundations.

5. Protection of forests and reserved areas and adoption of measures for cultivation of fallow lands to increase productivity.

6. Balanced agricultural and industrial development and extension of special benefits to indigenous cultivators and local entrepreneurs,

7. To provide for full protection of the interests of local candidates in all matters of employment

8. Restructuring of the State's Plan so that the benefits of a planned economy serve the interests of the poorest sections of the society and thus ensure maximum welfare for the people of Assam.

9. Protection of the interests of local peasantry and workers by revising land laws and policy relating to industries.

10. Equal opportunities for all in the field of education, introduction of employment-oriented educational courses, and ensuring autonomy in the field of higher education.

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11. Strengthening understanding and goodwill among different ethnic groups and sections of people, and adoption of all measures for the development of all indigenous languages, art and culture.

12. Extension of health care facilities to the poorest sections also through decentralisation of public health service measures.

13. To accelerate the pace of rural development by making improvement in the fields of transport and communication.

14. Promotion of the scientific temper in the society in order to keep pace with future industrial development and for all this, to lay emphasis on science and technology.

15. In order that national and international problems could be faced appropriately, to seek to extend cooperation with all democratic, secular and such other political parties as are opposed to regional imbalance and respect the legitimate rights of small nationalities; such cooperation would depend on the merits of the issues.

16. To seek to build up unity in action with all like minded parties of the north-eastern States for facing problems of common concern.

17. To adopt all measures to realise in practice the constitutional safe guards provided for in the Constitution for all comparatively backward people including S.C/S.T. categories irrespective of their habitation in hills or plains areas.

The AGP's Constitution provides for two types of members - Primary Member and Active Member. A candidate or primary member could earn the rights as an active member by active participation continuously in the party's activities for not less than a year. Active members only could be chosen as office bearers. The organisational structure is patterned after the three-tier Panchayat system-Gaon Sabha in village panchayat areas, Anchalik (area, region) Sabha in Anchalik Panchayat areas, and Zila (District) Sabha in Zila Panchayat areas. At the apex there is the Central Executive Committee of 17 members elected by the Kendriya (Central) Sabha. The revised Constitution provides for one President and two General Secretaries29.

VII

The AGP fought the 1985 General Election to the Assam Legislative Assembly with a short ELECTION MANIFESTO reciting the well-known positions of the Assam Movement and with a programme of action in line with the aims and objectives of the parry's Constitution. Implementation



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of the Assam Accord was the Central issue on which it sought the support of the State's electorate. Stating that keeping the Assam Accord in view it wanted to seek a permanent solution to the problem of infiltration of foreigners, the AGP's Election Manifesto pledged that AGP was 'determined to take effective measures to preserve peace and amity among all sections of the people living in Assam. While doing all this, AGP guarantees that no Indian irrespective of language or religion shall suffer in the least in any manner. AGP is determined to provide full security to every citizen irrespective of his/her language or religion'30.

The elections assumed the proportions of a veritable referendum. Arrayed against the AGP were the all-India political parties. A new factor in the situation was the formation of the United Minorities Front (UMF) by sections of religious or linguistic minorities. If implementation of the Assam Accord was the major plank of the AGP, the UMF made scrapping the Accord its chief election issue. The parties in opposition to the AGP tried their hands in elections many a time while the overwhelming majority of AGP candidates were new not only to elections but to politics as well.

It lay in the logic of the situation that the AGP should win to become Assam's young, new ruling party. It came to power riding on a wave of Assamese sub nationalism which took good care of the interests of the sections of people. A spectacular 85% of the electorate participated in the election. AGP won in 72 constituencies and Shri Prafulla Kumar Mahanta was returned from two constituencies with impressive majorities. Mahanta later on vacated one seat and it was an AGP candidate who won from that constituency, Kaliabor, with a still larger majority. Incidentally, the AGP won again in another bye-election, i.e., Golok-ganj, with a larger majority.

AGP's appeal was not restricted to Assamese-speaking population alone, although among them support for it was near total. AGP's popular vote was 35.17%, victories in two bye-elections would increase the figure. The UMF secured 17 seats with a popular vote of 11.09%. The Congress (I) won 25 seats, Congress (S) 4, and CPI(M) 3 seats while the CPI, BJP and the Janata Party drew a blank. All this shows that AGP's support extended well beyond the ethnic Assamese.

