Assam As Epitome Of India

Anti CAA Rally Guwahati Assam

On 17th of February, a big public rally was held in the NCP office grounds right at the heart of Guwahati.It was attended by leading and senior leaders of the opposition parties in Assam at the invitation of Co-ordination Committee of Parties and Civil Society groups Against CAA,a formation of which I happen to be the Chairman.There are three co-ordinators of which Deben Tamuly is the Chief Co-ordinator.

It was a quite significant event for the city and about 500 people attended,all with banners of their respective organizations. Significant because of the prevailing atmosphere of terror and caution in the state where for any public event indoor or outdoor the police require prior information and formal permission.While some fearless young groups have come from distant small towns to join the rally at very short notice, in some of the bigger towns the response was very cautious and almost hushed with terror.The people I had phoned about it in advance appeared quite cagey and even timid though earlier they had been enthusiastic.

Hardly a wonder since the police had arrested and jailed for a couple of months a young college girl for writing a poem on social media where there were a couple of lines about joining a revolutionary group.In another case a university professor was publicly named and threatened with consequences for commenting on the Chief Minister’s unseemly remarks on a public intellectual.(Yours truly to be specific).And a minister who is known to be close to the CM had threatened the editors of leading papers against carrying news on our rally on the first page.A well-known local liberal daily obeyed and downplayed the rally on page 5 and reduced the protest to inanities.Another mass circulation paper had it on the front page but watered down the content of the message to avoid the wrath of the authorities.

Despite this unofficial but quite menacing censorship, we have made it a practice only to send information to the police whenever we hold our meetings etc indoors or in enclosed areas and seeking permission only for processions and other demonstrations and protests etc.on public roads.

The meeting was addressed by 93 year old well-known CPI(M) leader and former General Secretary of the party Hemen Das, senior Congress leade Jatin Sarma, Munin Mahanta ex General Secretary of
CPI State unit of of Assam,Jiyaur Rahman of Asom Jatiya Parishad,sitting Rajya Sabha member Ajit Bhuyan,TMC leader former Congress MP Ripun Bora, Akhil Gogoi of Raijor Dal,Manoranjan Talukdar CPI(M) MLA from Sarbhog,Bibek Das of CPI(ML),Bidyut Saikia of KMSS,Birinchi Bora,Pranab Daley,
of socio-cultural groups from Nagaon and Bokakhat respectively.Moina Goswami from Mirzah,and leaders of two indigenous Muslim groups said they did not wish to speak as it was very late but they supported us to the hilt.Two women delegates spoke forcefully on the need to take the message to the villages.Senior politician Jagadish Bhuyan active in regional politics and Abdul Mannan a highly regarded minority leader and Pranab Goswami who represented a faction of AGP not happy with AGP alignment with BJP were in attendance.

These by the way are well-known people active in public life of the state.Sitanath Lahkar veteran stage artist and playwright presented a moving choric song to a folk melody,Soneswar Narah of Jeepal Sangskritik Goshthi presented a rousing protest song with his group.

Due to the number of organizations attending there were some hassles in the packed programme.The refreshments arrived too late and in rather poor shape when half of the delegates had left.But there were still about 300 delegates around.Two members from rival groups who were with the BJP sat through silently,and we left them undisturbed.Inspite of the hassles the programme was a reasonable success.Prominent TV Channels gave it good coverage somewhat tempering poor press response.

All the speakers in one voice condemned the CAA which went against the basic secular character of the Indian state by defining citizenship in terms of religious identity and posed an existential threat to the small Assamese nationality by allowing a huge influx of Bangladeshi Hindus of whom more than one crore still remain there.So far content under Sheikh Hasina’s rule they might face tremendous pressure if ever Sheikh Hasina loses power and decide to emigrate.If Mamata Banerjee sets her mind resolutely against CAA they are likely to pour into Assam and Tripura.

Metropolitan civil society groups are generally unsympathetic to the Assamese apprehensions and thoughtlessly trace them to inherent chauvinism.While some elements might be prone to chauvinism it will be most unfair to deny the Assamese a hearing.Most of the parties joining the protest can hardly be called Assamese chauvinsts! Congress and CPI(M) have been active in this movement since 2016.Now that Home Minister Amit Shah has grimly threatened to frame rules and implement it before elections,tempers are running high in Assam and BJP rulers have tightened the screw on public opinion in response.

In 2019 it had been the flare-up on this cause that had the government nearly at its wit’s end.Until the AASU the ostensible leaders of the Anti-CAA movement deliberated and planfully delayed action and let it run out of steam by wasting several months in songs,poetry recital and high-flown patriotic rhetoric by celebrated musicians and actors at a playground from morning to evening.Later all of them brazenly turned tails,joined BJP bandwagon and sang paeans of praise to Himanta Biswa Sarma.Senior AASU leaders quitletly folded up their tents and followed suit.The public stood dazed and deeply frustrated ever since sceptical of such movements.

