Since 1826, the British ruled Assam as a part of Bengal under a Commissioner. With the annexation and clubbing of Cachar, Naga Hills, Khasi and Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills, the territorial area of Assam grew to 30,000 sq miles. Soon it became difficult for the British to run such a vast area. The Lt. Governor of Bengal who was overall in-charge of Bengal and Assam became over- burdened. A proposal was therefore mooted in 1871 to separate Assam from Bengal. The other reason was the rapidly expanding tea industry which needed more attention; and, Assam,under a separate Chief Commissionership,would provide better facilities to the tea planters. Accordingly,the Chief Commissionership for Assam under the government of India was formed on 6th Feb 1874.
The new Commissionership included the five districts of Assam proper (Kamrup, Nagoan, Darrang, Sibsagar and Lakhimpur), Khasi-Jaintia Hills, Garo Hills, Naga Hills, Goalpara and Sylhet-Cachar comprising about 54,100 sq miles. Ironically, Koch-Behar a part of Assam,was left out and Sylhet, an East-Bengal district was incorporated into the province in 1874 on grounds of economic viability. Sylhet became a liability and after a prolonged agitation by the Assamese, Sylhet was transferred to East-Pakistan in 1947. The head-quarters of Assam was supposed to be located at Guwahati but because of the malaria infested marshy lands and as well as in maintaining geographical contiguity between the Brahmaputra and the Surma (Cachar /Sylhet) valley, Shillong was chosen as the capital of Assam in Sep, 1874. The Lushai Hills were transferred to Assam in 1897.
With the partition of Bengal in 1905, Assam was again clubbed with East-Bengal to form a province known as the East-Bengal Assam province. After wide spread protest by the Assamese, Assam was again restored to its original status in April 1912. The Govt. of India Act was passed in 1919 and Assam was upgraded to a Governor’s province. Now the colonial Assam included the Surma valley, the Hill districts and Manipur apart from the territories that were included in the Chief Commissionership of 1874. The boundaries of Assam were decided by the colonial administrative convenience and imperial interest rather than based on history or culture. Thus, colonial Assam excluded areas that were part of pre-colonial Assam and included areas that were historically not a part of pre-colonial Assam.
The Govt. of India Act of 1935 which introduced Provincial Autonomy was the outcome of the third Round Table Conference in London. The Govt. of India Act of 1935 came into force in 1937. According to the Act, Assam should have a Legislative Council with 22 members and a Legislative Assembly with 108 seats as per the provisions of the Communal Award of 1932. Election was held in Assam in 1937. The Congress came out as the largest single party with 33 seats in the Assembly. But the Governor called on Saadullah, leader of the Muslim party of the Brahmaputra valley to form the Government. He became the first premier of Assam and formed his ministry on 1st April 1937 by taking support from the Europeans and other tribal and non tribal members. In reality the European bloc together with the bureaucrats holding the actual power in the Government was the deciding factor. The Assam Legislative Assembly first met on 7th April 1937 in Shillong.
Saadullah’s ministry was forced to resign twice; first, by the Muslim League and then by the United Muslim Party by passing a no-confidence motion until Gopinath Bordoloi formed the first Congress-coalition ministry in Sept. 1938 with Subash Chandra Bose’s help. The Bordoloi led ministry resigned in 1939 at the direction of the Congress Working Committee and Saadulla became the premier till the election of 1946. The Congress swept the 1946 election with 50 seats and a Congress ministry was formed headed by Gopinath Bordoloi. In 1947, India became independent and the first General Election was held in 1952. Bishnu Ram Medhi, who took over as the Premier of Assam after the death of Gopinath Bordoloi in 1950, formed the first Congress Government in post colonial Assam. When the Constitution of India was drafted, the Congress members from Assam in the Constituent Assembly and the Assam Legislative Assembly demanded greater provincial autonomy with limited power at the Centre. Since 1946 election, Congress dominated the Assam Legislative Assembly with a brief stint (19 months) of Janata Party rule headed by Golap Borbora in 1978 and the ten years rule (1985-90, 1996-2001) by the regional party AGP headed by Prafulla Kumar Mahanta.
Shillong grew from a small village to a wonderful town and remained the capital of Undivided Assam till 1972 when it was shifted to Guwahati in a most unceremonious way with the creation of Meghalaya. The Assam Government (the Secretariat and the Assembly) functioned from a warehouse located at Dispur. A century- old capital got transferred over -night. It was the worst decision ever made by the Sarat Chandra Singha’s ministry and a great tragedy for Assam. It took another three and a half decades to build a permanent capital complex at Dispur. While Shillong stagnated, Guwahati, as a capital of Assam grew rapidly in a most unplanned and haphazard way. Guwahati become the gateway of the North East.
The inclusion of Sylhet and the large scale immigration from East-Bengal led to unrest in Assam. The history of colonial Assam from 1874 to 1947 was a history of Assamese-Bengali and Hindu-Muslim conflict. The fears and anxiety of the Assamese continued in the post independent period, which was the root cause of the anti-foreigner movement from 1979-85. The post colonial Assam witnessed another kind of conflict. The emergence of ethnic nationalism demanding sovereign independent states outside the Indian Union and the hills-plains conflict. The colonial policy of segregating the hill areas as excluded areas culminated in the alienation of the hill peoples. The Indian State responded by the division of Assam, gradually separating the hill districts one after another.
From 1963-87, Assam was reduced to one third of its size with the creation of Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. Assam being the mother state, the Assam Legislative Assembly became the mother of the Legislative Assembly of these carved out states. The Indian State carried the division of Assam empowered by Article 3 of the Constitution and the powerless Assam Government stood as a silent spectator. The Assam Legislative Assembly was arm-twisted to follow the Centre’s diktat in passing resolution supporting the division. The balkanization of Assam was done against the recommendation of the States Reorganization Commission of 1955 which recommended even the unification of Manipur and Tripura with Assam to make the whole North-East as one territorial unit.
Though the geographical boundaries of Assam had undergone territorial changes and reduced in size, the number of members in the Assam Legislative Assembly increased from 108 to 126. Presently Assam is having three district councils under the 6th schedule and six autonomous councils. Six more ethnic groups are also agitating for schedule tribe status. Hence, Assam requires a Legislative Council or Upper House which can represent and accommodate the aspirations of the different ethnic groups that represent the greater Assamese nation. The Council members should be elected and not nominated by the ruling party. Like his predecessors, Tarun Gogoi’s ministry which formed three successive governments since 2001 should also demand greater autonomy for Assam to solve the peculiar problems facing the state.
The Assam Legislative Assembly has crossed 75 years of existence and the state Government is celebrating its platinum jubilee in 2012. Over the years, as the problems of the state increased, there is qualitative decline in the standard of debates in the Assembly which has lowered the dignity of the esteemed House. The simplicity and humility of the bygone legislators are no more. The unruly behavior of the legislators reflects their arrogance, money and muscle power. The duration of the Assembly sessions were also reduced. The businesses in the Assembly as well as the legislations are passed without proper debate. The entrance of legislators of doubtful citizens in the House of law making is a matter of serious concern. Presently, the Assam Legislative Assembly is doing business without an effective Opposition headed by AIUDF, a party with a communal tag. Even then, the Assam Legislative Assembly is the only democratically elected forum which has a very important role in guiding the destiny of the troubled state.