Home India Politics Prafulla Mahanta in a spot over migrants

Prafulla Mahanta in a spot over migrants

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS,

Guwahati : Former Assam chief minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta is in a spot with charges levelled against him that as then leader of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), he rejected late prime minister Indira Gandhi’s offer of 1967 as the cut-off year for expulsion of Bangladeshi migrants and later agreed to 1971 as the base year.

“Indira Gandhi in April 1980 offered the AASU under the leadership of Mahanta to accept Jan 1, 1967 as the cut-off date for identification of illegal migrants. But Mahanta rejected the same and later went on to accept March 25, 1971 as the base year while signing the Assam Accord in 1985,” Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS.

The issue is significant as the issue of illegal migrants is currently on the boil in Assam. The AASU under Mahanta’s leadership led a violent six-year-long anti-foreigners uprising from 1979 that culminated in the signing of the Assam Accord.

“Why did Mahanta and the AASU reject 1967 as the cut-off year and later agreed to 1971? It is for the people of Assam to analyse and see who is more interested in freeing the state of all foreigners or checking infiltration. Is it Mahanta, AASU or the Congress?” the chief minister asked.

Mahanta, chief minister on two occasions earlier, denied the charges and said there was no formal proposal from Indira Gandhi to make Jan 1, 1967 the cut-off date.

“When we asked Indira Gandhi as then AASU leaders, she denied any such proposal,” Mahanta said.

But Mahanta’s denial has been contested by his one-time AASU colleague and presently Assam Water Resources Minister Bharat Narah.

“It is true that Jan 1, 1967 was offered to the AASU as the cut-off date, but then at that point in time we as AASU leaders were fighting for 1951 as the base year and so rejected the offer,” said Narah, who was then an AASU executive member and was present during the meeting with Gandhi along with Mahanta.

Giving another twist to the controversy is Hiranya Bhattacharya, former Assam inspector general of police.

“I was asked by then Assam governor L.P. Singh and then union home minister Giani Zail Singh to convince the AASU leadership to accept Jan 1, 1967 as the cut-off date. I talked to the AASU leaders for five hours, but they rejected the offer. Mahanta was present at that meeting,” Bhattacharya told IANS. “Facts are facts and Mahanta cannot change or deny now.”

With the then AASU signing the Assam Accord, authorities now take March 25, 1971 as the cut-off date for detection and expulsion of foreign nationals.

“After this controversy, questions are asked if Mahanta actually betrayed the interest of Assam by accepting 1971 instead of 1967 as the base year for identification of foreigners,” said Apurba Medhi, a college teacher.

The issue also assumes significance as the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), Assam’s main opposition regional party formed by Mahanta in 1985, is making a desperate attempt to unite all breakaway groups.

Mahanta is now president of the AGP-Progressive, a party that he formed after he was expelled from the AGP for ‘anti-party’ activities. Mahanta was earlier replaced as party president in 2001 on a bigamy charge.

“It would be a problem now to take back Mahanta and his party with the new controversy of Mahanta rejecting 1967 as the base year. People are very sensitive to the issue,” a senior AGP leader said.

The AGP Tuesday announced it would take a final decision on unification in October.