Chasing Wild Geese and Red Herring

Nellie massacre

My well-meaning friends shake their heads mournfully over my odd habit of persisting with the most unusual questions after an issue has been discussed thoroughly,and settled most expeditiously.For example,when the Supreme Court cut through the maze of Maharashtra politics to rule that the Governor acted beyond his constitutional powers when he ordered a floor test in assembly after the much-publicised break in Shiv Sena ranks,and that the Speaker of the assembly also had violated rules when he made the nominee of the break-away group the Whip of the party,and yet that there was no question of restoring the MVA government as Uddhav Thackeray had formally handed in his resignation,I still have odd questions nagging at my mind.

For example why are not those two illegal decisions by Governor and Speaker sufficient grounds for declaring the present Shinde government illegitimate? Likewise,when the celebrated Ram Janambhumi verdict was delivered by the Supreme Court, I racked my friends’ brains with the simple-minded question, why did the SC swallow the canard thar Lord Ram had appeared on the floor of the Babri Masjid miraculously in the form of small figurines sold in village fairs?

Then I also find myself kidded for taking the odd detail that does not fit a pattern seriously while everyone just ignores it. But then,believe me,once in a while this quirky behaviour works for me.Consider this little piece of news.I think it was the Hindu,which I scanned regularly then,that carried the news in 2002 before anyone had any inkling of it.Some smart reporter noticed that in a certain locality with mixed population chalk marks had appeared on the walls of members of minority communities only.It had caused a certain mild ripple,but local authorities swatted it down with the anodyne statement that it was merely preparation for an official survey.But I was reminded of the trick played by the band of robbers who sought revenge on Ali Baba in Arabian Nights.They had marked his house from that of neighbours by using differently colored chalks.A sharp-eyed maid servant Marjiyana had noticed it and taken quick steps to counter it.I had dashed off a letter to the press then,but it must have been ignored as crank mail.Barely two months later the horrifying Gaujarat pogrom erupted.

I also might recall as well the enigma of the 1983 Nellie riots in Assam.Within a year of that dreadful event I had accidentally come across some tantalizing evidence that it could not have been a ‘spontaneous expression of powerful feelings’,to parody Wordsworth’s definition of poetry.Feelings of hate and rage.But a deliberately planned and executed pogrom.A housemaid from a nearby area working in our house by some odd chance blurted out that youths were trained in arms and to chant marching songs during ‘the war on foreigners’.I could not coax more details out of her,but felt sure that some political force had infiltrated into the Assam Movement and organized this terrifying massacre in cold blood.

By now I have no doubt about its identity but there will be few takers for my conjecture.Shortly after the riots INDIA TODAY published a lead story on the Nellie riots with hair-raising photographs about them supplied by a senior police officer from Assam who later committed suicide.The authos Mr Arun Shourie had other ideas about it than the police officer who apparently thought photographs provided clinching evidence of the movement’s violent intentions.Mr Shourie concluded in the story that the government had been solely to blame for not acting upon numerous and frequent telegrams from CID officers that signs of a major riot under clandestine preparation had been observed.Assam was then under President’s rule,and law and order in the state were under control of Indira Gandhi government in Delhi.The genesis of those riots has been under a cloud since then.Japanese researcher Majiko Kimura who visited Assam to study those riots had ended up offering parallel and mutually incommensurate accounts of its origins from three communities involved,the Assamese Hindus,the Tiwa tribe,and the immigrant Muslims.A familiar postmodern and Subaltern paradox.

Actually bitter hostility and hatred between two communities may come to a boiling point,but still there may be no outcome in riots.The detonator is usually external to the situation and set up in cold blood and with careful planning.American scholars who are quite methodical about it have studied numerous communal riots in India and traced out the basic pattern and signs of intentional designs in them.They are,it turns out,never quite so spontaneous.

So who was or were the real culprits of the terrible riots that claimed sixty and odd lives and drove out of their homes many thousands of innocent people into the adjoining state of Assam for shelter and safety? True there had been heated controversy and mutual recrimination between the Meiteis and the Kukis over the question of ST status demanded by the Meiteis,who might be enabled to encroach on the meagre benefits enjoyed by Kukis under the provision of constitutional reservation.The charge by certain Meitei leaders that the Kukis were turning a blind eye to congeners from Myanmar border regions seeping silently into land held by Kukis in hilly areas barred to the Meiteis by provisions of the Sixth Schedule might have aroused deep outrage and resentment among both Kukis and the Meitei.Likewise there were other issues that drove them into serious mutual antagonism.But their outcome in riots was not a foregone conclusion.Who or what set off the riots?

Chief Minister L.Biren Singh of the BJP government has been accused of fomenting riots.But while he might have been soft towards Meitei perpetrators,he could not have been directly benefitted politically by these riots.If his hand had been forced by a third party to make way for such trends,he is still not the main culprit.Rather these were more likely to discredit his government.That the riots had been planned in advance and preparations had been afoot before the fateful demonstration by All Tribal Students’ Solidarity Association at Churachandpur in easten Manipur,is also quite apparent as the scale of the riots and the mode of operation that took such a heavy toll make it clear.Neither the Meiteis nor the Kukis had gained anything from them.But a third party that reaps such bloody harvest might and could.It seeks to build a wall of rigid separation and undying mutual suspicion between the two communities.It is by now quite clear that the concerned High Court HAD NOT directed the Manipur Government to provide for grant of ST status to the Meiteis.It had only pulled it up over delays in sending its recommendations to the Centre,the sole authority for decision on the issue.

Actually the kind of ethno-nationalism that sets off hostility among various communities in the Northeast and keeps matters for ever on the boil has been the factor that provides a rich opportunity for evildoers from outside to postpone effective solution to their problems and damage their interests while allowing third parties to reap profit from their loss.

Ethno-nationalism,powerfully aided by postmodern ideas of politics and Subaltern histories, had enabled numerous identities to grow strong and visible.But they have now come to the end of the tether.For such identities are unable to outgrow their limits and find a just solution of the problems plaguing them.As splution for ever eludes their grasp as they fall short of the power to address the problems decisively But such a situation just fits into the calculations of vicious religious and cultural fundamentalisms providing false assurances of release from stress and despair.Political dividends are obvious.

I am compelled therefore to conclude that the deliberate and well-thought inititiative of the NORTH-EAST STUDENTS’ FORUM of Delhi to mediate between students from both communities,attempt reconciliation and understanding, offer relief and help to the distressed is far more enlightened and far-sighted than the mutual accusations and exchanges of hot words between feuding leaders back home.They have shown mature understanding and realized that ethno-nationalism has now run its course and powerful hegemonic forces from outside are exploiting it for its own economic and political profit.In India at the moment the time has come to overcome the notion of a monolithic majoritarian nation-state and replace it with Gandhi’s idea of a COMPOSITE NATION conceding difference but counseling solidarity, invoking mutual respect but urging co-operation and unity among constituents.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator


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