Assam minister and the BJP's key strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma weighed in on the debate over the citizenship law in the state, contending that 1971 was never the cut-off year for granting citizenship under the Assam accord - a key claim of those protesting against the new law. The cut-off year, he said, was 1966 and by implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act, the BJP government is not 'violating' the Assam Accord but addressing its "unresolved issues".
"Assam accord, a four page document, is not fool-proof. It has many unresolved issues. It has evolved with time. We did not violate the Assam accord. We have addressed the unresolved issues of Assam accord on the CAA," Mr Sarma claimed while taking part in the debate on Governor's speech in the state assembly yesterday.
"When did 1971 become the cut-off time for Assam accord? In which clause it has been written? The accord cut-off date is 1966 -- the base data and year for detection of illegals. Assam accord says 1966 voters' list was the base of NRC," added Mr Sarma in presence of former chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who was one of the signatories of the accord.
His claim comes in the backdrop of allegations by protesting groups that BJP is violating the Assam accord.
The accord - signed in 1985 by the Congress government headed by Rajiv Gandhi -- says illegal migrants who entered Assam after 1971 will be expelled. Those entering before 1966 will be given citizenship and voting rights. Illegal migrants who entered the state between 1966 and 1971 will have to stay for a decade before they are regularised, it adds.
Protesters argue that the citizenship law has extended the cut-off date of 1971 by 43 years, since it would allow citizenship to migrants who entered till 2014.
Himanta Biswa Sarma also explained why the meeting between the leadership of AASU (All Assam Students' Union) and Home Minister Amit Shah - held last month before the tabling of the Citizenship Amendment Bill in parliament -- remained 'inconclusive'.
According to him, Mr Shah had told the AASU - which led the movement against immigrants and was one of the signatories of the Assam Accord -- that the state has 70 lakh migrants. Of them an estimated 5 lakh are Hindus with roots in Bangladesh.
"He had appealed to AASU that if they take a humanitarian position on the Hindu refugees, we will together ensure that the illegal migrants are detected in the new NRC. Shah had also assured to meet them every month and take the work of identification of illegal migrants forward," he said.
But the AASU, the minister said, did not agree. "They said they agreed on the principle, but do not want any violation of the Assam accord, so AASU refused," he told the assembly.
The BJP has been facing massive protests in Assam over the citizenship bill. Ahead of last year's Lok Sabha election, its ally Asom Gana Parishad had broken the alliance. The alliance was restored later, but AGP declared that they would continue to oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act.