The United Liberation Front of Assam will be able to reach a final settlement on formally ending its armed movement against India only after the Supreme Court makes a decision on the vexed citizenship issue in the state, a senior official of the outfit told A petition challenging Section 6 (A) of the Indian Citizenship Act 1955 – according to which a legal citizen in Assam is anyone who entered before the midnight of March 24, 1971 – is currently pending in the apex court. The petition contends that that the cut-off date of entry for citizenship in Assam should be at a par with the rest of the country: July 19, 1948.

The revelation comes amidst suggestions that “talks are in the final stage” and that a final accord with the separatist organisation will be signed soon. The Indian government had labelled ULFA a terrorist organisation and banned it in 1990.
The pro-talks faction of ULFA has been in discussions with the Centre since 2011, having discarded its demand for independence. The last round of negotiations was held in New Delhi on May 21.

Land only for ‘indigenous’ people

However, one of the faction’s top leaders, Anup Chetia, said that the outfit wanted special constitutional safeguards for the state’s “indigenous people” – who, he said, would be anyone who featured in the 1951 National Register of Citizens. Among other things, the outfit has proposed to the Union government that only such people be allowed to buy land in Assam.

Chetia, however, conceded that there may be practical problems with such an arrangement as many places in the state did not have copies of the 1951 National Register of Citizens. “So, it is only fair that we wait till the court decides on the matter of cut-off date because if the Supreme court does change the date to 1951, many things will become redundant,” he said. “Also, if we don’t wait, it may amount to insulting the Assam Accord.”

Assam’s 1971 cut-off flows from the Assam Accord. The Accord was signed in 1985 between Assamese nationalists and the Union government following a six-year long movement against illegal immigration from Bangladesh. Following the signing of the Accord, the Constitution was amended and Section 6 (A) inserted to the Indian Citizenship Act 1955 to reflect the new cut-off date. The 1971 deadline was seen as the middle ground – it accounted for the migration of people from across Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, who were fleeing prosecution during the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict, but kept out those who had come in during the 1971 war that saw the liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan.

One of the clauses of the Accord provides for “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards” to “protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”. However, many Assamese people claim that the vague nature of the clause meant that no safeguards were ever implemented. ULFA insists that its demands for constitutional protection for indigenous people are in line with the promises of the Accord – and any settlement it has with the Union government would have firm provisions to plug the holes of the Accord.

The 1971 cut-off is being also used to include people in the National Register of Citizens, which is being updated for the first time since 1951 in an effort to identify illegal migrants. A final list of those is expected to come out on June 30.

Other problems

The leader of the anti-talks faction of the group, Paresh Baruah, is yet to come aboard the talks. This has raised questions on whether a peace accord, even if it were to be signed, would amount to much.

Besides, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 has also become a sticking point in the talks. Chetia said that if the government tried to pass the Bill, which would facilitate citizenship for illegal migrants from particular minority communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it could hurt the peace process.