Falsifying the predictions of an interesting number of poll analysts, AGP won in tribal areas, tea gardens and also in areas of immigrant Muslims which constituted the vote banks of the Congress (I) all throughout these years. AGP won the major tribal constituencies in Kokrajhar district; besides winning in the autonomous district of hilly Karbi Anglong,

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it bagged seats in the plains tribal areas in Lakhimpur, Sonitpur and Dar-rang. Plantation workers in tea gardens, traditional voters for the Congress (I), chose this time to return AGP candidates. AGP won the prestigious Barpeta Parliamentary seats where immigrant Bengali Muslims constitute a sizeable section of the electorate. All this serve to indicate that AGP's support was more broad-based than most analysts had anticipated. Much was made of the tribal antipathy towards the AGP: the results falsified such interested misinformation. Protection of tribal interests found a place in the Assam Accord and, one of the first measures of the AGP Government headed by Prafulla Kumar Mahanta was to issue orders stopping alienation of tribal lands.



The victories of parties other than the AGP in the election in a number of constituencies showed the division among various groups of Assam's population. While the AGP could project a national image embracing support from all sections of people, the UMF and CPI(M) succeeded in gaining support in areas where the linguistic or religious minorities predominate. The Plains Tribal Council of Assam (PTCA) also succeeded to attract tribal voters in some constituencies. While this was part of the election game, it also showed how geographically distinct areas in Assam have their particularist identity.

The erstwhile student leaders from AASU, in the main, formed the AGP Government. But AASU has retained its old identity. It remains an independent student organisation which has succeeded in winning popular acclaim as a national organisation of the people of Assam. It was the major force in leading the Assam Movement, in creating a regional political party in the form of AGP. After the elections it resumed its traditional role and it has not hesitated in criticising the AGP Government on a number of issues. AASU has also been functioning as a pressure group. It is also serving as a body keeping constant vigil over the activities of the Government it had brought into existence through painstaking efforts. AASU has threatened a new stir over the issue of full implementation of the Assam Accord. The new Government has fulfilled most of its responsibilities under the Assam Accord and the failure so far of the Central Government has retarded the process of full implementation. The new Government's performance in terms of its promises under the Election Manifesto deserves a separate study. But suffice it to say that the AGP Government has basically retained its popularity and there is no viable alternative to it in the forseable future.

AGP is a new party and its leaders are new in politics. Although young, they became seasoned champions of popular causes during the course of the Assam Movement. Some of them developed a sort of charisma

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around them in quite a short period of time due basically to their simplicity and tenacity of purpose. Most of the young leaders are drawn from urban middle class 'or rural middle class families. All the Ministers and MLAs of AGP at one time or the other were behind the bars during the period of the agitation. Out of the 109 AGP candidates in the Assembly election, only four of them ever contested elections earlier. Another quality of these young leaders is that almost all of them are highly educated, many of them being graduates or Master Degree holders. The Assam Legislative Assembly is probably the most educated legislative body in the whole country in terms of having Degree holders as MLAs. Over two dozen MLAs were still registered as students while they became MLAs; the Chief Minister himself was a student, then in LL.M. classes.

A point of criticism arose in certain quarters about the very small number of women MLAs from AGP. The women of Assam played a very active role in the Movement and, yet, there are only two AGP MLAs from among women, one of them being a Cabinet Minister. AGP leaders explained that not many women came forward to seek election.

In contrast to young AGP MLAs, the AGP sent a comparatively senior team to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha and among AGP's Rajya Sabha members, one is a woman.

Finally, it is worthwhile to note that while most of the conventional politicians being seniors have some thing to fall back upon as a profession, it appears that AGP's young leaders have to look upon politics as a full time career with little else to fall back upon. They have three to four decades of active life or politics before them, generally speaking. The natural instinct of survival could lead them on a steady course in fulfilment of their cherished objectives.

NOTES&REFERENCES

1. Gabriel A. Almond and Sidney Verba, The Civic Culture Boston, Little Brown, 1965, p. 12

2. Cf. C.S. Mullan, Census of India, 1931, Vol. HI: Assam, Part I Report p. 45.

3. Ibid. pp. 49-50, 51.

4. Ibid, p.52

5. The Assam Land Revenue Manual, Volume I, 8th edn. Introduction, p.iv.

6. Penderal Moon, (ed.), Wavell: The Viceroy's Journal (Oxford University Press, London, 1973) p,42.

7. Cf. Political History of Assam, Vol. Ill 1940-47 (Govt of Assam Gauhati, 1980), Chapter V; also, Appendix J, Ibid., and D.G. Tendulkar, Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi Vol.7, pp.286-88.

8. From Nehru Papers at Nehru Memorial Library, New Delhi.

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9. Census of India 1971. Series-3 Assam Part I-A General Report, p. 47.

10. There was no census in Assam due to the Assam Movement.

11. From Indian Citizens vs. foreign Nationals: Memorandum to the Prime Minister of India by Asom Jagriti, 25 January 1980, 0.10.

