New Delhi-based journalist Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty, who has written a book on Assam Accord – Assam, the accord and discord – said that several interesting facts have come out while doing research for her book.
Sangeeta, who works as a deputy editor at The Wire, said that the flag of All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), the influential students’ body of the state, was inspired by Mukti Bahini of Bangladesh which she mentioned in her book.
“I found that very interesting. Atul Bora, who actually drew the flag, gave me a copy of his original drawing…He told me of meeting two volunteers of Mukti Bahini at that time in Guwahati. When they were leaving, they gave him a flag and explained to him what the colours were for. So, he found the colour red to be very interesting…and when Bora was drawing the flag for AASU he took inspiration from it. He said this to me on record,” Sangeeta told The News Mill.
The senior journalist-turned writer further added that interestingly after a few years the same flag was used to protest against the illegal Bangladeshi migrants.
The book, published by Penguin, looks at the making of the Assam Accord and its long shadow on the state, through political gamesmanship between principle players, periods of ULFA and Bodo militancy, and right-wing propaganda that has split the state along communal lines.
Sangeeta added that during the freedom struggle of Bangladesh, a lot of engagement happened with the Mukti Bahini in Assam. Even former Assam Police DGP Hiranya Bhattacharyya was honoured by the Bangladesh government for training the Mukti Bahini.
Sangeeta, who started her journalism with the United News of India before joining The Hindu and finally The Wire, said that with the emergence of the digital era, Northeast has started getting more attention in the national level.
“I feel good that I get to talk to the mainstream Indian readers about my region. Many a time, I feel that a lot of these interesting stories never got space. But with the emergence of the digital media, the Northeast has started getting a lot of attention in the national platform. The rise of the news websites is a boon for the Northeast,” she added.
The Assam Accord, which sought to end a six-year-long agitation against illegal immigrants in Assam, was signed between members of the AASU, and state and central governments when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister in 1985. Immediately afterwards, the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), was voted to power, with Prafulla Kumar Mahanta becoming the youngest ever chief minister of an Indian state.
Key clauses of the Assam Accord remained unimplemented during Mahanta’s often controversial tenures (1985-1990, 1996-2001), and through three terms of Congress rule, which ended with the BJP’s victory in the state in 2016. Central to the Accord was deportation of those who could not prove their roots in India prior to March 24, 1971. In 2015, the process of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) based on the 1971 cut-off as mentioned in the Accord began.
Speaking further on her book, Sangeeta said that there are several other interesting facts which were surprising to her.
“There were no readymade documents. Many things that happened during the Assam Agitation were not available in the written form. These were only on the people’s lips, especially with the older generation. When you have a drawing room conversation, people will tell you a lot of things that happened during that time,” she said.