1985: Assam Accord signed

At the core of the Accord was the “Foreigners Issue”.

Published : Aug 15, 2022 06:00 IST

The signing of the Assam Accord.

The signing of the Assam Accord. | Photo Credit: THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

The Assam Accord, a Memorandum of Settlement (MoS), signed in the early hours of August 15, 1985, by the Union government, the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad ended the six-year bloody agitation (1979-1985) to detect, disenfranchise and deport “illegal” residents from the State. It also altered the nature and perception of India’s federal characteristics and left an indelible imprint on the issue of citizenship in the country. 

At the core of the Assam Accord was the “Foreigners Issue” in Clause 5 of the MoS. It states that all persons who came to Assam prior to 1.1.1966 shall be regularised. Those who came between 1.1.1966 and March 24, 1971, shall be detected in accordance with the relevant laws and removed from the electoral rolls for 10 years. On the expiry of 10 years, the names of all such persons shall be restored in the electoral rolls. The subsection 8 of Clause 5 states: “Foreigners who came to Assam on or after March 25, 1971 shall continue to be detected, deleted and expelled in accordance with law. Immediate and practical steps shall be taken to expel such foreigners. Integral to Clause 5, Clause 6 of the Accord assures Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to “protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.”

On February 2, 1980, after a year of violent agitation, the AASU in a memorandum to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi conveyed its “profound sense of apprehensions” regarding the continuing influx of foreign nationals into Assam and its impact upon the political, social, cultural and economic life of the State. Thus began the process of dialogue, culminating with the signing of the Accord under Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministership. 

The Assam Accord also brought certain key federal issues to the fore. By acknowledging the demand of the sons of the soil, the Centre established that while India remained a quasi federation with a strong unitary bias, States could nevertheless demand and secure a limited amount of sovereignty to preserve their own sub-nationalist identity. The Assam Accord changed the law of citizenship in Assam, which in turn theoretically challenges the idea of any uniform citizenship law in the country.

The flare-up in Assam after the announcement of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 2019 is a case in point. While the CAA makes a distinction along religious lines, the Assam Accord does not make this differentiation. The CAA thus raises the fear that Assam may again have to see more influx from Hindu asylum seekers from neighbouring countries. A committee set up to examine Clause 6 of the Assam Accord submitted its report in 2020, but it lies unimplemented.

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