12. From statement of Objects and Reasons for the Bill.

13. Influx; Infiltration from East Pakistan, Published by DAVP, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, for Ministry of External Affairs, Govt. of India, and printed at Albion Press, Delhi (3.3.63--p HI) Aug. 1963.

14. Quoted, Invasion in Disguise: The problem of Foreign infiltration into Assam (Co-ordination Committee of GU Teachers' Association, May 1980).

15. Ibid.

16. Vide fn. 13 above.

17. The Statesman (Calcutta), 16 January, 1979.

18. Ibid., 5 December, 1979.

19. For details, see Debo Prasad Barooah, "Mid-Term Poll to The Seventh Lok Sabha and Assam", in Man&Development (Chandigarh), March 1981, pp. 65-75. For a more detailed study of the entire problem of foreign nationals issues see also the same author's entry of Silent Civilian Invasion: India's Danger in the North-East in B.L. Abdi (ed.) Northeast Region; Problems and Prospects of Development (Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development Chandigarh, 1984), pp. 287-300.

20. The Assam Tribune (Gauhati), 7 November 1979; See also Debo Prasad Barooah, "The Assam Problem: An analysis" in Interdiscipline (Varanasi), Vol. 15, No. 2, 81-93.

21. Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam, Letter No. PLA 937/80 of 11.2.80.

22. For some details, see article in Interdiscipline by Barooah, f.n. 20 above. For a detailed analysis of the 1983 election results, see Truth Unfold: Fraudulent means cannot bury truths, published by AASU.

23. From cyclostyled document of the Workshop, in Assamese. In this connection, for a background study of the ethos of the Assam Movement, see Anuradha Dutta's entry on Indian Nationalism and the Crisis of Identity of the Assamese Nationality: A study of the Assam Movement, in H.A.H. Haqqi, (ed)., Democracy, Pluralism and Nation Building (N.B.O. Publishers' Distributors, Delhi, 1984).

24. Cf. Sanjib Baruah, "Lessons of Assam", in Economic&Political Weekly (Bombay),

25. Text of the Assam Accord, published by DAVP, Ministry of Information&Broadcasting, Govt. of India, August, 1985.

26. The Sentinel (Guwahati), Special Issue, 15 August, 1985.

27. In text of the Assam Accord, f.n. 25 above.

28. Gana Batori, Organ of AGP in Assamese, 1-15 October 1986.

29. Ibid.

30. From Election Manifesto of Asam Gana Parishad, in Assamese.

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GENESIS OF ASOM GANA PARISHAD



Girin Phukon

The emergence of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in 1985 is a significant political development of the Northeastern region in particular and in the country in general. It was formed just 67 days before Assam Legislative Assembly elections held in December 1985. By securing 67 seats in the 126-member Assembly, the AGP grabbed power in Assam defeating the Congress (I) which could secure only 25 seats. Although, it may seem that the AGP is the result of anti foreigner movement (1979-85), its origin may be traced back even earlier to this. There has been a long history of struggle of the Assamese people for their distinct, socio-cultural and political identity which virtually started since the twenties of this century. In fact, the anti foreigner movement is the latest phase of this struggle. Therefore, any worthwhile study of the genesis of the AGP should proceed from a discussion on the problem of immigration into Assam and growth of regional sentiment which ultimately led to the anti-foreigner movement. More importantly, it is necessary to show how and why the movement grew out of an apprehension that the Assamese would be swamped politically, culturally and economically by the non-Assamese Indians (Bahiragata : coming from outside) and particularly immigrants from Bangladesh and Nepal. In view of this, the paper is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the problem of immigration into Assam which created the anti-foreigner movement. The second part deals with the process of organising the Assamese people politically in a bid to capture political power of the state, which ultimately culminated in the formation of the AGP.

I

There had been a continuous flow of non-Assamese Indians into Assam



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ever since the British occupation. In fact, in order to run the imperialist administration, clerks and officers familiar with the system of company administration were brought by the British from outside the province. Moreover, they imported a large number of working hands to work in tea plantation, transport, road construction, oil field and coal mines. A certain number of other people also came within this flow to fill the various demands of colonial economic development. A large majority of the Assamese people, like most other traditional societies, were agriculturists and most of them looked down upon wage labour i.e. working for others. At the same time, it is also a fact that like many other societies, the Assamese caste tradition did not look with favour at the low-graded professions such as barbers, washermen, shoe-makers etc. Therefore, the tea garden labourers and other manual labourers (in our time the Rickshaw pullers) came to Assam from other parts of India. The Marwaris and few Biharis came to fill the necessities of trade and business created by the opportunities of economic expansion under the British rule. Thus as a result of immigration, gradually there developed small townships, mostly peopled by middle class elements from outside the province to cater to the growing need of administration and trade1. Since the late nineteenth century the Assamese middle class became unhappy with all these developments and felt anxiety for this. They had to face keen competition in their own home even for jobs and in the field of petty trade and business, with their counterpart of the immigrant communities.

