Referring to the state’s indigenous Muslims as ‘Assamese Muslims’, Chief Minister of Assam Himanta Biswa Sarma on Sunday asked members of the minority community to devise ways to rein in population growth and prepare a roadmap to expedite welfare measures, including financial well-being and overall development of the community.
At a two-hour meeting during which the Assam chief minister met over 150 intellectuals, writers, educationists, doctors, cultural workers, historians and other Muslims from different walks of life, he discussed issues confronting the indigenous Assamese Muslims and the threat to their identity, cultural tradition and heritage.
“The meeting emphasized the need to protect and preserve the uniqueness of indigenous Assamese Muslims. However, in the broader landscape, it has been observed that population explosion in some parts of Assam has been posing a real threat to the state’s development, more particularly in the economic front,” Sarma told the media after the meeting. “If we have to be among the top five states in the country, then we have to manage our population. That has been agreed today,” the Assam chief minister said.
In order to achieve that goal, the Assam chief minister said that eight sub-groups would be constituted to work on a range of issues — health, education, population control, cultural identity, financial inclusion, women empowerment and skill development.
Political leaders to be invited for talks by Assam CM
The entire range of issues will be discussed by the sub-groups and after three months, we will be here again to prepare a roadmap for the next five years,” the chief minister said. The sub-groups will be formed from within the community. Each of the sub-groups will have a chairman from within the community and a member secretary from the government side.
Several eminent personalities including Padma Shri Dr Illias Ali, Padma Shri Eli Ahmed, Syed SK Alam, Dr SI Ahmed and Nekibur Zaman attended the meeting and highlighted the socio-economic problems facing the indigenous Muslim population in Assam.
While representatives of political parties were not invited to the meeting, Sarma said it would be done in the next round of talks along with the legislators. Also, opinions of students’ bodies and social organisations representing the minorities will be sought.
Sarma said that the indigenous Muslim population, being an integral part of Assamese society, needed accelerated development so that it can become a significant contributor to the state’s growth.
Differentiating between indigenous Muslims and those who have roots in erstwhile East Pakistan, the Assam chief minister said the government would have another round of discussions with the latter. While political parties claim this to be divisive, Sarma said indigenous Muslims had distinct cultural and linguistic differences from those having roots in erstwhile East Bengal.
The INC welcomed the move but said focusing on one particular community regarding population control was undesirable. “What they need is guidance through education and health awareness programmes,” said Bobbeeta Sharma, chairperson of the media department of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee.
The INC leader recalled that Sarma had been the longest-serving health and education minister during 15 years of Congress rule. “What was his contribution towards this end?” she asked.