Assam accord

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Home | Assam accord

The years from 1979 to 1985 witnessed political instability in the stale, collapse of state governments, imposition of President's Rule, sustained, often violent, agitation, frequent general strikes, civil disobedience campaigns which paralyzed all normal life for prolonged periods, and unprecedented ethnic violence.

The central government's effort to hold a constitutionally mandated election to the state assembly in 1983 led to its near total boycott, a complete breakdown of order, and the worst killings since 1947 on the basis of tribal linguistic and communal identities. Nearly 3,000 people died in statewide violence. The election proved to be a complete failure with less than 2 per cent of the voters casting their votes in the constituencies with Assamese majority.

The 1983 violence had a traumatic effect on both sides, which once again resumed negotiations in earnest. Finally, the Rajiv Gandhi government was able to sign an accord with the leaders of the movement on 15 August 1985. All those foreigners who had entered Assam between 1951 and 1961 were to be given full citizenship, including the right to vote; those who had done so after 1971 were to be deported; the entrants between 1961 and 1971 were to be denied voting rights for ten years but would enjoy all other rights of citizenship. A parallel package for the economic development of Assam, including a second oil refinery, a paper mill and an institute of technology, was also worked out. The central government also promised to provide ‘legislative and administrative safeguards to protect the cultural, social, and linguistic identity and heritage’ of the Assamese people.

The task of revising the electoral rolls, on the basis of the agreement, was now taken up in earnest. The existing assembly was dissolved and fresh elections held in December 1985. A new party, Assam Gana Parishad (AGP), formed by the leaders of the anti-foreigners movement, was elected to power, winning 64 of the 126 assembly seats. Prafulla Mahanta, an AASU leader, became at the age of thirty-two the youngest chief minister of independent India. Extreme and prolonged political turbulence in Assam ended, though fresh insurgencies were to come up later on, for example that of the Bodo tribes for a separate state and of the secessionist United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).

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