But the resentment against CAA and BJP run deep and in private they both condemn AASU for betrayal and the BJP for this crisis and express fears at the impending crisis.But BJP’s present line is that the threat from Muslims( called Moguls to heighten alienness and threat) is much graver and the Assamese Hindus need more Bengali Hindus to unite against them!!

Himanta Biswa has been from the beginning of his term as Chief Minister railing against ‘the Moguls’ in season and out,carrying out measures designed to demonize and upset the immigrant Muslims and striking inner panic among the several lakhs of indigenous Muslims who at times capitulate to the rulers.
However now that elections are close both in Delhi and in Dispur for the present the clangor against Muslims is deliberately muted and quietly and suddenly too. There are showers of unexpected gifts and benefits on all regions where Muslims preponderance,charming even canny politicians like Farouque Abdullah and drowning suspicions.Armed sannyasis threatening to exterminate all Muslims have fallen silent on cue and Bajrang Dal has stopped their menacing parades.The massive BJP election machine is running at top gear leaving all its lesser comrades behind.BJP can adapt its tactics to the need of fast changing circumstances leaving other parties lagging.But Congress has lately shown signs of energy sewing up rifts in the alliance.One hopes it will show more adaptability and tactical skill to match BJP’s known strategy.

The adaptability and flexibility of the BJP owe a lot to its ability to play the game of power.It enters readily into a dialogue with lesser entities of the state ,which is called ‘consultation’ in the Constitution and which is a vital organ of the federalism of Indian polity.Congress is so far less adept and more rigid.But it is far more serious in playing by the rules while BJP makes no bones in changing rules as it gets along,
eventually ditching the rules and swallowing whole the smaller entity while Congress shows genuine respect to the other party in the dialogue.Because for BJP the end is total power which is against letter and spirit of our Constitution.

Still the reluctance to enter the game and the delay in joining it cost the nation a lot. Consider the impasse in Manipur.For decades Congress govts did not care to cast a glance at the utter lack of economic development until the main ethnic group there the Meitei took to violence and shot down or drove away many mainland Indians.Even then the response was not an attempt to start a dialogue but launch brutal military repression. One hopes readers will recall hundreds of naked Manipuri women taking to the streets with banners displaying desperate messages like ‘Indian Army rape us!’ The militancy died down but BJP pounced upon the opportunity left by vacuum and promoted chauvinistic Manipuri trends until the situation had led to massacre of the Kukis. The story was repeated in Assam,where too it gave BJP a chance to co-opt a major section of the Assamese middle-class.It happened in Punjab where the fallout of the Green Revolution leading to widespread farmer distress had been persistently ignored by Congress until it overwhelmed the latter in terrorist upsurge.It is all very well to blame the Meitei.But they had to bear the full brunt of the economic stagnation for decades.All because of a growing monologic viewpoint at the Centre.One fervently hopes the vital lesson is being learnt and digested in the parleys for seat-sharing.

What has all this to do with the meeting mentioned at length in the beginning?Quite a lot in fact.
I have had the dubious privilege of leading two-three delegations of civil society groups to New Delhi to meet the Prime Minister and the President in an effort to bring to their notice the administrative chaos,serious military atrocities unrestrained by any sound policy in Assam in the late nineties in the name of suppression of terrorism.On both the occasions we had been given a cold brush-off by the Home Ministers,but we succeeded in convincing the Prime Ministers concerned Narasimha Rao and Dr Manmohan Singh and on one occasion made President Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma to stand up in alarm by showing him photographic evidence of army atrocities in Assam.(It may be added that even the top.brass of the army corps had appreciated my resolute opposition to the militant group ULFA for atrocities on its part.)

Filled with relief and exultation we held packed press conferences next day.And on both the occasions we came down with a thud to the earth the day after to find that except in The Hindu there was not even a faint trace of the press conferences! Senior journalist Kuldeep Nayar pitying called us “babes in the wood” for expecting the contrary.We learnt the lesson that even in the vaunted democracy freedom of expression had set and congealed limits.The plight of the Assamese folks did not deserve a hearing.Teach the bastards a lesson.

Only people like Kuldeep Nayar and Swami Agnivesh tried sincerely and patiently to revive the dialogue so essential to the working of federal state.The BJP which in the words of A.B.Vajpeyee had been ‘a political untouchable’ took full advantage of this deadlock and got deeply entrenched in Assamese society. One can see the results not only in the massacre at Nellie but also in the present Assam government’s dreadful crusade in words and through coercive legal measures to demonize and terrorise the ‘Miyan Muslims’.

