The Issue of Settling Outsiders in Assam Started from the Time of Partition of Bengal

Senior journalist Kuldip Nayar has died recently. A few days before his death, his last article was published, which was centered on Assam’s situation. In that he had written that, once the Congress leader, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, who was also the President, confessed that Muslims were brought from Bangladesh for casting votes in Assam. According to him, the Congress deliberately did this because it  wanted to keep Assam with them, but this is not the only truth. The problem of settling the outsiders in Assam started in 1905 when the partition of Bengal occurred. Then, with British encouragement, a large number of Bengali Muslims started from East Bengal to a very fertile Brahmaputra valley.

Indeed, Assam’s area was very fertile, but a large part of the land was not being used. The reason for this was that the population of these areas was very low. On the other hand, the only goal of the British Raj was to exploit the maximum amount of natural resources and to generate maximum revenue from farming. In such a situation, the people from densely populated East Bengal started migrating to the fertile land of Assam  for agriculture and cultivating land on fallow land. The British called this a line system. It was all right, but the Muslim leaders of East Bengal began to use these circumstances for Islamic expansionism. When Bengal was partitioned in 1905, the Muslim League formed in Dhaka in 1906 had begun to ask Muslims of East Bengal to settle in Assam. Simultaneously, communalization began to happen.

In the decade of 1930, the situation was so horrific that the British government’s demographic officials began to believe in its report that Assam has been a victim of demographic aggression that would eliminate Assamese culture. It became a political issue in the 1930s. In 1937, the Congress government, led by Gopinath Bordoloi, came to power with the promise to stop the settlement of the Muslim population. Being a nationalist leader, Bordoloi made sincere efforts in that direction, but in 1939 the Congress high command decided to resign from its state governments in protest of British policies.

In view of this settlement of Muslims continuing in Assam and due to the situation arising out of this, many Congress leaders such as Subhash Chandra Bose and Bordoloi intended that they should not resign from the Congress government in Assam and the Bordoloi government should be allowed to engage in the prevention of the arrivals of Muslim population from East Bengal, however, Assam was not a priority for Congress high command. The Bordoloi government was also made to resign like other state governments.

Because of this decision, the Muslim League got an opportunity to form the government in Assam, which it used to implement its Islamic Extensionist agenda. The Muslim League government allocated more than one lakh bighas of land to Muslims coming from East Bengal. The result of this was that the Muslim population in lower Assam was 14% in 1901 and it rose to 32% in 1941. As a result, the Muslim League started demanding to include Assam in East Pakistan. By now Gandhi had understood that there was a big mistake in case of Assam. He believed that Subhash Chandra Bose was correct in opposing the Congress government’s resignation in Assam in 1939.

In Assam, since 1944, the severity of the situation can be estimated from the fact that Gandhiji had declared, settling the people of East Bengal in Assam, as anti-national activity. He even said that, if required then both non-violent or violent ways must be adopted to handle this situation. Even after this the Congress high command was not serious about the situation of Assam.

Before partitioning the country, the Cabinet Mission sent by the British in 1946 placed Assam with the Muslim-majority Bengal in Group C, which meant, practically Assam to be included in East Pakistan. In early hurry to gain independence, Congress was ready for this compromise also. In such a situation, Bordoloi asked Gandhiji for help. Gandhiji told Bordoloi that it should be strongly opposed to prevent Assam from being included in Pakistan and induction of Assam into Group C. If necessary, then the Assam Congress leaders should open revolt against the Congress. Excited by this support, Bordoloi remained firm on this cause and both the British government and the Congress had to bow down.

Bordoloi saved Assam from going to Pakistan, but after independence as chief minister, when he tried to remove the intruders, he had to face the opposition of Prime Minister Nehru. On one occasion Nehru was angry and threatened to stop the state from getting help from the Center. The responsibility of the stopping cross-border infiltration comes under the Centre, but the Nehru government was not serious about it. Pakistan, on the other hand, never left a plan to include Assam in East Pakistan. Later Bangladesh adopted the same scheme.

In 1991, well-known thinker of Bangladesh, Sadik Khan gave ‘Lebensraum’ theory by writing article in Holiday Magazine. Under it, it was emphasized that the growing population of Bangladesh should be spread in a planned manner in West Bengal and seven states of the North-east India. If you look at the lower Assam, between 1971 and 2011, the Muslim population increased by 15 percent to 45 percent. In 1906 also Muslim League planned to make this region Muslim majority. Parties opposing the NRC prepared on the Supreme Court directive, and especially the Trinamool Congress should tell that why they want to continue the work of division of the country, which was started by the Muslim League?

This article first appeared on Hindi daily Jagran.

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About the Author

Divya Soti
Lawyer, Columnist, Strategic Affairs Analyst, Humorist, Learner. Trying to figure out solutions: National Security, Geo-Strategy, Law, History