A dangerous Us and Them mindset
21 November, 2003
The demand now being made by some of the
more extreme elements in Assam, for 100 per cent reservations for the
Assamese in Central government jobs in the state, is not new. However,
it is not legally permissible.
It was to douse
the fire of parochialism that the Parliament enacted the Public Employment
(Requirement as to Residence) Act. Through it, all laws promulgated
by states for giving priority to their citizens were declared null and
void. If there cannot be any reservation for the state in the state
services, how can there be a state quota for central jobs? The domicile
provision attracts Articles 14, 16 and 19 of the Constitution.
Bihar is notorious
for casteism but it has never been infected by the virus of regional
chauvinism. After the Fazli Ali Commissions report created a storm
the chief ministers of Bihar and Bengal offered to amalgamate their
tates in order to check the linguistic madness. But even
in December 1947, when the Damodar Valley Corporation was being built,
an interesting debate took place in the Bihar assembly. Members harped
on the inescapable fact that a lot of land in Bihar would be submerged
as a result of this project, while the benefits of flood protection
and irrigation would go to Bengal. The then chief minister, S.K. Sinha,
stood up and said, It was only a few months back that we on August
15, 1947, made ourselves free and swore allegiance to India, to one
India. None could realise that they would soon be forgotten that, if
millions were benefitted in Bengal by flood protection works which did
submerge a few villages in Bihar, those millions protected were as much
Indians as those in Bihar who lost some land.
was different possibly because of the high levels of migration the state
had experienced. After the British annexed Assam, large population movements
from the south have been a recurring phenomenon.
When the demand
for partition was raised, it was suggested that Pakistan would comprise
of the Muslim majority provinces in the west and Bang-e-Islam, comprising
Assam and Bengal, in the east. Moinul Haque Chaudhury, M.A. Jinnahs
private secretary, had told Jinnah that he would present Assam
to him on a silver platter. That, however, did not happen.
It was Bangladeshi
migrations that fanned the All Assam Students Movement in the 1980s.
But even before this, in 66-67, there was a movement known
as Bengali Kheda, to drive out Bengalis. Now it is the turn
of the Biharis. They, incidentally, constitute almost the entire workforce
of Assam and it all began when the British imported Bihari labour for
the tea gardens.
The situation in
Assam today is extremely serious and does not portend well for either
Assam or India. Both the Assam and Bihar governments, as indeed the
Centre, must do all they can to defuse the situation immediately.