More importantly, to the growing and aspiring Assamese middle class, the "Bengali" have appeared as an obstacle to their economic and cultural advancement As the Bengali Hindus were among the first social groups in India to learn English, they could move into administrative positions and then entered the modern professions. By the beginning of the 20th century the Doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, clerks and officers in railways and the officers of Assam Government have been mostly the Bengalis. Another factor which helped the Bangalis to grab public offices and professions was that the British introduced the Bengali language, in place of the Assamese as the official language of the province in 1837 and it remained so for nearly half a century. Although, the Assamese language was introduced in the schools of Assam in 1873, the Bengalis continued to have separate Bengali Schools and they were not inclined to adopt Assamese as their medium of instruction. Together with the Bengali Hindu elite, the Muslim immigrants from Bengal also demanded equal rights for the Bengali language. Thus, Matiur Rahman

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Mia, who presented the views of Muslim immigrants in Assam Legislative Assembly, pleaded:

We are Bengalis, our mother tongue is Bengali... Under the circumstances if this Assamese language be imposed as a new burden on our shoulders, on our children's shoulders and if we are deprived of our mother-tongue, then that will amount to depriving our children from opportunities of education2.

Similarly, the third session of the Assam Domiciled and Settlers' Association (Renamed as Assam Citizen's Association) which championed the views of the Bengali middle class in Assam, held at Now gong on 24 March 1940 reiterated the demand for equal citizenship rights and education through the medium of one's mother-tongue3. But the Assamese elite wanted that Bengali should learn Assamese and assimilate with the Assamese culture. The question of language got tied up with the economic issues, which, therefore, got highly politicized. Economically, the business of Assam was controlled by the Europeans and the Marwaris. Though numerically small, the Marwaris are the most visible of the migrant communities in Assam, dominating trade, commerce banking and credit. As stated earlier, the Bengali had largely captured the petty trades, clerical and other jobs and professions like law and medicine. In fact, position of influence and profit which the Assamese elite wished to hold were in large part in Bengalis' hand. It is interesting to note that although the Marwaris and the Europeans exploited the Assamese economically, the Assamese elite did not feel the pinch of their dominance as much as that of the Bengalis. This was due to the fact that the former did not pose a socio-cultural threat to the Assamese as the Bengalis did. In any case, the Assamese elite who were late in coming to commercial and industrial fields found themselves greatly handicapped and hence they developed an antisense of deprivation.

This situation became more critical with the penetration of the Bengali immigrants from Bengal, particularly from the district of Mymen singh into the rural interiors of the Province. These immigrants came mainly to settle on agricultural land. So rapid and large was the immigration that C.S. Muslan, a British Census Commissioner, commented in his Census Report of 1931 that immigration was "likely to alter permanently the whole future of Assam and to destroy more surely than the Burmese invaders of 1820 the whole structure of Assamese culture and civilization"4. During the late thirties and early forties a new element emerged leading to large scale immigration. After 1926 the Provincial government of Assam was mostly dominanted by the Muslim

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League. The Assamese elite complained that the Muslim League Ministry led by Muhammad Saadulla adopted a policy of encouraging East Bengal Muslims to come to Assam with the design of increasing the ratio of Muslim popluation in Assam,5 As a part of this policy, the Muslim League Ministry adopted a "Land Development Scheme" and a "colonisation scheme". According to the former scheme wasteland was to be distributed among the immigrants thereby enabling them to grow more food. Under the colonisation scheme, the government of Assam assumed to itself the responsibility to settle the immigrants in a planned way in selected places. The first colonisation scheme was started in Nowgong in 1928 and it was followed by Borpeta and Mangaldoi sub-divisions. The areas alloted to 1,619 Muslims and 441 Hindu immigrant families under Nowgong Scheme alone amounted to 47,636 acres till March, 1933.6 During the six years preceding 1936 as many as 59 grazing forest and village reserve had been thrown open in Nowgong under the colonisation scheme for settling the immigrants7. It appeared to the Assamese elite that the Saadulla government was following as champion of the Assamese middle class. The Assam Tribune had aptly put it, a completely anti-Assamese policy"8 As a result, there was a tremendous influx of the Muslim population in the Brahmaputra valley districts (including the Gar Hills) during the period between 1911-1941. This may be shown, as follows9.


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