Student-Run Assam State Government Sworn in
GAUHATI, India (AP) _ A 21-member Cabinet dominated by students was installed as the new government in Assam state Tuesday to the acclamation of nearly 200,000 supporters beating drums and exploding firecrackers.
The new chief minister is Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, 32, a law student at Gauhati University.
As president of the All-Assam Students Union, Mahanta led a six-year campaign demanding that more than a million illegal aliens from neighboring Bangladesh be deported. His government’s first action Tuesday was to set up a department for that purpose.
Agitators have claimed that the native Assamese Hindus were threatened culturally and economically by the refugee influx.
The bearded, balding Mahanta and his 13 senior ministers and seven deputy ministers were sworn in at Gauhati’s main sports stadium, which overflowed with spectators.
Mahanta told The Associated Press before the swearing-in that his government in Assam, an oil-rich, tea-growing state of 22 million people in northeastern India, was the world’s first student-dominated administration.
He said he was ″confident we can prove to the world that youths can run a government more efficiently.″
Most of the Cabinet members are under 35. Most were students, including 10 who were leaders of the students union. None has previous experience in administration.
Asked by the AP if this would impede running the government, Mahanta replied, ″Why should it? Even our prime minister (Rajiv Gandhi, leader of the central government in New Delhi) had no experience when he took over the reins of power last year.″
Mahanta, wearing a yellow woolen shawl and the Hindu religious ″tilak″ mark on his forehead, was sworn in by Gov. Bhishma Narayan Singh. He took the oath in Assamese.
Mahanta was followed by Bhrigu Phukan, his 29-year-old university classmate and the new home minister, who will be No. 2 man in the Cabinet. Phukan also was named deputy leader of the governing political party, Asom Gana Parishad, or Assam People’s Council.
The party, a student-led anti-immigrant group, unseated Gandhi’s Congress Party in special state elections last week.
The new government set up a new section, the Assam Accord Implementation Department, to put into effect terms of the recent settlement with Gandhi. The accord calls for disenfranchisement and expulsion of illegal settlers.
Mahanta kept the department, which will identify aliens in Assam, under his personal charge.
Jnanananda S. Pathak, Assam’s director general of police, gave the estimate of nearly 200,000 people inside the stadium and said it was the largest public meeting ever held in Gauhati, Assam’s main city.
The ceremony was held at the stadium instead of at the governor’s residence, the traditional site, because the new leaders wanted their supporters to witness it.
Addressing the huge crowd after his swearing-in, Mahanta said: ″This government has come to power because of the sacrifices of many youths during the long years of agitation. We promise their sacrifices will not be in vain.″
He pledged to provide ″a clean and honest government″ that would ″give a new direction not only to Assam but also to the rest of India.″
More than 4,000 people were killed in ethnic violence during the anti-alien campaign, during which Mahanta himself was arrested several times.
Parishad was formed three months ago by student agitators after they signed the settlement with Gandhi. The midterm state elections were part of the accord.
The settlement says all illegal settlers who entered Assam between 1966-71 will lose the vote for 10 years, after which they will regain full citizenship rights. It says that ″immediate and practical steps″ should be taken to expel immigrants - most of them poor Moslems - who came after the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence.
Bangladesh says it will not take back those expelled.
Assam was the second state where the Congress Party was routed in elections held in response to settlements between Gandhi and agitators. Congress was beaten in Punjab three months ago following a peace accord between Gandhi and Sikh moderates.