To resume and conclude as briefly as possible,the two-pronged campaigns by corporate capital sucking up the entire financial resources of the country and fast depleting natural resources of regions,and RSS led political forces including party subverting regional politics with a view to building eventually an homogenous uniform centrally directed political organ are proceeding according to plan in the Northeast.

With such aims both are working overtime to make local groups oblivious of the looming dangers.First the loose unity of interest and some co-operation among is being broken up by promoting mutual exchange,alliance and co-operation completely and promoting internecine conflict as well as maniacal celebration of the native pristine culture of each of these separately.So that the grand unity of Bharatavarsh may sweep up each separately and easily.Hindi and Hindu are to be sole welding instruments.

Now we have to concentrate on the impact the new economy and ahem! the ‘reformed politics’ out to reshape the state have on lesser entities in the country.In Assam for example investments by the state and corporates are on building huge infrastructure like four and six-lane roads,bridges and tunnels under the main river,leveling hills and clearing large forests.The common man here looks on bewildered as these have little relevance to his way of life and vocation.He automatically joins the garrulous Chief Minister ,now given to issuing solemn Modi-like messages three four times a day,in cheering all this bustling enterprise as the mystic ‘Vikash’.

But tens of lakhs of former farmers and small businessmen are being recruited as idlers living on government doles as ‘beneficiaries’ without a clue to their future.Thousands of educated youths join ranks of the unemployed every year.One dreads thinking of a future when these smugly happy millions are suddenly cut off from doles and thrown out onto the streets.Their only recourse will be to sell off the last vestiges of their small property,especially in land to corporate capital and melt into the nameless precariat(a term popularized by Tomas Picketty). Clearly the aim of Corporate monopolies is to use Assam as conduit for draining the resources of the vast hinterland of Southeast Asia and investing huge finance and advanced technology in ‘developing’ that region.

The small local communities of Northeast are to be reduced to the role of paid entertainers dancing Bihu and Satriya dances and serving other touristy needs.There will after all be an enormous flux of transit passengers and salesmen.One hopes that will not include flesh trade in hapless local girls ensnared by furious commercial propaganda about beauty contests and modeling.

So much for Vikash.To sum it up in one sentence the design is to rob local citizens minus the supine camp-followers of all agency and turning them into tools.This nefarious design has worked elsewhere in the world. The other part of the nefarious design is to keep diverse regional communities continually shaken by suspicion and strife against one another promoted from the centre.The immediate objective seems to be driving the wedge between the Ahoms who have already largely become fascinated by their old and now defunct tribal rites and lore and alienated from their links with the greater Assamese society forged over centuries of co-existence and assimilation. The end in view is an Ahom State or at least an Ahom territorial region, anti-Assamese but aligned to Brahminical North Indian Hindu interests.

Already a 150 ft high satue of Lachit Barphukan,the 17th century Ahom general who had defeated a Mughal invading army and stemmed the tidal surge of that empire in the Northeast, is ready for inauguration by the Prime Minister in March.So far Lachit has been an icon for the entire freedom loving Assamese people.He now has been co-opted into the RSS pantheon using an old tried and tested formula.

Only States in the South have become aware and deeply suspicious of the homogenising design and become active against it.Only word of caution to them from my side is that their project should not stray into chauvinism,but should aim at a united fight to restore federalism.

Congress also has some hard lessons to swallow.The redeeming factor is that it is used to recognizing difference, though nowadays rather mechanically. The real solution is to energetically revive the federal state into vibrant,viable form.The demand of the hour is to abjure its dangerous hegemonic ambitions and adjust to a really progressive role.Congress workers too are to be re-educated to abandon dreams of unimaginable pelf and power and accept this progressive,creative role.To invoke Gandhi’s cosy relations with the Birlas and the Bajaz family in order to justify a renewed friendship with corporates and foreign capital will be a betrayal of people’s trust, the easiest but essentially treacherous alternative.

To wrap it up with a reversion to perception of metropolitan media posing as ‘national fora’,
the latter blithely ignores the simmering resentment of true Assamese national community in their surviving remnants(AASU and AGP having already capitulated to the saffron hegemon) against CAA. Fortunately the Opposition has this time solidly and unitedly backed the Assamese regional entity.The rally and the meeting actually sealed opposition support to this surviving bloc.

The so-called national media have always chosen to look away and obstinately paint this genuine resistance as cussed Assamese chauvinism.Unfortunately the possibility of millions of Bengali Hindus joining their ranks from across the border has kept Bengali resistance against the mother of CAA rather mute and subdued in Assam. The blackout of such news in the so-called national media,as in the section of the press mentioned in the beginning actually is a gross instance of such skewed perception and thinking.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

PS: I am sorry indeed that a confused sentence that contradicts itself had crept into the story.It seems to suggest that the Centre is ‘promoting exchange and friendly co-operation between Assam and other NE states.

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