Assam polls to correct 65-year old mistake DP – the problem of EP refugees and beginning of Naxalism
Today’s Assam election is being held on the foundation of a mistake committed on April 2, 1950. This mistake was signed by prime ministers of India Jawaharlal Nehru and Pakistan,Liaqat Ali and is known as Nehru-Liaqat Ali pact. It differentiated the status of the refugees coming from West and East Pakistan and began a process of severe discontent.
By a queer logic the then prime minister said that the Hindus coming from East Pakistan were mere displaced persons (DP)– implying they were not permanent resident seekers in India and would go back to the communally surcharged East Pakistan.
This pact is also the father of Naxalism in West Bengal. It was initiated by the deprived displaced persons, who were for over two decades fought to survive in the most difficult conditions. Bengal that was one of the economically most viable states in 1947 slid into utter poverty and the worst law and order situation. It is looking for course correction even today. Naxalism now called Maoism can be stated to be the beginning of terrorism in this country.
The Assam election echoes that 65-year-old problem. The influx has changed Assam politico-economy for the worse even in tribal areas. The surge of the BJP is a natural corollary. Most surveys indicate that BJP has become the natural choice for most of the electorate. One needs to go into the difficult situation that BJP, if able to form the government may have to address.
The BJP and its allies may have to take the path convoluted by various processes since independence. What Assam is complaining even today and West Bengal is having a subdued memory is the maltreatment the eastern region received from Delhi since Independence. This looks like a weird statement. But this was stated by none other than but Dr BC Roy, who remained Bengal chief minister till 1961.
In 1950 itself soon after the Nehru-Liaqat Ali pact was signed, Dr Roy wrote to Nehru, “Do you realize that the total grant received for this purpose from your Government in two years – 1948-49 and 1949-50, is a little over (Rs) three crores and the rest about 5 crores was given in the form of a loan. Do you realize that this sum is ‘insignificant’ compared to what has been spent for the refugees from West Pakistan? … For months the Government of India would not recognize the existence of the refugee problems in East Pakistan and therefore, would not accept the liabilities on their account”.
Yes, these were the days when thousands of people were forced to squat at the Sealdah station in the heart of Kolkata. As a child I have seen these families living virtually without privacy and severe misery on platforms.
The central government that generously doled out houses, relief materials and hefty compensations to the West Pakistan refugees, who had virtually nothing, paid not a farthing to the ‘displaced persons’ of East Pakistan and they included relatively affluent, upper-caste urban Hindus from the big towns like Dacca, Chittagong, Mymensingh or Rajshahi. They were mostly zamindars, mercantile employees, professionals, businessmen and the like. Dr Roy echoed this concern a number of times. Even at Congress meetings in 1957-58, he spoke of discrimination to Bengal.
The deprivation, he indicated, was leading to alienation of the people of the state.
Some districts like Khulna, Chittagong were Hindu majority districts, which were sacrificed to the ambition of Nehru to become prime minister of a partitioned India. Even Sylhet, then part of Assam had almost equal Hindu and Muslim population. It was ceded to Pakistan after a farcical “referendum’. This has led to severe influx of population to Assam.
The epithet of the definition displaced person led to continuous influx from East Pakistan to West Bengal, Assam, Tripura and other north-eastern states even before the formal partition – after the Noakhali riots. Till 1971, the Hindus following continuous persecution, threats and insult and rape of their women moved out of East Pakistan.
After Bangladesh independence, gradually the Muslims moved to bordering districts in West Bengal and even deep into tribal belts of Assam and other states of North-East. Now they have a sizeable presence even in Kohima in Nagaland, despite the provisions of inner-line permit.
The Assam election today is trying to correct this historical blunder. The Asom Gana Parishad movement of 1980s was a vociferous but unsuccessful attempt to correct it.
The elections this time may be process for proper correction of the communal sensitivity that has rocked the entire eastern part of the India. It is shaking West Bengal too. But it has not been able to find a strong alternative.
A change in the political process in Assam would be key to the solutions to many problems that the ambition and lack of vision of an individual –Nehru – has caused the eastern India to suffer. It is likely to usher in a new dawn for the economy of the region and change political course in eastern India.