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By Joydeep Biswas
By Joydeep Biswas

TWO pieces of Central government order in the recent times, though not notified in the Official Gazette as yet (contrary to the Centre’s 07 September claim in a Press release), have given a new twist to the already vexed issue of contested domicile rights of the Bengalis in Assam.

Last Monday, the Union home ministry came up with a PIB release backed by two amendments to existing rules in the form of executive orders declaring that the minority communities from Bangladesh and Pakistan, who crossed over to India till 31 December 2014, would be exempt from the relevant provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and the Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920.

Even as the nuances of the orders in politico-legal perspective are open to interpretation and, of course, legal scrutiny, flutters in the political pool is indicative of a long and sustaining ramification in Assam in its run upto the  Assembly elections due in another seven months.

Given the complex demographic distribution that Assam has, the move by the BJP-led NDA government is sure not to end up in a win-win outcome for all stakeholders.

For all practical purpose, the twin orders are meant for providing a safeguard to the Partition victim Bengali Hindu population in Assam, but leaving unaltered the fate of the Bengali Muslims in the state.

The outbursts from Assamese nationalist organisations such as the All Assam Students’ Union, Axom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad, Akhil Gogoi-led Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti and the political party, Asom Gana Parishad, against the decision of the Modi government, are flowing along the expected contour.

Their arguments that this ploy by the BJP to communalise the foreigner issue along religious lines with an eye on reaping quick electoral dividends has diluted not only the much touted Assam Accord, but has rendered the ongoing update of the National Register of Citizens a futile exercise, cannot be dismissed altogether.

With the BJP confidently taking a pro-Hindu stand and the All India United Democratic Front led by perfume baron Badar Uddin Ajmal readying for a secular (read, inclusive of the Muslims) solution to the migration problem; the Congress seems to be in a real fix as the party is already treading through a tough terrain to negotiate with the biggest defection of loyalty in recent times.

Be that as it may, the interesting phenomenon to watch out at the moment is the position taken by the Assam media ~ both print and electronic, as they roll out both news and views on the issue. Here also the divide between Brahmaputa and Barak Valley is well beyond the palpable limit.

Assamese newspapers and electronic channels in the Brahmaputra Valley have taken a clear anti-notification stand riding on the rather loud Assamese nationalist agenda.

In their bid to mediate for the interest of the ‘indigenous people of Assam,’ which, needless to say, exclude the Bengalis, the Assamese print and electronic media in continuation of their 170 year tradition of parochial journalism, are failing on some basic tenets of the Fourth Estate, namely objectivity, truth, accuracy, fairness and impartiality.

As if not to be outdone, and in an exposition of anti-thesis, the Bengali Press in the Barak Valley, by now quite mighty and mature, has taken a rather pro-Hindu Bengali position to cater to its constituency.

When the media, irrespective of their affiliations to religion, language and ethnicity, are expected to be sensible to present to the readers and viewers all possible perspectives of a socio-political-legal-historical problem as complex as the foreigners issue is, the polarised stand of the Assam media across the two Valleys does not augur well for a free and independent Press.

(Joydeep Biswas is an associate professor of economics at Cachar College, Silchar, Assam. To see all his previous articles, click here)


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