Journal Articles

The Politics of Citizenship in Assam

Sanjib Baruah


January 3, 2022

‘Every Hindu living anywhere in the world has the right to come to India when he faces problems there’, proclaimed Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma at an event in New Delhi last November. Many in the ruling party have long wanted this to be the prevailing common sense of the country. The passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) through Parliament in December 2019 was for them a major accomplishment toward that goal. Yet few would have expected such sentiments to be expressed by an elected chief minister of Assam, especially one heading a government that includes some veterans of the Assam Movement (1979-1985), whose legacies remain live, unresolved issues in the state’s politics.

The defining feature of this movement’s ideology – rooted in a local past that predates the Partition – was its historically constituted opposition to unauthorized immigration from across Partition’s eastern border irrespective of faith. The six years of political turmoil saw the collapse of four elected ministries, the outbreak of an armed insurgency, and three spells of president’s rule. Even the 1981 Census operations had to be suspended in Assam because of this turmoil. The violent elections of 1983, including the horrendous Nellie massacre, are also part of this history.

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