A silent fear has started stalking the streets of Assam all over again. It’s to do with a testy old question in the state’s politics. And the credit for it goes to a sudden move by the Centre, which has again raked up a vicious cycle of sectarian controversy and bad faith. For Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, the Centre’s May 6 decision to introduce a bill repealing the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) Act—IM(DT) Act—could not have come at a more inopportune time. Gogoi was planning a grand celebration of his government’s second anniversary, but the confusion and fear that the minorities in Assam are bound to feel after the proposal has arrived as a dampener. After all, the Congress has always supported the act, which the BJP and some regional parties have trashed as discriminatory.
The IM(DT) Act, passed by Parliament in 1983, has for long been a terrible bone of contention in Assam. Its supporters say it helps provide safety measures against the harassment of minorities. At the core of the controversy is the decades-old question of illegal migrants from Bangladesh. As per the act, which is applicable only in Assam, the onus of proving that an individual is a foreigner lies with the accuser. In contrast, according to the Foreigners’ Act, which prevails in the rest of the country, the onus is on the person suspected to be a foreigner to prove that he/she is an Indian citizen. The Congress had introduced the IM(DT) Act to protect minorities from being arbitrarily detained and deported by the police.